Where can you go on Maui that looks least like a tropical paradise? The answer is Mount Haleakalā. This dormant volcano offers a unique experience to those who take the time to drive up to the park.
“Hale a ka la” means “house of the sun,” and you will see that reference in different places through the park. If you have never visited the planet Mars or don’t plan to visit it, this might be your next best bet. The stark red atmosphere here is unlike anywhere else. If there is a wind blowing on the day of your visit, that will further enhance your “Martian” experience.
When I take my family to Haleakalā, we visit on our first full day on Maui. What I have found is that once my kids have experienced what the beaches of Maui have to offer, they have no desire to ride up a mountain in a car to “take in” all that Haleakalā has to offer.
There are a couple very popular activities at Haleakalā. The first is to take in a sunrise there, which involves getting up at three in the morning and driving to the top to watch the sun come up on the Pacific Ocean horizon. This experience has been touted as “stirring” and one of the best sunrises to witness in the world. The downside is that you sit on the top of a mountain in the cold, waiting with the wind blowing.
If you do decide to take in the Haleakalā sunrise, dress warmly because it gets very cold. The temperature drops three degrees for every 1,000 feet you climb. With the top of Haleakalā having an elevation of 9,740 feet, you will experience temperatures thirty degrees colder than at sea level. Remember this as you pack your clothing for the trip.
Do you really need to leave your hotel at 3 a.m.? The answer is probably. Depending on where you are staying, it could take as long as two hours to drive up to the top. Once there, you learn how popular this activity is. The earlier you arrive, the better your selection of lookout spots. Also, this is one activity where if you make a mistake, you lose in a big way. If you get up early (but not quite early enough) and take the two-hour drive up the mountain only to miss the sunrise, that could be quite disappointing and a lesson learned the hard way.
If you have not already heard of the “green flash,” this might be a good place to bring it up. It is a flash of green seen across the horizon as the sun rises and sets in Maui. They are rare and hard to catch, but that doesn’t stop people from trying to see them (myself included). Witnessing the “green flash” is one thing that drives people to the top of Haleakalā early in the morning. If you plan to do this, I would suggest you do it early in your trip—like the day after you arrive because it gets much harder to wake early, the longer you stay on the island. To help you plan, here is a chart of average monthly sunrise and sunset times in Maui.
To give you an idea of what the sunrise experience is like from the top of Haleakalā, see this YouTube video.
Another popular activity is to ride a bicycle down the mountain. The idea is that you ride up in a van and ride down on a rented bicycle. While this is a popular activity, it is dangerous and people have been hurt. In 2007, two people were killed. The reality of the matter is that bicyclists are riding down a mountain at an accelerated rate and cars are driving both up and down on a windy mountain road. You can decide if this is something that interests you. There are plenty of companies willing to take your money if you decide that it is.
Before visiting the park, visit the official park website to make sure there is no road construction or other news concerning the park. Come prepared as there is no food, water, or gas available in the park.
Whatever your reason is for visiting the park, you will find it to be like no other place. What I find most inviting about the park are the majestic island views you get as you drive up.