There are potential dangers associated with the Road to Hāna and your safety should be taken seriously. It is not my intention to scare you, just inform you so you can use your best judgement and stay safe. While many visitors rave that the Road to Hāna was the highlight of their trip to Maui, this area is not Disneyland and I advise you to never underestimate any risks Mother Nature at her finest can throw at you and please heed the following safety tips.
An extremely high percentage of inquires regarding the Road To Hāna are relative to the safety of the road and driving conditions. While the road is paved (except 13 miles of the optional “Backside”) and has modern improvements like guardrails, lane striping, and reflectors, there are some one-lane sections of road, one-lane bridges and some blind corners. However, the biggest dangers along the Road to Hana lay ahead once you get out of your car. Popular guidebooks reveal many hidden tropical gems along the drive that can also be potentially dangerous and even deadly. Don’t leave your common sense at home on this trip! Leaning over too far for that photo, climbing 30 foot waterfalls, and ‘unofficial’ scenic lookouts can be deadly.
You may be exposed to dangerous conditions, whether they are natural or man-made, or whether they arise from encounters with slippery mud, slippery rocks, rising stream waters, wild animals, insects, disease or dangerous plants and these conditions can cause injury, sickness or death. Remember, you will be exposed to the elements; changing weather conditions; changing trail conditions, including hiking in stream beds and rising stream waters.
These dangers can result in sprains, strains, torn ligaments, torn muscles, broken bones, eye and ear damage, cuts, wounds, scrapes, abrasions, contusions, head injuries, neck injuries, rib injuries, spine injuries, arm injuries, wrist and hand injuries, leg injuries, ankle and foot injuries, injuries to other parts of the body, drowning, hypothermia, exhaustion, sunburn, sunstroke, dehydration, poisoning, infection, oxygen shortage, animal or insect stings and bites, shock, paralysis, or death.
Know your physical or medical conditions that might impair your hiking skills such as vision or depth of field perception, balance issues or limited movement in parts of your body. Be advised, along the Road to Hāna there is a lack of immediately available medical facilities and health care professionals such as doctors, nurses and ambulances. (Maui Fire Department) MFD AIR 1 RESCUE is often used for visitor rescues.
Flash Flooding Along the Road to Hāna
The Road to Hāna traverses Maui’s windward eastside which is the watershed for the island. Prevailing trade winds from the northeast causes warm tropical moist air to blow up the east slopes of the dormant Haleakalā volcano, rise, cool, condense and precipitate over Maui’s east side including the Road to Hāna; hence, lots of rainfall, a tropical rainforest and numerous fresh water pools and waterfalls along the way.
Condensation and rainfall can occur at higher elevations and leave the coastal areas in sunshine or overcast conditions with no or light rainfall. Unawares to you, there can be approximately 9,000 feet of streams above you catching water and runoff from precipitation you are unaware of. East Maui Irrigation (EMI) can also open a floodgate to alleviate their ditch/irrigation system from heavy rainfalls upstream.
Please be advised, visitors have been trapped by high rising water and rescued on more than 1 occasion, from sites like Na’ili’iliha’ele Falls (a.k.a. Bamboo Forest / Commando Hike).
During large tropical storm systems, the Road to Hāna journey is best postponed until better weather. The waterfalls will be at their peak; however, viewing, hiking to, and photographing them will be miserable and even dangerous. Pools will also be at peak elevation and dangerous for swimming. Haleakalā National Park in Kīpahulu will close the ‘Ohe’o Gulch (aka Seven Sacred Pools) pools to all swimming after heavy rainfall for safety reasons. Always heed signs of stream and pool closures. At least four people in the past decade have drowned while swimming or crossing the stream and pools in Haleakalā National Park’s ‘Ohe’o Gulch (aka Seven Sacred Pools). Do not attempt to swim during flash flood conditions.
PLEASE BE ADVISED:
A FLASH FLOOD WATCH MEANS THAT CONDITIONS MAY DEVELOP THAT LEAD TO FLASH FLOODING. FLASH FLOODING IS VERY DANGEROUS. REMEMBER THAT IT DOES NOT HAVE TO BE RAINING HEAVILY WHERE YOU ARE FOR FLASH FLOODING TO OCCUR.
DO NOT CROSS FAST FLOWING OR RISING WATER IN YOUR VEHICLE OR ON FOOT.
TURN AROUND…DON’T DROWN OR BECOME TRAPPED ON FOOT WHILE HIKING IN A DESOLATE AREA AWAY FROM CELL PHONE RECEPTION AND RESCUE.
RUNOFF FROM STORMS MAY ALSO CAUSE ROCK AND MUDSLIDES IN STEEP TERRAIN.
Slippery When Wet – Don’t Fall
The Road to Hāna is located in a tropical rainforest with many sites along hazardous wet trails with moss covered rocks. Beware of slipping, tripping or falling on rugged, muddy, slippery, boulder-strewn trails, lookouts, waterfalls and stream beds.
Swimming, Diving and Jumping into Pools Along the Road to Hāna
Please be advised, while swimming under waterfalls you risk being struck by falling tree parts or rocks. If you jump into pools, injuries can result from hitting the water hard or striking submerged objects likes rocks, trees and branches. Always check the water below for obstructions before jumping or diving into pools.
Ocean Conditions Along the Road to Hāna
Not all beaches and shoreline along the Road to Hāna are suitable for swimming or wading. The very things that make these areas such spectacular places to look at and enjoy can be lethal to those caught unaware along the shoreline. Rocks, coral, high surf and strong ocean currents can be dangerous. There are often no lifeguards on duty. Please heed the following ocean safety tips.
Large surf, sharp lava and coral, rocks, backwash, sudden drop-offs, pounding shorebreak, and dangerous rip currents can turn what seem like safe activities such as playing near the surf line, wading, or climbing on rock outcroppings, deadly. Please be advised, you can be knocked down or washed off lava outcroppings by large unexpected waves and even swept out to sea or pounded on the sharp lava and coral in the rough surf below. Please be aware that conditions may change quickly along the coastline. When in doubt—don’t go out!
- Never swim alone.
- Be cautious at all times, especially when swimming at unguarded beaches. If in doubt, don’t go out!
- Whenever possible, swim at a lifeguard protected beach.
- Obey all instructions and orders from lifeguards.
- If caught in a rip current, remain calm to conserve energy and think clearly.
- Don’t fight the current. Swim out of the current in a direction following the shoreline. When out of the current, swim towards shore.
- If you are unable to swim out of the rip current, float or calmly tread water. When out of the current, swim towards shore.
- If you are still unable to reach shore, draw attention to yourself: face the shore, wave your arms, and yell for help.
- If you see someone in trouble, get help from a lifeguard. If a lifeguard is not available, have someone call 9-1-1 . Throw the rip current victim something that floats and yell instructions on how to escape.
- Remember, many people drown while trying to save someone else from a rip current.
Many trails and waterfalls follow steep cliffs which are continually eroding from constant rainfall and have loose rocks and boulders that can fall on you, the trails and the road below. During periods of heavy rain, rock or mudslides can close the Road to Hāna.
Many overlooks along the road and trails do not have safety rails. Even ones that do, can still be dangerous especially for small children who can fit, climb and fall through the rails.
Watch Your Children!
While smaller tots may get cranky on the long drive and an all day adventure that centers around an unfamiliar car, older kids will enjoy swimming, exploring the dry and wet lava tube caves at Wai’anapanapa State Park and hiking along the many trails.
If you choose to take your children, any age, inform them about safety, either learned on this website or from other places. Watch, educate and supervise your kids and even adults in your group. In a recent unfortunate tragedy, a 12 year old boy visiting from California fell 300-350 feet from a popular unrailed lookout to his death. He stepped out of the car at the pullout to look over the cliff above Honomanu Bay and fell. This pullout is now blocked off to all visitors.
While it is very unlikely you will contract Leptospirosis by swimming in freshwater pools along the Road To Hāna, you should still be informed that it is a possibility. At least once a week I swim in the pools and dunk my head underwater exposing my eyes, ears, nose and mouth and I am fine; however I refrain from swimming if I have an open cut.
Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease that is primarily carried by rats and mice, although dogs, pigs, cattle and horses can also become infected. The disease is generally transmitted to humans by exposure to fresh water that is contaminated with urine from infected animals. Infection can take place when contaminated water enters the body through the mouth, nose, eyes or open wounds.
Individuals who develop flu-like symptoms (high fever, severe headaches, muscle aches, nausea and vomiting) and have had fresh water, mud or animal exposure during the preceding three weeks, should immediately see a physician and inform the doctor of any environmental exposures and skin wounds.
- Do not swim, wade or play in fresh water or mud when you have cuts or abrasions.
- When swimming, do not place your head underwater.
- Do not drink stream water.
Wild Boars and feral pigs are dangerous in the wild; however, the likelihood of encounters with pigs is relatively small while hiking on most public trails in Hawaii. In more remote areas, or if you went off-trail (not recommended for persons unfamiliar with island terrain), the possibility is higher. Pigs have good hearing and sense of smell and prefer to avoid human contact. If you were to come upon a sow with piglets it would be best to keep a good long distance away or even retreat until they have left the trail. Also, if the pig(s) seems to want the right-of-way, it is best to defer, since they can have very sharp tusks and very short tempers, especially if crowded or cornered. Feral pigs are like any other wild animal, they won’t attack you just to attack you, but if they are cornered or threatened, they will tear you up. If one were to attack, the best escape is to climb a tree. You will most likely never see one on the trails, the only ones I have seen along the Road to Hāna have been shot and are being carried out by hunters from the more remote areas.
There are many different varieties of edible fruits and berries along the Road to Hāna that grow wild and are good to eat like Mountain Apples, Lilikoi, Guava and Strawberry Guava. There are also many different varieties of poisonous fruits and berries with toxic parts (fruit, seeds, leaves, roots, etc.) If you are not sure what you are eating, don’t eat it!