Every guidebook, website, and person I've spoken to about Maui has mentioned the Road to Hana as one of the most beautiful drives they've taken in the Hawaiian Islands. A few places mention - usually briefly and without detail - the many roadside stands dotting the 20 miles or so between the start of the windy, slow-moving road and the town of Hana. One guide I read stated that it would behoove me, the tourist, to stop at as many stands as possible without specifically mentioning where or what they sold.
The drive itself was pretty, but after the first few 160 degree turns I grew bored with the driving. Since I was the only one in the car, I couldn't exactly turn over responsibilities to someone else. My desire to get to Hana outweighed my desire to stop driving. And there was that promise of tasty treats along the road that had me in its thrall. I took to taking pictures with my right hand as I drove with my left to keep myself entertained. I passed the same four models of car over and over - tourist rentals seemed to be largely Jeeps, Mustangs, Uplanders and Ford Focuses (or is it Foci?).
After passing numerous fresh coconut stands (they'll machete them for you) and fresh banana bread places, I finally stopped for a BBQ joint that promised real, mesquite-smoked Kalua Pig - slow roasted Hawaiian pork - in taco form. And sweet island corn. I'm a sucker for corn.
I'm not a pork eater, but the barbecue looked great:
I wandered over to the sweet corn kiosk, little more than a kettle on a portable candy stove. The corn was, as promised, incredibly sweet and delicious. At $2.50 a piece, if it was anything but it was going to be a let down.
He thought I asked for two pieces, so I ate both. It was to be last hot food I ate for the next 24 hours. Oops. Had I known that, I would have had the fish tacos, too. The squeeze bottle on the left is full of melted butter. Mmmmm.
They were also selling green bananas there. Bananas grow everywhere along the road. If you look up as you near Hana, you'll see bananas hanging over the road. I didn't get a picture of the banana trees but I did get one of the individual green bananas for sale:
Corn downed, I got back in the car and headed to Hana. I stopped to take a look at one stand's banana bread:
I don't know if it was the best as I didn't feeling like shelling out $7 for a mini loaf or stopping at each roadside stand to make a fair comparison. So I'll take the judges' word for it.
After driving a little longer, I turned on to a road that promised a state park with black sand beaches. Along the road, I found two unattended fruit stands selling passion fruit and bananas. I was able to stop the car and get a decent photo (turns out taking photos by simply holding up the camera, pointing it out the window, and hoping it looks okay doesn't really work). I didn't pick up any fruit - I didn't have much of an appetite.
At the beach, parked in front of a graveyard, was a shave ice truck. Shave Ice is a Hawaiian staple - a huge cone of shaved ice drowned in the customer's choice of syrup flavors. There are the typical fruit flavors (raspberry, cherry) and then the typical Hawaiian tropical fruit flavors (passion fruit, lychee, pineapple, li hing mui (dried licorice spiced plum), coconut, lime, etc). I usually go for a combination of lychee and passion fruit.
After the park I headed back to the airport to make my flight back to New York. Since I had plenty of time, I stopped for one final booth I had seen on my way to Hana - an ice cream stand.
The booth - and the road - was eerily quiet at 4 pm, when I stopped in for a gelato. Lisa, who runs the stand, spends half her year in Maui and half her year in Maine.
She had worked at Ono Gelato Companyin Paia, about 15 miles down the road, and decided to give a gelato stand a try. Lisa has the best - and, truly, only - gelato stand on the road to Hana. And has exclusive rights to sell Ono Gelato on the highway.
The operation is pretty low tech. Ice cream is kept cold with ice packs in styrofoam under a Sponge Bob blanket. Somehow it manages to stay at almost the perfect temperature most of the day.
Signage is low-fi, with adorably clunky handwritten lettering.
A cone is $6 - but it is a huge waffle cone and Lisa will give you up to three flavors. I chose Baci (chocolate and hazelnut), Acai, and Pineapple. She had run out of a few other flavors by the time I arrived. I have a photo but it isn't incredibly appealing - the tropical heat melted the gelato almost as quickly as I could eat it. It was so delicious I decided to track down the Ono store on my drive back.
Ono is owned by three Canadians who moved to Maui from Victoria, British Columbia. Stefano, one of the partners, is a third generation Gelataio from Turino. In Canada, the team operated a European-style cafe. They opened up Ono in December 2007 and in the process of creating their green vision for their shop, have used Ono as a platform to support local organic and sustainable businesses. While Ono does use Italian-made bases for their dairy gelato flavors, they do use local fruit as much as possible in their dairy-free flavors. They also use organic milk and organic Maui sugar in their products. And the results are delicious. Usually I despise gelateria that use bases, mixes, or flavors, but Ono is great. The gelato is fresh and smooth and has a velvety texture. Flavors are bright and distinguished. I love Ono. Even if it is $4.95 for a small dish.
If I could do it all over again, I wouldn't change my approach to the Road to Hana. Light on the sights, heavy on the nibbles. And winding up at Ono. Yeah, that's five hours well spent.