Maui roadtrip, Hawaii: Driving from beaches of Kaanapali to Haleakala National Park in a Ford Mustang

Teenage sons are rarely impressed with anything their father does. But today is going to be different. They know we'll be exploring one of Hawaii's most dramatic roads – from the beaches of Kaanapali on Maui's east coast to the summit of Haleakala, the immense volcano on the other side of the island.

They also know I've gone to get the car. But they don't know which car. They suspect it's something sensible, as usual. This morning, though, they'll learn their father is not as boring as they think. The younger son has always been obsessed with cars. He must have been close to a world record for his repeated viewings of Top Gear and the Cars movies before high school. So this extravagance is mainly for him, I lie to myself.

Both boys are waiting in the shade of the hotel lobby, away from the already fierce morning sun. "Come to get the car," I say, pointing to Ferrari Fiend. Under protest, he accompanies me to the hotel's open-air car park.

I pretend not to remember which boring car is ours until he exclaims: "Dad, just press the bloody remote!" His look of surprise as our car beeps is worth the extra hire price. I've splashed out on a bright red Ford Mustang four-seater convertible.

You have to drive a Mustang once in your life, I reckon, and there's nowhere better to do it than Maui, the second largest of the Hawaiian islands. Each of the six tourist islands – Oahu, Hawaii (the Big Island), Maui, Kauai, Molokai and Lanai – have their own signature drives.

Apart from the Big Island, the drives are all small enough to experience by car in a single day. If you're on Oahu, drive north from Honolulu to Waimea Bay before heading back via the less commercialised eastern coast. On the Big Island, rent a car in Kona or Hilo and head to the Volcanoes National Park (if it has reopened after Kilauea's recent eruptions). Kauai's most spectacular drive is the road to Waimea Canyon (the Grand Canyon of the Pacific), and on to Pu'u O Kila lookout with its unbeatable elevated views of the rugged Na Pali coast.

Maui's Road to Hana is the state's most famous drive, a 100-kilometre coastal switchback which connects unlovely Kahului – essentially Maui's capital, with its airport and cruise ship terminal – to Hana. The waterfalls and beaches are legendary. So too are the pressures on the driver: 600 turns, many of them hairpins, and views so outstanding they're fatally distracting. No, thank you.

In a red Ford Mustang, you just want to relax, press your foot on the throttle (well, up to the state's maximum 90km/h speed limit), and listen to a '60s soundtrack, preferably including Mustang Sally.

This road trip is an encapsulation of Hawaii's charms and thrills. We set off at sea level, hugging the coastal Honoapiilani Highway, past charming Lahaina (former capital of Hawaii) and on to Maalaea, the boat harbour best known for its many trips offering snorkelling, whale watching, fishing and sunset cruises.

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The initial section, 30 kilometres, only takes 35 minutes. But it's a perfect introduction to Mustang magic: roof down, sunglasses out, breeze flowing through the hair. We could be in an Elvis movie (if only there were a few more Girls! Girls! Girls!, as in the 1962 film in which Presley played a penniless Hawaiian fishing guide).

The middle section is plain – literally. Maui is an island dominated by two separate extinct volcanoes – Haleakala (house of the sun) and Mauna Kahalawai – joined by a fertile plain. Then comes the exciting part. The switchback ride, after you take the state highway 37 to Pukalani, and then veer left up the 378 to the national park's visitor centre, is truly unforgettable, rising ever higher through a black volcanic desert.

We leave the Mustang in the summit car park (on the understanding the boys will swap front seats on the way down) and begin our walk.The real adventure, I tell my sons, begins now.

TRIP NOTES

Steve Meacham travelled at his own expense.

MORE

gohawaii.comtraveller.com.au/hawaii

FLY

Hawaiian Airlines, Qantas and Jetstar fly from Australia to Honolulu.

DRIVE

Ford Mustangs are among the most popular cars to hire in Hawaii. Discount Car Rental airport pick-ups. See discounthawaiicarrental.com

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