Valley Isle Excursions: Road to Hana

Update: The Tedeschi Winery and the Ulupalakua Deli are no longer a stop on the Valley Isle Excursions Tour. Due to the size of these historic sites, the facilities are no longer adequate to properly handle Valley Isle Excursions and other commercial tours while providing an experience a guest would truly appreciate at the winery or ranch store.  We encourage you to visit upcountry Maui and experience these sites on your own sometime during your Maui vacation.

Even though we needed to be up very early, the kids had a hard time getting to sleep. It had been about six years since the last time we went to Hana and they didn’t really remember the trip very well. The excitement of this trip to Hana with Valley Isle Excursions was getting the better of them. They went to bed around 8:30, finally fell asleep (I know this because that is when they stopped talking) around midnight, and were wide awake by 4:30. That’s a good two hours before the alarm was set to go off. Thank goodness they were both able to nap on the Valley Isle Excursion Van on the last leg of the trip to the winery. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The Valley Isle Excursion Van was schedule to pick us up at the Outrigger Aina Nalu, a condominium complex in Lahaina on the west side of Maui, at 7:05 am. I told the kids that, if we were late, the Valley Isle Excursion Van would leave without us. It takes about twenty minutes to walk from the house to the Outrigger Aina Nalu. Just to be sure, the kids insisted we leave the house at 6:15.

Pick up at Aina Nalu

Valley Isle Excursion Van

The Valley Isle Excursion Van

As I expected, we were the first to arrive. The Valley Isle Excursion Van was already parked in the driveway at the Aina Nalu by the time we got there, and we introduced ourselves to the tour guide. She didn’t introduce herself to us and when I asked her what her name was, she told me she would introduce herself later, when all the guests were there. I found this curious, but I discovered later, it made perfect sense.

We picked our seats on the van; there were only twelve seats, not counting the one for our, as yet unnamed, driver. The kids wanted to sit in front and I sat behind them and saved a seat for them mom. She was riding her moped from the house and promised to meet us there by the designated departure time.

That left eight more seats on the van. The Valley Isle Excursion Van has plenty of room and plenty of windows. There is a seat in the very back big enough for four adults. There are three seats along the left side, if you are facing the front, that are comfortable for two. And there are two single seats on the right side. Our tour guide informed us that if you want to see the beach and coast line you should sit on the left; if you prefer to see the waterfalls you should sit on the right. In reality, you can see everything from any seat, you’re just closer to the window if you sit on a particular side.

Most of the other passengers boarded the Valley Isle Excursion Van at Aina Nalu. We all introduced ourselves to each other and shared how much we were looking forward to going to Hana. There were still two empty seats when our tour guide closed the doors and let us know that we were going to pick up the other passengers at Puamana, just a few minutes away. The last couple to joining us, were on their honeymoon and they were just as excited as the rest of us to be going to Hana. As the final pick-up, they didn’t have much choice in seats, Since there were only two seats left, they ended up sitting in the single seats on the right side.

Heading Down the Honoapiilani Highway

With everyone on board, our tour guide drove us to the Honoapiilani Highway, turned right towards Kahului, and began our Valley Isle Excursion Road to Hana Tour. It was still pretty early and she let us know that she would start the full narration about the history of Maui and Hana after we had a chance to eat breakfast, have a cup of coffee, and wake up. For now, we would have to be content with general information along the way. It was a beautiful morning drive. Watching the sun come up over the West Maui mountains on the left with the Pacific Ocean, Lanai, and Kaho’olawe on the right was wonderful to behold.

We drove through the Pali (the tunnel that goes through the mountain), past Maalaea and the aquarium, and on through to Kahului and the Maui Lani Golf Course. This was our first stop on our trip to Hana tour. I was ready for breakfast, coffee, and to learn the name of our tour guide and driver. The parking lot of the Maui Lani Golf Course was filled with Valley Isle Excursion Vans and it was obvious that this was the first stop for all the other guests as well. Our tour guide introduced herself using her full Hawaiian name and let us know that the shortened version was “Pu”. The reason for waiting until we arrived at breakfast before introducing herself was to give us a chance to wake up, to provide us with a little background information, and to let us know how to find our Valley Isle Excursion Van. Because Pu loves flowers so much, hers is the only Valley Isle Excursion Van with flowers on the dashboard.

Continental Breakfast at Maui Lani

Valley Isle Excursion Continental Breakfast

Valley Isle Excursion Continental Breakfast

Along with all the other passengers from the Valley Isle Excursion Vans, we went inside for breakfast. Breakfast was a simple, but nice, continental breakfast consisting of coffee, tea, juice, fresh fruit, mini croissants, and muffins. I wasn’t overly hungry this early in the day, but had a cup of coffee and some melon. It was good, nothing fancy. The kids, however, loved it. Together, they ate a plate of fresh fruit, half a dozen muffins, several mini croissants, and two glasses of POG juice each. Their mom enjoyed a plate of fruit and saved a few muffins to take with her for the van ride. Pu let us know that it was OK to enjoy refreshments on the road.

808 Reviews Tips for the Bathroom at Maui Lani Golf Course.
The line for the women’s restroom seems to grow exponentially towards the end of breakfast. If you can use the restroom before the rush, you won’t have to wait as long. If you want to avoid the long line entirely, there is a second ladies restroom on the other side of the continental breakfast buffet. Ask your tour guide if you need more specific directions.
The men’s restroom has two sinks. Use the sink on the left; the sink on the right (at the time of this writing) spits water. I learned this the hard way and had to wipe my glasses after washing my hands.

After breakfast, as we were returning to the Valley Isle Excursion Van with the flowers on the dashboard, the honeymoon couple asked us if the kids wouldn’t mind switching seats with them so they could sit together. The kids didn’t mind and were happy to let the honeymoon couple sit together. The kids moved to the second row of seats so the honeymoon couple could sit in the front. Their mom and I moved to the single seats on the right. Since all the seats had plenty of window to look through it was a simple thing to do. And it made the honeymoon couple very happy.

On the Road to Hana

Plant seen on Valley Isle Excursion Road to Hana

Plant seen on Valley Isle Excursion Road to Hana

Once we were all in our seats, Pu started the van and we headed back to the Kuihelani Highway, well on our way to the Hana Highway and the next part of our adventure. This stretch of the Road to Hana took us through a “hippie town” called Paia. Pu shared stories about the history of the area. I will refrain from sharing all the stories here. Even though they were incredibly interesting and educational, I don’t want to ruin the ending for you when you take the tour. I highly recommend that when you schedule your tour, you should ask for Pu. I’m sure all the tour guides are good, but I bet you that Pu is better.

A few of the places that I plan on seeing on my next trip to this side of the island include Mana Foods, Charley’s Restaurant and Saloon, and Mama’s Fish House. Mana Foods is a health food store that carries organic, natural foods and focuses on island grown and organic items. Charley’s is a popular restaurant that opened in 1969 and frequently features Maui resident Willie Nelson serving customers. Mama’s Fish House is a fine dining restaurant known for their fresh fish.

While driving through Paia, Haiku, and Huelo (where Woody Harrlson and his family live), Pu offered informational commentary about the sites we were seeing and the people who helped establish them. Along the way, we learned that there are approximately 617 (unverified) curves on the road to Hana; that Spreckelsville was named after Claus Spreckles, a California sugar refiner; and that the ditch that brings water from Hana to the rest of the Island was created by Samuel Alexander and Henry Baldwin. And they did it in record time.

Be Home Before the Hau Turns Orange

The lessons continued, which by the way was great for my kids. Pu’s narration was wonderfully educational and kept the attention of all the children on the Valley Excursion Van. And just to be clear, the adults liked it, too. One of my favorite expressions was, “Be home before the hau turns orange”. We learned that Pu heard this phrase a lot when she was growing up on on Maui. Hau is a hibiscus flower with bright yellow flowers change colors as the day goes on. By the end of the day, the flowers turn orange and then to reddish brown before falling off the plant by the next morning. Pu explained that the kids were taught to “be home before the hau turns orange”. It’s like being home “before the streetlights come on”.

Before too long, it was time for our first restroom stop and a chance to stretch our legs. Pu was very considerate about frequent bathroom breaks and made sure we made plenty of stops along the way. We never really sat on the van for too long at a time. We also stopped often to take pictures of waterfalls, beautiful plants, and family members. If you’ve ever traveled with children who had free access to bottles of water, juice, and soda, you will appreciate all the bathroom breaks.

Even though the Valley Isle Excursion Van is comfortable, it’s still nice to get up and walk around at all the stops along the way. It gave us a chance to take some pictures, ask Pu some questions, and see things other than through a window.

808 Reviews Tip: The trip to Hana can be similar to going on a whale watch. People have been known to get car sick. (No one did on this trip.) I always carry mints, gum, or something just to be sure. This trip, I has a box of mint flavored toothpicks. If you’re prone to becoming car sick, make sure to tell your tour guide and carry some mints. If you have some ginger candy, that will work, too.

A Few Hawaiian Words

While we were driving, Pu offered to continue her incredible narration full of information about the road to Hana or, if we preferred, she offered to teach us to speak a little Hawaiian. We voted unanimously to learn a little Hawaiian. It was a lot of fun to learn and practice a few words of Hawaiian. I am still amazed at how much the kids still remember. While writing this post, I asked my twelve year old daughter if she remembered any of the Hawaiian words that Pu taught her. I was was pleased to discover that even after a few weeks she still remembered a few words:

No problem: a’ole pilikia
No: a’ole
Yes: ea
Thank you: Mahalo
Thank you very much: Mahalo nui loa

Wainapanapa

We practiced our Hawaiian words and by the time we reached Wainapanapa, we were getting pretty good. There were a lot more clouds in the sky then when we left the west side. Pu had originally planned to serve lunch as Wainapanapa, but instead decided it would be better to save lunch for Hana Bay and to take a break for half an hour or so at Wainapanapa. That would leave us plenty of time to walk around and explore Wainapanapa. And if it started to rain, we could make it back to the Valley Isle Excursion Van before getting too wet.

On the Rocks with Valley Isle Excursions

On the Rocks with Valley Isle Excursions

Pu found a place to park and, as we got out of the Valley Isle Excursion Van, pointed out the mongooses hungry for breakfast and hoping for a handout. Pu was happy to oblige. Pu brought some snacks for the mongooses. (I looked it up and it’s not mongeese) Muffins from Costco were on the breakfast menu for the mongooses. My children were torn between watching the mongooses and wanting to walk down to the beach. We compromised and watched the mongooses for about ten minutes before walking to their first beautiful black sand beach. The kids enjoyed climbing on the rocks and playing around.

Buying Fruit on the Honor System

After Wainapanapa, Pu headed towards to Hana Bay. Along the way, we passed a fruit stand featuring liliko (passion fruit), starfruit, avocados, and more. All purchases were on the honor system. Prices were marked and there was a box where you put your money. Pu pulled over and we bought a few things for later. I loved that in Hana, everyone is so trusting and the thought of not paying never even entered your mind.

Once everyone had purchased their produce, Pu continued on to Hana Bay. Even from the windows of the Valley Isle Excursion Van, the peacefulness and majesty of the area was apparent. After she parked the Valley Isle Excursion Van, Pu gave us ten minutes to walk around while she set up our picnic lunch. My son and I took advantage of the opportunity to walk along the beach and talked about the beauty and peaceful feeling that overcomes you at Hana Bay.

Hana Bay Picnic Lunch

Chicken Lunch with Valley Isle Excursions

Chicken Lunch with Valley Isle Excursions

By the time we returned to the picnic tables, Pu had finished setting up our lunch. It was a nice picnic style lunch. Even though it didn’t look like anything overly fancy, it sure tasted good. The vegetarian meal was a coconut curry with broccoli, carrots, squash (two kinds), and noodles. The main course for the standard meal was chicken. Salad with home-made ranch dressing, mac salad, and dinner rolls were available for everyone. My daughter, who is a self-proclaimed expert on mac salad, thought this was one of the best mac salads she’s had. There was plenty of food for everyone and several of us had seconds. As was the custom for the day, there were juice, soft drinks, and water to drink.

Once lunch was finished, there was a final bathroom break before we headed back to the Valley Isle Excursion Van. Hana Bay is the kind of place where you could easily spend more than just an hour. I made a mental note to research places to stay in Hana so next time, we could come back for a few days or even a week.

The Price of Gas in Hana

After lunch we headed back on the road to Hana town. It’s pretty small, but has a wonderful feel to it. Pu pointed out the bank, restaurant, and hotel. She showed us the ball field where the San Francisco Seals used to play back in 1946. She also pointed out the only gas station in Hana; it was the first gas station we had seen since Paia. As we drove by, I noticed that the gas station was selling regular for $5.49 a gallon. So far, that’s the only drawback to living in Hana.

Seven Pools

As we continued out of Hana, Pu asked us who wanted to swim at the Seven Pools and who wanted to see the Palapala Ho’omau Church where Charles Lindburgh was buried. There wasn’t enough time to spend a full hour at both places, so she was planning on dropping off those who wanted to swim at the Kīpahulu area of Haleakalā National Park and take the rest of us to the Palapala Ho’omau Church. The kids wanted to swim at the Seven Pools and their mom and I both wanted to see where Charles Lindburgh was buried. We were still working on the solution when we arrived at Kīpahulu. After reading the posted notice, Pu announced that due to strong currents, the Seven Pools were closed to swimming today. Problem Solved! With the pools closed to swimming, our time there was going to be cut short. We would be able to visit both places.

Seven Pools with Valley Isle Excursions

Seven Pools with Valley Isle Excursions

Pu dropped us off near the visitor center and drove off to park the van. She asked us to return in about half an hour so we could continue on with our journey. Since we would not be swimming, this would be plenty of time to walk around and explore the park.

Our first stop was the Kīpahulu Visitor Center where we hoped the kids would be able learn more about the area. We met the nephew of a family friend, who just happened to be working there, and took some time to talk story and catch up. My son, who very seldom wants souvenirs, used his own money to buy three keychains. One for himself and one each for his brother and sister. The purchases were a testament to how much fun he was having on the trip. He thought the Valley Isle Excursion Road to Hana Trip was great for kids. He couldn’t wait to get home and tell his big brother all about it. But first, we spent the next twenty minutes walking around Pīpīwai trail viewing the ‘Ohe’o Gulch.

Charles Lindburgh’s Final Resting Place

As we finished our hike around the area, the Valley Isle Excursion Van with the flowers on the dashboard pulled up. By now, the kids were starting to get a little tired and I noticed a few of the other passengers started to show signs of fatigue as well. Pu must have anticipated this, because she had an open box of chocolate covered macadamia nut clusters ready for us as we entered the van. Energized with this wonderful treat, we were ready to visit the Palapala Ho’omau Church.

The church was a quick drive from the pools and Pu was able to find a parking spot pretty quickly. From the outside, it didn’t look like anything special, but as we walked around the grounds, it was easy to notice what a peaceful, quiet, and calm place it was.

We had about a half an hour to walk around, take pictures, and take in the atmosphere. There was some ethereal quality to the grounds that I was unable to figure out or even fully understand. One of the markers had the quote, “ Success is in the journey not the destination.” This was very appropriate for our trip to Hana. The church is definitely a place to check out and visit on your own.

Anyone Want Some Aloe?

After we left the church, and for the first time all day, it started to rain. Not much rain, just a light sprinkle. It wasn’t enough to limit our view out the windows, but just the same I was glad I wasn’t driving. We continued on and Pu pointed out a huge Aloe plant growing along the side of the road. One of the passengers asked Pu if she could have a cutting of the plant to take home. I thought they were joking, but Pu stopped the Valley Isle Excursion Van, got out, and cut off some of the plant for the passenger. It was huge! Like the expression goes, “You’ll never get something that you don’t ask for.”

Pu informed us that the next leg of the journey was on a bit of a rough road. If we wanted to lean our seats back and take a nap, this would be the perfect time. She stopped her narration and turned on the music.

Indiana Jones on the Road to Hana

The next several miles that had us heading away from Hana, reminded me of the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland. If you’ve never been on it, the road is incredibly bumpy and rough. The kids, who by this time were very tired from the day’s adventure, still full from lunch, and on the other side of the sugar high from the chocolate mac nut clusters, we asleep in minutes. The music was peaceful and I dozed a little bit myself. I woke up in time to take a few pictures of a side of Maui I had never seen before.

Tedeschi Winery

Our next stop, not counting a stop along the way to stretch a little and enjoy the view, was the Tedeschi Winery  for some Maui-made wines. Not being a oenophile, I was looking forward to trying something new. The wine tasting room was pretty crowded when we arrived. It seems like several other tours were stopping at the winery, too.

We sampled three different wines. The first wine, Hula O’Maui, was a pineapple wine that was nice and tasted pretty good. I liked it, but couldn’t picture drinking it on a regular basis. After we finished the glass, the hostess asked if we would like to try a sweeter wine or a dryer wine. Not being a fan of really dry wines, I opted for sweeter. I should have asked for a dryer wine. This second, Maui Splash, was a little too sweet for me; I thought it was more of a dessert wine. The third wine, Framboise, actually was a dessert wine made from raspberries. It thought it would be very good over vanilla ice cream. We now have a bottle of Framboise at home.

Ulupalakua Ranch Store & Grill

Across from the Tedeschi Winery was the Ulupalakua Ranch’s Ranch Store & Grill, a general store with souvenirs, t-shirts, snacks, and things. We crossed the street and walked around the store a while looking a some t-shirts and coffee mugs. The kids wanted an ice cream treats and we agreed that they could have rainbow pop and a fat boy ice cream sandwich. Pu allows eating in the Valley Isle Excursion Van, so there was no danger of them getting an ice cream headache.

The ride back to Lahaina from the Tedeschi Winery and the Ulupalakua Ranch was filled with discussions about our favorite upcountry restaurants and how they compare with restaurants on the west side of Maui. It was obviously getting close to dinner time and everyone was getting a little hungry.

We were planning on eating at Spanky’s Riptide, since we were too tired to cook after such a busy day.

Back in Lahaina

The first couple to be dropped off was the honeymoon couple staying at Puamana. When they got up to leave, they thanked Pu for being such a great guide. Then, they turned to my kids and thanked them for changing seats with them so they could sit together in the front seat. They handed some gifts that they had been purchased at the Ulupalakua Ranch Store. My daughter received a new bag with the Ulupalukua Ranch logo and my son received a travel adventure tool that included flashlight, magnifying glass, and more. It was a wonderful and thoughtful gesture of appreciation.

At our recommendation, a couple of our travel companions asked to be dropped off near Spanky’s Riptide so they could have dinner. We opted for the same drop off point. We said Aloha to our everyone who shared this adventure with us and added a special Mahalo to Pu for taking us on this wonderful trip to Hana.

All in all, it was great trip.

Valley Isle Excursions
390 Papa Place #B
Kahului, HI 96732
www.tourmaui.com

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About Maury Hoffman |Things to Do on Maui | Restaurant and Activity Reviews

Senior Editor of 808 Reviews and freelance travel writer, Maury Hoffman lives on Maui with his familiy, iPad, iPhone, and other gadgets. His writing proficiency is directly related to the quality of his morning coffee. He prefers Peet's Coffee, but also enjoys Living Java.

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