Maui by Camper Van

Last year for the first time ever we decided to do what we called a mystery trip! What that meant for us was that we got time off work approved and then waited for a cheap flight deal to determine where we were going to go. We ended up finding a really great deal to Hawaii through Scott’s Cheap Flights. We did a little research and decided on Maui! After we booked our flights we started looking for an Airbnb or boutique hotels which is what we typically do when we travel. Turns out most of the Airbnbs on Maui are not cheap! So our cheap trip was becoming more expensive. We started looking into other options and quickly came upon several camper van companies. There are a few companies you can book through on Maui, we decided to go with North Shore Vans (https://www.northshorevans.com) and we would highly recommend them! The owner (Chris) was great and super helpful!. He picked us up from the airport and dropped us back off at the airport after we returned the van.
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Here’s our van named Tall Boy!
The van is your lodging and your transportation for your trip all in one which makes seeing all of Maui really easy. We found the van to work out really well for us, it allowed us the freedom to explore the island without having to make sure we got back to one spot each night.
You will see vans pulled off to the side of the road on small beaches and other locations all over the island. Legally you are not supposed to do this, you need to book a spot at a campground with your van each night. This was a shorter trip for us, we only had about four and half days on the island so we picked a couple different campgrounds to really make sure we could see as much of the island as possible.
This is where we stayed:
Camp Olowalu: Start Here
This place can fill up fast so it is recommended that you make reservations ahead of time. We spent our first two nights here. This was definitely the nicest campground we stayed at. They have hot showers and nice bathrooms. There is also a small black sand beach on the property. Tent camping and van parking spots are available, as well as tentalows and cabins if you want to do some glamping. There are chickens all over this property, they are not shy and will walk right up to your tent or van! They did not bother us at all and would typically quickly run away if we got too close to them. There is also a large group of stray cats on this property if you walk along the path near the beach. The cost for a night here is $20 per person. We also headed back here our last evening before taking a late flight home since the last campground we stayed at didn’t have showers. To stop in here and just use their hot showers the cost is $10 a person. This campground is about 15-20 minutes from the airport which makes it a great place you start your trip. It is also a good central location if you want to go up to Lahaina or over to Kihei/Makena/lava fields!
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Camp Kaenae/YMCA: Awesome views, but bring bug spray!
Reservations are recommended here as well as it will make checking in easier, but it was almost empty while we were there. This campsite is just about to the halfway point on the road to Hana. You likely won’t have cell phone reception here so making sure you already have your spot reserved is very helpful. The cost here is $30 a person – which is honestly a more than it’s worth. They do have hot showers and bathrooms. There are spots for van camping and tent camping here. The night we were here it was very buggy which we were not prepared for. If you can handle the mosquitos, the view out to the ocean here is amazing! One final word of caution – make sure you bring food to cook on the grill/stove. We had planned to stop at a BBQ food stall on the way but that place was closed and there were no other options close by.  You are in the middle of the Road to Hana and there was literally nowhere to eat. We ended up eating pretzels and trail mix for dinner.  Also the night we were here there was only 2 other vans so for the most part we had the place to ourselves.
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Kipahulu- Haleakala National Park: This is about 10 miles past Hana. This park is where the seven sacred pools are located. The campground here has no showers, it does have vault toilets. Van and tent camping are allowed here. They do not take reservations ahead of time, but they had a lot of campsites. We arrived late in the afternoon and had no trouble finding a spot to park. It will cost $25 per vehicle to enter the park. Your park pass is valid for three days and also allows you to drive up the Haleakala volcano and even stay at the Hosmer Grove Campground within the three days. There is no additional fee for camping. The van parking spots are very close to the water. If you are tent camping you can camp even closer to the water if you like. We walked along a small path in the morning to find a quiet place to do our yoga and we passed several small tents in small openings along the path/trail with great views of the water.
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Here is a list of other campgrounds on Maui that you can legally park your van for camping:
Wainapanapa State Park
Papalaua campground
Hosmer Grove -Haleakala National Park (uses the same pass as the Kipahulu campground!)
Check out North Shore Vans Website for more information on each of these locations and links to each campsite where reservations are needed- https://www.northshorevans.com/campgrounds
Other Logistics:
We were recommended to grocery shop Mana foods in Paia which is actually a small, health food store. They have fairly good prices however they didn’t have everything we were looking for, so we ended up having to go somewhere else to get a few other random items. There is a Costco and several other big name stores near the airport. We went to Walmart since it was the first one we passed after leaving Mana foods. If you are looking for any toiletries, sunscreen, or alcohol Mana foods won’t have these items for you.
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Also something we didn’t consider is that all of these campgrounds do have grills so you can cook food. The van also had a small gas camping stove for cooking. The van does have a cooler for keeping food cold. The cooler is sitting in the hot van all day while you are out exploring so we did find we had to refill it with ice almost every day. We relied on snacks and stopping for food along the way each day since we were on a shorter trip. Camp Olowalu is within 15 minutes of several small towns so you can definitely eat at restaurants when staying here. The other places we stayed were along the road to Hana where food options are very sparse. There are restaurants in Hana, so we got take out when we were there the next afternoon and kept that in the cooler for dinner the night we stayed at Kipahulu-Haleakala National Park.
The back of the van had a bed, storage for all of our stuff and a sink. Simple dishes and silverware were provided as well as a map of the island with points of interest to help us make the most of our trip. There were also curtains to cover the windows at night when we wanted to relax in the van. There were also lights and a power inverter to charge phones/ipads, etc.
We found the camper van to be a really nice way to see the island. We would highly recommend this to anyone looking to travel cheaply! You always hear that Hawaii is not a cheap place to travel but trust us when we say this is the way to do it! It isn’t your typical Hawaiian vacation but we loved every minute of it! We haven’t visited any of the other islands yet but there are camper van rental companies on the other islands as well and we are looking forward to exploring those islands in this way as well!
For more on the Road to Hana check out our post here: Road to Hana Camper Van Adventure
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-TFWYs

 

Road to Hana Camper-Van Adventure

The Road to Hana is a must do for any trip to Maui. A lot of people do the road to Hana in one day which you can certainly do. If you have more time to spend in this area there is definitely a lot to see and do! We wanted to make sure we had time for as many stops as we wanted so we took more time on this side of the island during our trip. Places to stay are limited along the road to Hana, there are a few very small hotels in the town of Hana its self but that is really all we saw. We rented a camper van for our trip which worked out very well since there are a few places to sleep along the way. We stayed one night at Camp Kaenae YMCA which is just short of halfway to Hana. We then drove the rest of the road the following day and spent one night at the Kipahulu Distric of Haleakala National Park which is past Hana (this is the park where the 7 sacred pools are located). You could also tent camp at these locations if you have camping equipment available to you. We found the camper van to be perfect since it served as our transportation and our lodging. We didn’t have to worry about setting up and taking down a tent. We could simply get up and drive off to keep exploring. We rented our van through North Shore Vans and would highly recommend them.

We have broken this post up into our “must do” stops and then at the end are some extra stops worth including if you have more time. Most of the best stops are towards the second half of the road to Hana. We actually started the road the Hana drive around 2pm since we knew we were staying at about the halfway point. The second day we had a full day to explore, and we were already pretty close to everything we really wanted to see. This worked out very well and we found we were in much less traffic since most people start early in the day at the beginning and only dedicate one day to this trip.

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Must dos:

Keanae Peninsula mile marker 16-17-  Take the turn off down to this peninsula and the little town. The views of the ocean are amazing! The town was struck by a tsunami in 1946 which destroyed everything except the church. You can still see this traditional stone church when you visit. Also while you are here we would recommend stopping at Auntie Sandy’s for some banana bread still warm from the oven!

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Tree Bears falls mile marker 19.5- This waterfall is absolutely beautiful. When the rain has been heavier and more water is rushing over the falls it appears as one waterfall. When it hasn’t been as rainy the falls are separated into three which is where the name three bears falls comes from. If you are a little bit adventurous you can wander down under the bridge and get right up close to the falls. There is not really a path, you will be walking on rocks, it can be a bit muddy but overall it isn’t too challenging. We both walked down here and there was one other couple walking around on the rocks while we were there.

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Nahiku mile marker 25- Follow the turn off down the small, windy road to the very small town of Nahiku. There isn’t much “in town” but once you are there you can park and walk down to the shore. You will get beautiful views of the ocean with large black lava rocks and huge waves crashing up on the rocks. From the main look out point to the ocean you can follow the small path on the left side (if looking at the ocean) down to a small tidal pool that is protected from the waves. It is a bit rocky so we didn’t swim here but were told by a few locals it is a good place to go for a swim.

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Black Sand Beach at Waiapanapa State Park mile marker 32- This is definitely a more popular stop so be prepared for more people. It is for good reason that everyone is stopping here! You should definitely walk to the beach and go for a swim, from there we highly recommend walking to the left (if you are looking at the ocean) and hiking along the black lava rocks. Here you will get great views and the further you walk you will get away from the crowds and have the path to yourself. Our favorite picture from our whole trip was taken along this path!

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Kaihalulu red sand beach in Hana mile marker 34- We had heard that the path to this beach can be dangerous. We even read a few blog posts that said they didn’t visit this beach because of the dangerous path. We found the path to be completely fine but that being said if it was really rainy we could see how it could be pretty sketchy. There is a fairly steep drop off down the ocean from the path and the pebble ground is likely slippery after/during a lot of rain. The walk to the beach is fairly short. The beach is beautiful once you arrive. There are several large rocks blocking the larger wave making this a nice place to swim. We have heard that this is a clothing optional beach so if that is something that bothers you do be aware of that. Parking is also pretty restricted, but it was a Sunday when we were there and parked at the preschool near the Thai food truck and walked from there (also, grab some Thai while you’re at it!)

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Kipahulu Distric of Haleakala National Park mile marker 42:

Seven Sacred pools- We actually enjoyed the Venus pools (which are on our list of additional stops) better than these pools however if you are only dedicating one day to this than the day goes quickly so you’ll have to make some tough decisions on where to stop and what to skip. This park has the best hike on Maui (in our opinion) so overall the park is a must do! The seven sacred pools were open for swimming when we visited however in the past they have closed at times so do be aware of that. The pools are beautiful and worth seeing. They are freshwater, if you are camping in the park there are not showers so a dip in these pools is a nice way to rinse the salt water off if you have been exploring and swimming all day.

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PipiWai Trail-  This was over favorite hike on Maui! It is a 4 mile hike through bamboo forest and up to Waimoka falls which is a 400ft waterfall. The trail is easy to follow but it is uphill most of the way. As you get closer to the end where Waimoka falls is the trail can get a bit wet and muddy. Definitely wear your hiking shoes/boots for this hike. If are giving yourself more than one day on the road to Hana we would recommend getting to this trail early. We started our hike around 7:30-8AM and we didn’t see anyone else until we were on the second half of the hike back after seeing the falls.

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Additional stops worth making if you have time: 

It is worth saying that some of these stops are also really cool and we loved them! Just because they are on this part of our list shouldn’t deter you from stopping. But if you are doing this trip in one day and trying to make it back before dark then your time really will go quickly!

Venus pools mile marker 48- This was one of our favorite stops! if you have time for one of the additional stops we have listed this would be the one we suggest! The Venus pools are a short walk from the road. Finding a parking spot along the road can be challenging, and mind the sings as some people had tickets on their windshields. There are giant rocks surrounding the major pool where you will see people jumping/diving into the water from various heights. If you aren’t brave enough for that you can easily get into the water without jumping/diving. Just beware that it is a bit tricky to get out of. The pool is quite large with lush jungle on the far side giving it a perfect Hawaii feel!

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Twin falls mile marker 2- these falls are smaller than some of the others we stopped at. But they are still beautiful and you can swim in them. There are two separate waterfalls here. you will see a fairly large parking lot at this stop with a fruit stand. From there you follow the path along to the falls. Both waterfalls are just a short walk from the parking lot.

Waikamoi Ridge Trail mile marker 9.5- This trail is 1.1 miles. It is near the beginning of the road to Hana. It is a nice trail and if you really want to get out and explore it is a good option for a short hike but we don’t feel it is a “must do”.

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Hanamanu Bay mile marker 14- This is a smaller black sand beach than the park we listed above.  We have heard there is a narrow road you can turn off on if you want to actually get down to the beach but we did not do that this trip. You will get amazing views of the beach along the drive and there is a look out point on the drive back from Hana so you can stop and get a great picture of this beautiful bay!

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Keanae Arboretum mile marker 16- This place is where you can walk right up and see a patch of rainbow bamboo trees. These trees are beautiful to see up close. The arboretum is also full of other beautiful plats and flowers. It is a fairly short walk through the main part of the arboretum so this stop won’t take you too long. It would be easy to add on if you have extra time.

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Pua’a Ka’a State Wayside mile marker 22- This stop is a pretty popular one so be prepared for it to be more crowded. There are bathrooms here so it’s a good place to stop. There is also a small waterfall you can swim in here.

Wailua Falls mile marker 45- Another beautiful waterfall. You can get views of it from the car as you drive by. If you have extra time you can park nearby and explore for even better views.

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There are a few good look out spots along the way with views of the ocean and the volcano, if you have the GyPSy Guide app for Hana which we recommend (more details on that at the end of this post) the audio guide will point out these spots for you.

Food Recommendations:

If you are camping along the way do take into consideration that there aren’t a ton of places to stop for food/groceries. We recommend packing snacks and stopping for food when you pass an opportunity! There is a small grocery/convivence store in Hana to stock up on things as needed but don’t expect them to have everything a larger grocery store would have.

Ka Haku Smoke shack mile marker 10.2- This place does close fairly early in the afternoon so do be aware of that. The first day when we drove by at about 3-4pm it was closed. We stopped here on our way back from Hana closer to 11:30-noon and it was open. The chicken and ribs are both really good! This is a simple place, just a parking lot with some picnic tables and two guys working the grill. Doesn’t look like much but it is worth a stop!

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Halfway to Hana Stand mile marker 17- This small stand has coffee, water, juice, snacks and great banana bread! This was our breakfast after staying at the YMCA.

Nahiku Marketplace/food trucks mile marker 29- There are multiple options for food here, we arrived around 11 AM when everything was just opening up. We had some great BBQ. There is also a small gift shop here if you would like to pick something up to take home with you. If you can plan to be here later in the afternoon then all the options would be open for you.

Thai food by Pranee in Hana mile marker 34- This place is amazing! It is right in Hana. We got food to go from here for dinner the night we were camping in the Kipahulu Distric of Haleakala National Park. We would highly recommend eating here!

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A few other random tips:

Bring bug spray!

Bring snacks because as we said, depending on what time of day you drive by these places food stands and shops may or may not be open.

Be aware that you will lose cell phone service shortly into the drive so download any maps or information you think you may need before you start the drive.

One last recommendation we have is to download the GyPSy Guide app for Hana. It costs $5-6 but is totally worth it. Open the app and once you start driving the guide will begin talking. You will get some history and general information about the area as you drive. The guide will also point out each stop for you with a bit of information to help you decide if you want to stop or not. All the stops along the road are not super well marked so it would be very easy to miss things without the guide telling you when to stop.  Also of note, we have listed the closest mile marker for each stop but some of these stops are not right at the mile marker. You will have to keep your eyes open for where each stop is truly located.

 

Take your time and enjoy the drive!
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– TFWY’s