My alarm rang and woke me up as I was fast asleep on my low bunk at the Aloha Surf Aloha Surf Hostel in Paia, Maui. I looked at my watch – it was 3:30 am. George was already up. And I am sure the others who were coming along with us were up too. I rushed to take a shower and headed out, and I was still the last one in the car with everyone all settled in and ready to leave.
Shanna and I were in the back of the car; Thomas had actually covered himself head to toe in the pink/peach fleece blanket from the hostel, which was a really funny sight. I admitted to them I had gloves in my backpack – and George couldn’t believe it. “You got gloves to Hawaii?”, he said in disbelief. Thomas took my side; “Hey, she would be a good person to travel with, so organized!”. Yeah, I would be! I had read too many reviews of people going in T-shirts up Haleakala Crater and then freezing up there! We would be at 10,000 feet above sea level, and I can’t exactly command the sun to hurry up and rise a little faster. If you’ve ever been to a sunrise, you know that the sun does it’s own thing. Like a hiphop dancer with an attitude, it takes its own, sweet, time to slowly rise up from above the clouds. No rush, no pressure from the 1000s of onlookers. That’s what makes it so beautiful, ethereal, sublime.
It took us about an hour to drive up there. On the way, I pressed my nose against the window as I looked up and saw that brilliant, starlit sky again and tried to figure out the constellations. You can see some night sky shots in my last blog. You should go to Maui, and to Paia, if for no other reason than just to see this universe that surrounds us.
The drive was initially a straight road and then wound up the volcanic crater for a good hour, until we reached the parking lot. We got to the point where the visitor center is, but we were told the summit parking lot was full so we could either just watch it from here or climb up one and a half steep miles in the dark to the summit by ourselves. We were too sleepy to walk up, so we just headed to the railing by the crater which was surrounded by mountains, and tried to find a good spot to see the sun rise. Shanna and I stayed together at one end of the rim, the guys ended up at the other end of the rim. In a strange way, it was nice to have so many people up there, like penguins huddled together in the cold.
Slowly, the darkness gave way to yellow, orange hues revealing the large volcanic crater beneath. Just to give you an idea, Haleakala is taller than Mount Everest by about about 675 feet when you consider that there’s 19,680 feet of the volcano hidden under the ocean, and 10,023 feet above sea level. Of course, this makes climbing Haleakala much easier than Everest. Manhattan could easily fit into this 7 mile long crater which is also the largest dormant volcanic crater in the world, featuring some very rare plants.
We got there about 5:20 am, and it took about an hour for the sun to completely come up. There were a lot of tour groups, and the tour guide was an expert at taking photos in spite of the backlight of the sun rising and the dark depth of the crater. He would flash his flashlight over his travel group, make them say ‘cheese’ and then take the photo, so as to capture them and the scenic beauty surrounding them, all in fairly good lighting. It became brighter, and brighter as the minutes went by. Shanna and I were enjoying the scene and were so glad we were all warm in our gear 🙂
And finally, there it was! Revealing itself from behind the clouds, the warm, round ball of fire that shines brighter than any manmade light ever created. We took some more photo shots of the crater itself, it looked a lot like Mars, or the Moon. If you want to hike the Haleakala Crater, there are various tours that offer guided hikes (typically 10+ miles), keeping in mind it is an easy hike in but a very difficult hike out (and there is only one way out). There are some travel companies who also offer easier hikes (about 4 miles).
Here is a one minute video of the sunrise and especially posting this because you can hear some native Hawaiian singing in the background which will ‘take you there’:
After taking in that sublime, zen-like experience of the sunrise, we headed back to the car to drive up to the summit. The summit has the white domed Haleakala Observatories shown below in the picture – they connect this highest point in Maui to outer space, and house telescopes used for defense and scientific communities. Turns out, this site is so high above the clouds with such clear skies, and minimal pollution that it offers the 4th best astronomical viewing conditions on the entire planet! If you are a history or science geek like me, you might love this video about Haleakala from the site travelchannel.
We walked around the summit some more, there were amazing 360 views of the entire valley surrounding Maui, I was told you could see the Big Island from here on a clear day. Shanna and I took some more photos of each other so we could remember this place and that we had been there on this early Friday morning. We drove down and it just seemed to take much longer on the way down, perhaps it was we were now fully awake, and starting to get hungry 🙂 The view was beautiful coming down, and finally we saw the sugarcanes which meant we were close and back in Paia.
I had thought I would write about my Day # 1 in Maui in one blog, but the sunrise at Haleakala Crater was too special an experience to rush to describe, so I will continue the rest of Day # 1 in the next blog – covering Kaanapali Beach and Lahaina.
Until next time,