Hawaii Maui highway puts fearless through their paces Filler up at Paia, last stop before heaven By Rebecca Tobin / March 28, 2005 Share 1 -- Local Color: Getting Around" Rent a car at one of the major car rental outlets by the Kahului airport and go at your own pace. Rental prices for economy cars start at $18. A Jeep Wrangler is a little more pricey, at about $70." Paia is your first stop on the road to Hana. Its just southeast of Kahului and the airport. Its almost the last place to get supplies, and the last place to get gas for your trip." For something to eat, try Paia Fish Market at 100 Hana Highway. Phone: (808) 579-8030. This self-serve eatery offers fish -- of course -- and chicken and pasta at prices ranging from $10 to $20. The Fish Market is open from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m." Nearby is Charleys (142 Hana Highway), which serves pizza, pasta, seafood and salads; dinners range in price from $10 to $17. Theres a sports bar in back. Open 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Phone: (808) 579-9453." Eager to get back on the road? Paia Drive-In at 149 Hana Highway has burgers to go. It opens at 6 a.m. The Paia General Store next door has sandwiches and salads." Allow about three hours to get to Hana, with sightseeing stops along the way.KAHULUI, Maui -- Id been in the Hawaiian islands for nearly a week (on a cruise) before somebody mentioned the Road to Hana. And suddenly -- and isnt this always how it is? -- I started hearing about it in nearly every conversation. I was en route to Maui, and people were beginning to discuss their shore plans for the two-day stay. The Hana Highway emerged as a must-see, must-do.I also heard that it was too long and too exhausting for the driver. However, the people enthusiastic about the drive far drowned out the naysayers -- and everybody admitted it was an amazing experience.The Hana Highway, or the Road to Hana, is a stretch of road that begins in a town called Paia and ends in a town called Hana.In between are twisting, turning corners; switchbacks; and dips and inclines as the road snakes its way along the Maui coastline and through a rain forest created by weather conditions from the dormant Halekuala volcano, which dominates the interior area of this part of Maui.Rather than take an organized tour, I opted to rent a car at one of the major auto rental outlets by the Kahului airport -- a popular option that lets visitors go at their own pace and pick their stops along the way.I rented a Jeep Wrangler from Budget at a discount for cruise passengers, but the typical rental price is around $70 per day, depending on the season and availability. As soon as I claimed the bright yellow Wrangler, I rolled the top back, slathered on the sunscreen, threw some Hawaii-inspired music into the CD player and started up Route 36.Drivers are advised to stock up on gas and food in Paia because theres very little between there and Hana except a few fruit stands selling local produce.The town itself has a very tidy, walkable main street, with clothing stores, surf shops and restaurants that sell tuna burgers and the local Kona brew. At least one eatery sells picnic lunches to Hana-bound visitors. Others sell music tapes.Beyond Paia is the infamous highway. The first half-hour or so is pretty easy driving; I caught some great views of the ocean and saw a gaggle of windsurfers taking advantage of the breeze.I passed a few signs warning of curvy roads ahead. And then I left civilization.As I drove on, the road got more narrow and more curvy. It twisted left and then immediately jackknifed back to the right. The foliage grew a lot more dense, and the Wrangler kept a steady uphill climb. I switched to the right again and switched to the left. Then there were the bridges. There are more than 50 one-lane bridges spanning deep ravines that, for some reason, seem to be located just at the point where you cant quite see whos coming in the opposite direction. Id stop, look around the bend and then roll across the bridge. By this time, my average mph was about 15. I couldnt believe that, until recently, this road was unpaved.Twenty minutes later, I gave up on sightseeing, as I could barely keep my eyes off the twisting road lest I miss a hairpin curve and smack into a wall (or get too close to a cliff).A convertible behind was going as slowly as I was.But when I was able to catch a glimpse of the surrounding environs, I was amazed.Cliffs, trees, flowers, blue skies and azure seas were all around.Each time I rounded a corner I looked left, out to the ocean, or right, at a waterfall.The air smelled fresh and tropical.Going 10 mph does have some advantages -- I didnt speed by any of the sights.I made at least two stops before the Halfway to Hana highway marker.One was just a pull-over-and-hike stop where I took a mile-long loop up and down a hill to see some truly amazing trees with aboveground roots, hillsides just crammed with foliage and redheaded birds.Hana itself is nicknamed Heavenly Hana.Im guessing this means that, not only is the town beautiful, but those who drive the route are beyond relieved when they come to the end of the road.To contact reporter Rebecca Tobin, send e-mail to email@example.com.Perfect Itinerary: MauiJack Ezon, vice president of leisure product development at Pro Travel International in New York, shares with us his ideal six-day itinerary for the island of Maui.Day 1Stay at one of Mauis most deluxe hotels, the Four Seasons Maui, or, for added value, the all-suite Fairmont Kea Lani. Those with kids to keep occupied might consider the mammoth Grand Wailea. At night, consider a sunset cruise followed by a romantic dinner for two on the beach. Try the $59 per person Maui Sunset and Cocktails cruise from operator Alii Nui at (808) 879-9259.Day 2First thing in the morning, take a guided hike among bamboo forests and tropical rain forests. Maui Eco-Tours, at (866) 891-2223 or www.mauiecotours.com, picks up guests at their hotel for a variety of tours. Book a memorable dinner at Spago at the Four Seasons. Menu changes nightly; entrees range from $36 to $40. Day 3Get up at 4 a.m. for a sunrise bike tour down the Haleakala Volcano. Tours depart two hours before sunrise, so youll be there when the sun comes up over the volcanos summit. Next, enjoy the thrill of biking down one of the nations highest volcanoes. The ride descends 3,000 feet and curves around 29 switchbacks. Maui Downhill is one such operator. The price starts at $100 per person. Call (800) 535-BIKE.Later, book a couples massage at the Grand Wailea spa. The treatment lasts three-and-a-half hours and costs $525. For dining, make sure to reserve a prime table at Roys. The Pacific Islands famous chef blends local ingredients with European sauces and flare. Call (808) 891-1120.Day 4Set out to Maalaea Harbor for snuba -- a cross between snorkeling and scuba diving -- in Molikini. After lunch, set up a whale-watching tour, which leaves from the Maalawa harbor. For whale-watching, call Pacific Whale Foundation, Eco Adventures at (800) WHALE11 or visit www.pacificwhale.org. For dinner, reserve a table in the outdoor gardens at Cafe Caio. The cafe serves upscale Italian fare in a relaxed, Mediterranean-style ambience. Entrees range in price from $21 to $36.Day 5Arrange for surfing lessons in nearby Kihei town with twin professional surfers, Tide and Kiva Rivers. Call Rivers to the Sea, (808) 280-8795 or visit www.riverstothesea.com. Set aside the afternoon for a kayak adventure to experience Mauis jagged coast. Call South Pacific Kayaks and Outfitters, (800) 77-OCEAN, or visit www.southpacifickayaks.com.For dinner, Sea Watch in the hills of Wailea is a good choice. Fare is island seafood and game cuisine, with a hearty wine list. Dishes range from $24 to $30 per entree. Call (808) 875-8080 for reservations.Day 6Top off the stay with a one-hour helicopter ride with Blue Hawaiian, which provides an aerial view of this incredibly lush island, taking in its waterfalls, rain forests, coast line and volcanoes. Call Blue Hawaiian at (800) 745-2583.