Kahekili Highway: Maui’s Most Adrenaline Infused Drive

May 11, 2024   29 Comments »

Kahekili Highway: Maui’s Most Adrenaline Infused Drive

December 3, 2013 29 Comments »

“Oh Lord, please, please, please don’t let me meet another car on this road.” I thought to myself as I drove like a 90-year-old man. I had scooted up on the edge of my seat, hands at 2 and 10, knuckles white from gripping the steering wheel intensely, and my nose was practically on the front window trying to peer over the car’s hood.

Now, this was the real deal – a road worthy of being called one of the best (and most dangerous) drives in the world. Yet Kahekili Highway was one very few people knew about – which is probably what made me love it even more.

Map of Kahekili Highway

kahekili highway map

Why Kahekili Highway Is Better Than the Road to Hana

Kahekili Highway vs Road to Hana

The Kahekili Highway (Hawaii State Highway 340) lives in the shadow of its big, well-known brother – the Road to Hana. However, this well-paved highway along Maui’s North shore was no Road to Hana because it was 10 times better than the Road to Hana.

First, A Serious Warning

“Many people consider it (Kahekili Highway) hazardous and one of the spookiest roads they have ever driven. The road hugs the edge of the sea cliffs and is very narrow (often just one lane), with many blind curves and no guard rails. So not many people visit this part of Maui.” via To-Hawaii.

Please take this into account.  This route is the real deal, and you must be comfortable driving on this dangerous type of narrow road with big drop-offs and no help for miles.

It’s Not as Well Traveled as the Road To Hana

When I expressed interest in driving the road to Hana, my friend in Maui furrowed her brow and said, “Everyone does the road to Hana when in Maui. I have a better suggestion.”

This was all I needed to hear to kick my craving for unique experiences into high gear.  I grabbed my DSLR and was ready for a little Maui road trip off the beaten path.

The Drive is More Exciting (aka Scarier)

As I set off south on Highway 340 past Kaanapali, I started seeing them – Narrow Road, One Lane Bridge, Yield to Oncoming Traffic, Falling Rocks, Winding Road next 17 miles – these were the standard signs peppered along Highway 340.

I was excited and scared at the same time.  My adrenaline was pumping from a combination of the picture-perfect views and the possibility of meeting another oncoming vehicle on the narrow cliff.

kahekili highway single lane road

Kahekili Hwy Maui was initially completely paved back in the late 90s and as I started the drive, it was really pleasant driving. The road had a fresh coat of asphalt and brightly colored lines. It didn’t seem too bad at all – in fact, it was relaxing.

However, all of a sudden, the newly paved road ended, leaving me with a bit dodgier pavement full of undulations, crumbling asphalt, no shoulder, and faded lines. I seemed to be winding deeper and deeper along the cliffs and back into the valleys.

kahekili highway dangrous road

All of a sudden, I let out a gasp – I wasn’t sure when it exactly happened – but I was on a one-lane road going east and around hairpin turns. I panicked for a moment as I wondered if it was even possible to back the rental car up if I did meet a car.

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See Views With No One Else Around

It’s not just about the driving, it’s also about what you can stop and see along the way that is virtually tourist-free. I pulled over and ate my picnic poke lunch at a lookout with absolutely no one around. I was on top of a rocky cliff and could see for miles as little clouds that looked like cotton balls dotted the sky. The waves crash against the rocks below me in a rhythmic fashion and enjoyed my perfect moment of Maui Zen.

coastal views kahekili highway maui

Experience the Powerful Nakalele Blowhole

I had also heard about the Nakalele Blowhole (near mile marker 38), but I wasn’t too sure where it was. I knew you had to hike to it, and luckily, at one of my roadside stops for a picture, I met a guy from Wisconsin who knew where it was. We wandered down to the rocky coastline together, and he took me further out into the tide pools than I ever would have gone by myself.

The waves were tumultuous as they rolled in sets crashing into the rocks sending sea spray everywhere – it was here where you felt the wrath of Mother Nature.

The spray felt refreshing, but of course, I had stupidly left my LensCoat raingear for my camera back in the rental car since it certainly wasn’t rainy weather, but down by the blowhole it was pretty easy to get drenched.

The blowhole occurs in the lava shelf which can reach over 100 feet when air and water are forced upwards through the hole causing a geyser-like effect. We waded through the water to get a bit closer, and that’s when it really hit.

I later read this warning about the blowhole – so do be careful if you go visit it:

“While it may seen tempting to approach the blowhole for a great photo opportunity, don’t do it. People have been killed as they get sucked back into the hole by the retreating water at this and other blowholes in Hawaii.”

Visit Remote Communities

Just when I didn’t think the road could get any more questionable, Hwy 340 Maui narrows considerably for about 1 mile as it descends the mountain and enters the small town of Kahakuloa Village (near mile markers 14 and 15). This community is located in one of the most isolated spots in Maui, and most of the residents work in and around the village.

The village and town are home to about 100 people, a couple of churches, Lorraine’s Banana Bread and Banana Cream Pie, Julia’s Banana Bread, Karen Lei’s Art Gallery, Bruce Turnbull Studio and Sculpture Garden, and a few small businesses. Be sure to stop and give the community some love.

After the nail-biter one mile of narrow road where I luckily didn’t meet an oncoming car, I stopped for a smoothie at Kahakuloa Village and sat and just took in the Pacific ocean view.

Experience the Ranch Land and Kahakuloa Head

The road climbed out of Kahakuloa Village and went into ranch land with sweeping vistas of green pastures. You can also get a great close-up view of Kahakuloa Head, which is 636 feet high. King Kahekili was said to leap 200 feet down to the water from this hill in the mornings before eating breakfast from a spot called “Kahekili’s Leap.”. 

Kahakuloa Head
Kahakuloa Head, where King Kahekili was said to leap off of the cliff

There’s still a trail that leads up there, but it’s too narrow and dangerous.  I did get out of the car and walk for a bit – but not to the top as it looked too dangerous.  It’s a great place to stretch your legs for a little while!

Visit Fruit Stands That Don’t Get Much Business

Finally, before coming down the Kahekili highway into Waihee, I passed a number of little fruit stands and artists. Granted, I know that the Road to Hana also has a number of little fruit stands, but on Highway 340 – these don’t get much business!  I stopped to buy some jam and chatted with the woman who lived there. I asked her about what it was like to live so remotely out here. She, of course, said she loved it!

And what’s not to love – this part of western Maui was certainly unique and it felt untouched. It had a completely different vibe than the rest of the island.

The Highway of Death Maui

This scenic coastal road is known for its narrow lanes, tight blind curves, and challenging driving conditions. Accidents and fatalities have occurred on this highway over the years due to its challenging nature, unpredictable weather conditions, and sometimes reckless driving. The number of Kahekili Highway deaths per year can vary and is influenced by factors such as changes in traffic patterns, road improvements, and safety measures.

To obtain the most accurate and current information on the annual number of serious traffic fatalities on Kahekili Highway, it’s recommended for drivers to refer to official sources like the Hawaii Department of Transportation or local law enforcement agencies.

Kahekili Highway Driving Tips

  • Drive from Lahaina to Waihee so that you are on the inside when/if you pass another car on the narrow bits.
  • If you are using a rental car – make sure it has a backup camera – you will need it if you meet another car.
  • Don’t drive fast…take your time.
  • Often, when you can’t see around a corner to see if someone is coming from the opposite direction on one-lane stretches of road – use your horn and beep a few times to let people know you are coming around the corner. 
  • Don’t play loud music – you will want to hear the beeps of oncoming traffic (see above)
  • And always be respectful of locals. 

Highway 340 represents exactly what I love most about Hawaii – it’s not hard to find peace, rest, and solitude on the islands, which are one of the most popular tourist destinations around. If you are looking for something a bit different in Maui, then spend a day driving Highway 340. Take your time, explore, rest, and soak in the views and the people you meet along the way.

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Kahekili Highway

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