The first thing that you’ll notice about Maui driving (besides the almost-constant ocean view) is that the directions seem just a little… complicated. We’ve put together a quick guide on getting around Maui on the road.
Maui Regions: West, Central, East, South, North, and Upcountry
West Maui refers to the entire western side of Maui (the smaller side).
While Oahu has a famous North Shore, Maui’s is less well-known and less specific, and very few locals will tell you somewhere is in “North Maui.”
South Maui refers to Kihei, Wailea, Ma’alaea, and La Peruse. While West Maui has a Southern shore, most people only refer to the Eastern South side as “South Maui.”
East Maui refers to the entire large side of Maui.
Central Maui is located in the valley between Haleakala and the West Maui Mountains. If you took an in-bound flight from the mainland, you landed in Central Maui.
Upcountry Maui refers to the towns located on the slopes of Haleakala. While “Up” is not technically a direction, Upcountry is a distinct region on Maui, complete with its own climate and cowboy culture.
While Hana is technically on East Maui along the Northern shore, the road to Hana (and the town itself) are practically regions unto themselves.
Generally speaking, most areas on Maui have retained the same names for decades, if not centuries. Because of that, you’ll notice that towns and regions seem to whiz by – it takes less than ten minutes to pass through Ka’anapali, Honokawai, Kahana, Napili, and Kapalua.
With that being said, there are larger, more populated towns that are sort of “markers” for the area. On West Maui, it’s Lahaina; on East Maui, it’s Kihei, Wailuku, and Kahului.
When asking for directions, you may be referred to a place “just past Lahaina.”
Getting actual, real-life driving directions
With a few exceptions, locals rarely use street names when giving directions (unless its a MAJOR street or highway). Expect to receive directions by landmarks. While that may be a little frustrating in theory, Hawaiian street names tend to actually be in Hawaiian, which can be hard to read at a glance.
Things to keep in mind:
- By keeping track of elevation, you can easily navigate Upcountry. Remember that things that appear more central on Haleakala on a 2-D map are higher up. West Maui is fairly small and the ocean is easy to find. Keep your eyes out for the sea!
- Seriously, follow road signs. There is a long and a short way to both Hana and Lahaina, and different GPS programs may send you either way. The green road signs will make life easier. Also, certain areas on the Northwest Shore and on the road to Hana have almost no cell or data reception.
- Very few people in Hawaii use their horns.
- There are no freeways on Maui (although there are a few numbered highways).
- Half of the fun of going almost anywhere on Maui is driving on some of the prettiest roads on the planet. Feel free to take photos, just pull off to the side to keep traffic moving. This is especially important during whale season.
What is your favorite Maui drive or your personal Maui driving tip? Let us know in the comments.