Kahekili Highway is a strip of one-lane paved road framed by rock on one side and sheer cliff drops on the other with a length of 20 miles from Kapalua to Wailuku. It’s a legendary road known for its snaking turns, narrow passages, and dangerous road conditions, though nowadays that last factor is gone, since the road was completely repaved not too long ago.
This challenging road, which hugs the rugged northern tip of Maui, the second-largest of the Hawaiian Islands, needles around hairpin turns, careens over one-lane bridges and teeters beside treacherous cliffs. It’s one of Maui’s most adventurous drives, and undisputedly its most challenging. Perhaps it's for the thrill of driving on the edge of a cliff, but more likely it's for the incredible beauty of the views available on this drive.
This highway is a rugged scenic route that extends for sixteen and a half miles along Maui's north shore. The road still remains an adrenaline-pumping journey and is definitely not for the faint of lungs, heart, or legs. A quick glance at the map, at its sheer drops and serpentine twists and turns, confirms that this is no hype. Also known as the Kahekili Highway, Hawaii State Highway 340 runs north and south from Kahului through the small town of Waihee-Waiehu, flanked by the beauty of the West Maui Natural Area Reserve to the west and the Pacific Ocean to the east, on its way to Kahakuloa Village, one of the most isolated spots on Maui.
It wasn't until sometime in the 1990s that this road was completely paved, and open to travel for rental cars (though some companies may still place it off-limits, so visitors should check their rental contracts). Not for the faint of heart, sections slow to just 5mph as the road wraps around blind curves; a lengthy stretch around the village of Kahakuloa is a mere one lane with cliffs on one side and a sheer drop on the other – if you hit oncoming traffic here you may be doing your traveling in reverse!
But, what makes this route special? Its many twists, turns and narrows, which can pose a challenge to even the most experienced drivers. The county-maintained portion of the Kahekili Highway is narrow, twisty, and very slow (speed limits usually 15 mph or slower), with many one-lane stretches, and often with minimal reflectorization and guardrails. Driving at night, or in poor visibility, is not recommended for drivers unfamiliar with the road.
The road is in dreadful condition and requires strong nerves to negotiate it. Any barriers along the edge afford little more than token protection; large stretches should be taken at a snail's pace and a lookout kept for vehicles coming from the opposite direction! This road is not recommended if you like driving fast, or if it has been raining. The slower you go, the more you’ll find to adore. Most sections require you to slow to a meager 5 miles an hour to make those blind curves and if you happen upon another car, one of you, most likely you, will be taking this road in reverse until you come upon a turn out. It’s treacherous, and terrifying, and worth every second of the two hours. The road's winding design, providing stunning panoramic views, is very curvy and fun for a leisurely ride, so it pays to take it slow.
Furthermore, when you get out of the car to explore the various sights along the road, be very careful as many roads open out to a cliff with a deathly drop below. This infamous road is tightly hairpinned and bumped, an exquisite winding mountain drive with sharp and blind curves and hairpin switchbacks leading the traveler over the mountains. The drive is most picturesque and safe from Kapalua to Wailuku. Remember as you turn those blind corners to honk your horn to communicate to oncoming traffic that you are on the way.
Highway is an euphemism for this paved but precarious narrow road; check your rental-car agreement before you head out -- some companies don't allow their cars on this road. If it is raining or has been raining, skip this road due to mud and rock slides. The road is in dreadful condition and requires strong nerves to negotiate it. Any barriers along the edge afford little more than token protection; large stretches should be taken at a snail's pace and a lookout kept for vehicles coming from the opposite direction! The road is named after the great chief Kahekili, who built houses from the skulls of his enemie.