Driving in Maui (Scenic Highways, Driving Times, Safety)


map of maui driving times

Maui is the second largest of the Hawaiian Islands, with a land area of 729 square miles. It is only 48 miles long and 26 miles across at its widest point. So how long does it take to drive all the way around Maui?

Do You Need to Rent a Car in Maui?

If you are staying in the resort area of Kihei with transit access and you have no desire to drive the scenic Maui highways, then you can get away with not renting a vehicle. You could always take a tour bus or carpool with new friends if you decide to go exploring other parts of the island. But we recommend a rental, especially if it is your first (and maybe only) time visiting, to make the most of your limited time seeing and doing instead of sitting and planning your schedule.

Is it Easy to Drive in Maui?

Maui has well-maintained main highways and familiar U.S. rules of the road. Most of the driving is straightforward, though there are some island courtesies to be aware of and practice while driving in Maui.

The most common tricky part is driving the Road to Hana, and pulling over wherever there is room to let locals pass when it is safe to do so.

Flashing Headlights to Pass

While driving in the early morning darkness to catch the sunrise at Haleakala, we noticed a vehicle behind us would flash its lights. This was puzzling, as we were driving in a convoy of many cars and buses up to the summit of Haleakala. We slowed down and hugged the shoulder since there wasn’t much room, thinking that the vehicle wanted to pass. It did, but didn’t get very far anyway… Weirdo.

Watch for Cattle on the Roads

Cattle roam freely around Maui, and vehicles often hit cows that are hanging out near roads, enjoying the sun-heated asphalt. Road signs warning against cows in darkness or fog are common. [wikipedia]

Haleakala Highway (Crater Road)

aerial view of crater road (haleakala highway)

Haleakala Highway, also known as Crater Road, is the two-lane road that leads to the summit of Haleakala. The road is well-maintained and well-traveled, but it’s still a good idea to drive carefully and obey the speed limit signs — police frequently monitor this road — and there are many switchbacks, blind turns and steep drop-offs without guardrails. Also be on the lookout for cattle lowing by the sides of the roads at night and early morning.

Hana Highway

road to hana jungle

Easily the most famous drive on Maui, the beloved (and loathed) Road to Hana is a 52-mile, winding journey that crawls along the coast of the East Maui rain forest. Along the course of this all-day journey there are dozens of waterfalls just minutes from the roadside, and the panoramic vistas stretching out to the horizon will do their best to drain your battery.

It can take ten hours or longer to drive the scenic Hana Highway to Hana and then loop back through central Maui via the Piilani Highway, especially if drivers take necessary rest breaks and stop to enjoy the views and Aloha of the island.

Piilani Highway

piilani highway

While the Road to Hana is a popular must if you want to experience the old Hawai’ian jungle landscape, the back-side of Maui via the Piilani highway (highway 37) is equally intriguing with its multi-coloured martian and lunar-like landscapes, isolated beaches, an isolated church or two, an antique store in the middle of nowhere, and, yes, cattle roaming the road.

Some find this stretch of road rather sketchy, especially at night — we wouldn’t recommend you drive an unfamiliar coastal road at night, anyway. The road can be pretty questionable and washboard at times, but the main concern is meeting an oncoming vehicle at the narrow turns. (Honk as you approach blind corners to alert other drivers of your presence.)

As the road curves around the volcano and heads west, it becomes Highway 31. The scenery here changes from rugged mountain to ranch-covered slopes. You’ll see cattle, goats and the occasional Maui deer. The road then passes the southern lava fields. This recently paved area has curves reminiscent of a sports car commercial, and we saw many a fancy car driving this stretch of road with the top down (not sure how far they went; likely turned around when the road turned to gravel).

Maui Veterans Highway to South Maui

Maui Veterans Highway (Highway 311) runs north-south through the isthmus of Maui from the town of Kahului to Kihei, a distance of around 7 miles one way. Most of the highway passes through sugarcane fields and a protected wetlands area, the Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge.

If you keep heading south, you’ll reach the nicest, sandiest beaches Maui has to offer, with great snorkeling opportunities at Makena and other South Maui beaches.

a Kihei beach

If you drive this road at night, you’ll notice how dark the highway is as you pass the stretch with water on either side of the road — there are no streetlights installed here, as the light would disrupt the nesting sea turtles in the area.

West Maui Driving

The car rental companies will tell you not to travel around the entire Road to Hana loop, and around West Maui’s rural northwest shore. But we did.

north maui, guide books advise against driving this section but we did and it was ok. some narrow parts and lots of blind corners

Although narrow and winding, the road is paved the entire way. We felt fine with the road but it may have been sketchy had the car broken down, plus we had great weather and the road might be dangerous in bad weather with flooding, and falling cliff rocks.

The drive itself is absolutely breathtaking, in some ways more impressive than the Hana Highway, which gets much more publicity. From Kapalua to Wailuku you pass some of the most rugged coastline in the world and some very lovely beaches and bays which are not well known or frequented.

There’s also a blowhole, known as Nakalele Blowhole, an unofficial and somewhat dangerous tourist destination.

Nakalele Blowhole

The drive itself can be done in a couple of hours without stops. In order to really appreciate the views, however, it will take you between four and five hours.

Driving Times on Maui

Driving Time from Kahului Airport (OGG) to:

Wailuku10 mins.5 miles
Kihei20-30 mins.10 miles
Wailea25-25 mins.17 miles
Kula30-45 mins.18 miles
Makena35-45 mins.19 miles
Lahaina35-45 mins.25 miles
Kaanapali45 mins.30 miles
Kapalua1 hour35 miles
Haleakala1-2 hours38 miles
Hana2-3 hours53 miles
Map is from the Maui Revealed Guidebook (recommended, although the locals despise it)

Driving Time Around the Entire Island

If you wanted to drive all day, you can — the driving time around Maui will take about 9 hours around the periphery of the island, including a trip down Maui Veterans Highway 311, to South Maui’s beaches.

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I like to share my travel experiences and save others some time, money, and effort in planning their own adventures.

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