Haleakala Sunset

My first visit to Hawaii was an exciting and adventurous trip.  I only had a few spare days free to explore the islands before I met up with a friend in Honolulu.  I chose to visit two islands before going to Oahu, and to focus on visiting the National Parks.

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I knew it wouldn’t be enough time to truly soak up the rich culture and natural beauty of these islands. But I reasoned that it would be a brief exploratory review of three islands, and then I would better know what type of visit to plan in the future.

Magical Maui

I mentioned it before… I fell in love with Maui.  I can’t quite explain it. But between the exotic Road to Hana drive and the majestic Haleakala summit drive… I was enchanted at every turn.

Haleakala Reigns Supreme

Haleakala reigns supreme over the island of Maui, visible from nearly everywhere.  I could throw some facts your way, such as:

  • Haleakala means “House of the Sun” from a legend involving the demi god Maui
  • Summit is over 10,000 feet into the cold, very cold air. Pack cold weather gear.
  • You need a reservation to view the sunrise from the summit, and those reservations sell out days in advance
  • Haleakala is a giant shield volcano with a large crater you should explore
  • Everyone tries to find/see the three cones
  • The drive takes a long time and you will pass through several layers of weather
  • You may reach the summit and find only a sea of clouds below you – obstructing the entire island. Or you will find a crystal clear view of the island and waters beyond. May fortune be with you and your hopes
  • The base of the mountain is open cattle range which means you will be dodging cattle on the way back down from the summit

None of these details will convey the raw beauty and awe inspiring experience that is Haleakala.  When I landed in Maui, I couldn’t help but notice the volcano peak.  I knew I would drive to the summit during my brief stay, but I couldn’t control the urge to see it immediately.

Sunset Views

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The summit of Haleakala called to me.  After flying from the big island and already having a very busy day, it made sense for me to relax and settle in for the evening.  Perhaps find a nice restaurant and enjoy a relaxing meal? Maybe get some sleep?

Not with Haleakala calling to me. I couldn’t stop thinking about exploring the mountain. I abandoned all reason and went with my gut. After I met my AirBnb host, I apologized for my quick departure and instantly left.  I had to visit Haleakala.

The drive was beautiful. There is only one road that leads to the summit, so you really can’t miss it.  Once you enter the park territory, you will be passing through private and public property which includes grazing cattle. I knew they were going to be a road hazard on the way back down from the summit.

Painting in colors

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But right now, in the bright sunlight of a beautiful Hawaiian day, I was floored by the stunning views.  It seems that at every turn in the road, a view of perfection opened before me.

The island changed scenery and colors at every turn. The sapphire blue skies, and golden sparking ocean, lush green hills, were on display for me to enjoy.

The land changes as you climb

There were a few pullouts along the drive which allowed me to stop and snap a few photos.   The higher I climbed, the more mist and clouds covered the island.  It was amazing to drive through sunny skies into mist, and then see the fog give way to a slight rain, and then back to misty fog and eventually clear skies again.  I was driving through the clouds!

Then suddenly I was above the clouds and the skies became crystal clear.  The sun was lowering in the horizon but there wasn\’t the colors of sunset yet.  Just the deep blue sky and roiling white clouds below me. It was so weird. I loved it.

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An ocean of clouds

I would like to use words that suggestion stunning beauty; like awesome, enchanting, and inspiring.  But I also should include; unbelievable, astonishing, shocking… maybe even veneration

I couldn’t see the island or the ocean as I climbed towards the summit.  From the base of the island, the volcano is wrapped in clouds.  But when you pass through them, you are well above the clouds and the island of Maui is hidden below.

The higher I climbed the more the land changed. It went from lush green hills to alpine scrub, and eventually rocky crest.  From rich cattle grazing lands to barren rocks – this volcano has everything in between.

Cold and windy

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To my surprise, the summit’s visitor’s center parking lot only had a few cars parked there. I was grateful to find such easy parking and immediately got out to explore.  It was freezing cold!  Not only cold, but very windy.  Smarter people than me were wearing ski gear.

But I braved the cold and started to walk around the summit.  I didn’t realize there was another level higher up at the Observatory.  I made my way up to see what there was to see.  I found the entire area packed with cars – you couldn’t fit anything else in that area.  The cars were double parked. It was going to be difficult for anyone to leave (in their car) once the sunset was complete.

The Highest Point

But the Observatory was the highest point on the mountain with a birdseye view.  This was the area that was packed with people!  Now I know the spot everyone tries to claim for the sunset views.  I could see why – but it wasn\’t necessary to enjoy stunning views.

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The sun was setting off to my right from this location. So I left the observatory and headed back down to the visitor’s parking lot and found a ledge across the way that gave me a clear view of the sunset.  I settled in for the show of a lifetime.  And boy, Haleakala did not disappoint!

Every possible color

The show of changing light and colors painted on moving clouds was a lifetime experience.  It was like being on another planet.

If I lived here, I would be on top of this summit on a regular basis.  So if you plan on visiting Maui, try to get a coveted sunrise reservation so you can experience this magical moment. But if you can\’t, make absolute certain you experience the sunset views which do not require a reservation.

Plan accordingly

  • It\’s going to be cold. Like, really cold. Really, really cold.
  • No food, but there are restrooms. Pack snacks!
  • Get up there with time to spare. The skies change colors for hours before sunset
  • If you want to be at the Observatory level, you\’ll need to be there hours earlier
  • If you park at the Observatory, your car will be trapped well after sunset (people double park)
  • You can park down by the visitor\’s center and walk up, but it is quite a walk and pretty steep
  • There are a few small mounds nearby that you can climb as well, although it isn\’t necessary
  • Many people packed tripods for their photos. I used a cell phone and I\’m not unhappy with the results. But you can capture magic if you plan accordingly