Car Travel

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Car Travel

Should you plan to do any sightseeing on Maui, it's best to rent a car. Even if all you want to do is relax at your resort, you may want to hop in the car to check out one of the island's popular restaurants.

Many of Maui's roads are two lanes, so allow plenty of time to return your vehicle to the airport. Traffic can be bad during morning and afternoon rush hour, especially between Kahului and Paia, Kihei, and Lahaina. Give yourself about 3½ hours before departure time to return your vehicle.

On Molokai and Lanai, four-wheel-drive vehicles are recommended for exploring off the beaten path. Many of the roads are poorly paved or unpaved.

Make sure you've got a GPS or a good map. Free visitor publications containing quality road maps can be found at airports, hotels, and shops.

Asking for directions will almost always produce a helpful explanation from the locals, but you should be prepared for an island term or two. Hawaii residents refer to places as being either mauka (toward the mountains) or makai (toward the ocean).

Hawaii has a strict seat-belt law. Those riding in the front seat must wear a seat belt, and children under the age of 18 in the backseat must be belted. The fine for not wearing a seat belt is $92. Jaywalking is also common, so pay careful attention to pedestrians. Turning right on a red light is legal in the state, except where noted. Your unexpired mainland driver's license is valid for rental cars for up to 90 days.

Gasoline

Gas costs more on Maui than on the U.S. mainland. At this writing, the average price of a gallon of gas is about $4.45. Expect to pay more (sometimes significantly more) on Lanai and Molokai. The only gas station on Lanai is in Lanai City, at Lanai City Service.

Parking

With a population of more than 155,000 and nearly 30,000 visitors on any given day, Maui has parking challenges. Lots sprinkled throughout West Maui charge by the hour. There are about 700 parking spaces in the Lahaina Center; shoppers can get validated parking here, as well as at Whalers Village. Parking along many streets is curtailed during rush hours, and towing is widely practiced. Read curbside parking signs before leaving your vehicle.

Rentals

While on Maui, you can rent anything from a subcompact to a Ferrari. Rates are usually better if you reserve though a rental agency's website. All the big national rental-car agencies have locations on Maui, but Dollar (www.dollar.com) is the only company that has an office on Lanai. Alamo (www.alamo.com) has an office on Molokai at the Hoolehua Airport, and National (www.nationalcar.com) has a desk at the Hotel Molokai. There also are local rental-car companies, so be sure to compare prices before you book. It's wise to make reservations far in advance, especially if you're visiting during peak seasons or for major conventions or sporting events.

Rates begin at about $21 to $31 a day for an economy car with air-conditioning, automatic transmission, and unlimited mileage, depending on your pickup location. This does not include the airport concession fee, general excise tax, rental-vehicle surcharge, or vehicle license fee. When you reserve a car, ask about cancellation penalties and drop-off charges should you plan to pick up the car in one location and return it to another. Many rental companies offer money-saving coupons for local attractions.

In Hawaii you must be 21 to rent a car, and you must have a valid driver's license and a major credit card. You can use a debit card at most rental agencies, but they will put a $500 hold on your account for the duration of the rental. Those under 25 will pay a daily surcharge of $10 to $35. Request car seats and extras such as a GPS when you make your reservation. Hawaii's Child Restraint Law requires that all children under age four be in an approved child-safety seat in the backseat of a vehicle. Children ages four to seven, and those who are less than 4 feet, 9 inches tall and weigh less than 80 pounds, must be seated in a rear booster seat or child restraint such as a lap and shoulder belt. Car seats and boosters range from $7 to $15 per day; some companies have a maximum charge per rental period.

Maui has some unusual rental options. Aloha Campers rents older VW Westfalia Campers for $115 per day, with a three-day minimum. And if exploring the island on two wheels is more your speed, Maui Harley-Davidson and Aloha Toy Store rent motorcycles. Aloha Toy Store also rents exotic cars, as do Hawaiian Discount Car Rentals, and Island Rental Cars. Prefer an earth-friendly automobile that gets 35 to 50 miles to the gallon? Bio-Beetle Eco Rental Cars run on clean-burning diesel fuel that comes from renewable sources like recycled vegetable oil.

Rentals on Lanai

Renting a four-wheel-drive vehicle is expensive but almost essential to get beyond the resorts. There are only 30 miles of paved road on the island. The rest of your driving takes place on bumpy, sometimes muddy, secondary roads. Make reservations far in advance, because Lanai's fleet of vehicles is limited. If you're staying at the island's hotels, a convenient shuttle bus can take you from the beach to Upcountry.

Road Conditions

Getting around Maui is relatively easy as only a few major roads hit the must-see sights. Honoapiilani Highway will get you from the central Maui towns of Wailuku and Kahului to the leeward coast and the towns of Lahaina, Kaanapali, Kahana, and Kapalua. Depending on traffic, it should take about 30 to 45 minutes to travel this route. Those gorgeous mountains that hug Honoapiilani Highway are the West Maui Mountains.

North and South Kihei Road will take you to the town of Kihei and the resort area of Wailea on the South Shore. The drive from the airport in Kahului to Wailea should take about 30 minutes, and the drive from Kaanapali in West Maui to Wailea on the South Shore will take about 45 to 60 minutes.

Your vacation to Maui must include a visit to Haleakala National Park, and you should plan on 2 to 2½ hours' driving time from Kaanapali or Wailea. The drive from Kaanapali or Wailea to the charming towns of Makawao and Kula will take about 45 to 60 minutes. And you must not miss the Road to Hana, a 55-mile stretch with one-lane bridges, hairpin turns, and breathtaking views. The Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau's red-caped King Kamehameha signs mark major attractions and scenic spots.

All major roads on Maui are passable with two-wheel-drive vehicles. You should exercise caution on Kahekili Highway between Waihee Point and Keawalua, which is somewhat treacherous due to sheer drop-offs, and the southern stretch of Piilani Highway between Ulupalakua and Kipahulu, which has sections of extremely rough and unpaved roadway. Both roads are remote, have no gas stations, and little or no cell-phone service, so plan accordingly.

In rural areas, it's not unusual for gas stations to close early. Use caution during heavy downpours, especially if you see signs warning of falling rocks. If you're enjoying the views or need to study a map, pull over to the side. Remember the aloha spirit: allow other cars to merge, don't honk (it's considered rude), and use your headlights and turn signals.

Emergency Services

AAA Help (800/222–4357. www.aaa.com.)

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