Hawaii Highways road photos -- Piilani Highway (page 1 of 2)

(Maui part 2 of 4 -- other Maui parts: 
Hana Highway · Kahekili Highway · Other Maui)

The 20 photos in this part, from my October 1999, May 2000, and November 2001 visits to Maui, are from the stretch of the Piilani Highway through rugged upcountry south Maui, including part of county route 31 from Oheo Gulch and Kipahulu at mile 38.55 (where it joins the Hana Highway, which is covered by the separate photo pages preceding this one) to where it turns into state route 37 near the Tedeschi Winery at about mile 15.1.

(Another road in coastal south Maui, the state route 31 bypass around Kihei, is also called the Piilani Highway. It does not connect to the county route 31 that is depicted below. The two roads used to be connected, and some day may be reconnected by a proposed connector between Kihei and the Haleakala area, and/or an extension of existing state route 31 southward, then turning northeast and uphill to join county route 31. State route 31 is not particularly interesting, so I have no photos from that road.)

The county-maintained Piilani Highway is much less famous and traveled than the Hana Highway, and indeed does not appear on some maps. Even before then, it certainly was more treacherous than the Hana Highway, which scared away many tourists and also made rental car companies unhappy (see the warnings below). But as you'll see, the Piilani Highway is quite interesting in its own right, and will be worth the time and effort for travelers up to the challenge.

This part of the road photos collection is divided into two pages. Below is introductory information about the entire highway, plus photos of or from the highway from its eastern end south of Kipahulu where it meets the Hana Highway, west to Kaupo. Page 2 completes the journey, with photos from Kaupo to Ulupalakua, where the Piilani Highway meets the Kula Highway (state route 37), as well as links to the rest of the road photos collection, other sections of the Hawaii Highways site, and other relevant sites. Both pages cover the highway in reverse milemarker order, from east to west, for continuity with the photo pages for the Hana Highway, which together with the Piilani Highway and state route 37 (the Kula Highway and part of the Haleakala Highway) forms a loop through east Maui around the Haleakala volcano (see map below).

Note: In case you want more detail, clicking some of the photos below (for now, just some from my 2001 trip) will call up enlarged, higher-quality (less .jpg compression) versions. Those alternate versions have larger file sizes, so please be patient while they download.

Warnings: Parts of the Piilani Highway are narrow, rough and/or unpaved, and rental car companies generally were never too wild about their vehicles being driven there. Sometimes vehicles can get stuck on the unpaved stretches (especially after rains on those stretches, or upslope on the Haleakala volcano), or the road is closed for other reasons, so tourists should check in with the Haleakala National Park ranger station at Oheo Gulch before traveling the route. Also, the road is slow (particularly the cliff-hugging east end, and the unpaved stretch through Kaupo), and is definitely not a short-cut back to central Maui from Hana. Even after the Piilani Highway is reopened to through traffic, allow at least three hours to return from the Oheo Gulch/Kipahulu area to central Maui, and at least a half-hour more if leaving from Hana. Driving at night, or in poor visibility, is not recommended for drivers unfamiliar with the road, especially east of Kaupo.

Map of Maui, with Piilani and Hana Highways highlighted:

Map of Maui, with Piilani and Hana Highways highlighted

Kalepa Bridge, where Piilani and Hana Highways meet    Enlarged sign:  End Piilani Hwy Route 31 | Begin Hana Hwy Route 36
There is a lot of confusion about exactly where is the east end of the Piilani Highway, but it is usually considered to end well south of state route 360's end in Hana. This sign at the Kalepa Bridge (mile 38.55) just south of Kipahulu supplies what I consider a reasonable demarcation point between the Hana and Piilani Highways, even though the route number information is seriously outdated (route 36 no longer reaches into east Maui, and the mileposting for route 31 continues north about a dozen miles to Hana). It also is consistent with county planning documents, identifying county route 31 between Hana and Kipahulu as part of the Hana Highway historic bridges district. Certainly this is the point by which most tourists heading past Hana have chickened out and turned back -- the Piilani Highway south of here is even more difficult than the Hana Highway, a very narrow highway with very sharp blind turns, and becoming unpaved a few miles later. Here also, the population thins out, and the lush greenery of the Hana area starts giving way to the drier and less vegetated landscapes of upcountry south Maui. (Both photos October 1999)
Road hugging the cliff near sea level Road climbing up the cliffside
The Piilani Highway low along the cliffs, just southwest of the highway's end at the Kalepa Bridge. (May 2000)
Here, further to the southwest, the Piilani Highway crawls up the cliffside from near sea level. (May 2000)
This cliffside stretch high above the Pacific is (barely) paved, but has to be traveled slowly because there's not a whole lot between you and the deep blue sea. But not too slowly, because pebbles fall off the side of the cliff over the road (one dinged the roof of my truck). It seems an awful lot of tourists drive this road in white convertibles -- but they should know this particular stretch is not exactly the best place to be going topless ;-) (May 2000)
Narrow, barely paved cliffside road high above the ocean, with pebbles in road and no guardrails
Bus in middle of blind curve; "Blow Horn" sign

This is one of many blind, one-lane, 5-mph curves along the eastern part of the Piilani Highway. They make you constantly lean on your horn, hoping there's nobody on the other side, because if there is, one of you might have to back up a few hundred feet to allow the other to pass. (May 2000)
From this Piilani Highway pulloff at mile 37.4, west of the cliff-hugging eastern end of the highway, Mauna Kea on the Big Island is faintly visible on the horizon. (May 2000) Blue ocean contrasts with dry golden grass, with Mauna Kea off in the distance


The highway gets really narrow here near mile 37. (November 2001)
Historic, windswept Hui Aloha Church, at mile 35.5. (November 2001)

Page 2: Kaupo-Ulupalakua, and links
or go directly to other parts of the Hawaii Highways road photos collection:

Overview · Introduction · Interstate H-3 · Interstate H-1 · Other Freeways
Other Oahu South · Other Oahu West · Other Oahu East · Kuhio Highway
Other Kauai · Hana Highway · Kahekili Highway · Other Maui · Lanai/Molokai
Kalawao County · Saddle Road · Observatories Roads · Lava Closures · Red Road
Waipio Valley · Other Big Island

or to other sections of the Hawaii Highways site:

Link to Hawaii Highways main page Link to Hawaii Highways, Maui route list

Comments, etc.? Please e-mail me.

© 1999-2003, 2006-2008 Oscar Voss.