Updated: December 29th, 2018
Haleakala crater is… well, first let me get this out of the way: It’s pronounced HOLLY – OCK – AH – LA. And ‘crater’ you should be able to pronounce because Hooked on Phonics. Haleakala crater is a colossal, extinct-ish ex-volcano on the island of Māui, Hawaii. It currently exists in what they call a “non-eruptive phase” and the last time she blew her top was sometime in the 17th century. Probably because she swore that if one. more. person. joked about “getting lei’d” she was going to lose it. EXPLOSIONS!
THE STORY OF HALEAKALA
“Haleakala” translates to “House of the Sun” and according to Aloha-Hawaii.com the touching story of an ancient Hawaiian Veruca Salt who wants it all goes like this:
The demi-god Maui and his mother, Hina, lived near Rainbow Falls in Hilo on the island of Hawaii. Hina would make kapa [fabric] from the bark of the wauke and mamaki tree, and the strips would be dyed with magnificent designs to form cloth. The kapa, however, would still be damp when night fell, and Hina would lament how the sun moved too quickly across the sky to dry the cloth.
Upon hearing this, the demi-god traveled to the island of Maui and climbed to the 10,000-foot summit of Haleakala, where the sun was asleep in the giant crater. Maui hid until morning and watched the sun begin his daily journey. As the first ray of sunshine appeared, Maui snared it with his lasso of twisted coconut fiber.
The sun demanded to be released, but Maui would not let go. “Promise me that you will move more slowly across the sky,” he told the sun. Left with no choice, the sun struck a bargain with the daring demi-god. He would move slowly for six months out of the year, and then move at his preferred pace for the other six months. Agreeing to the terms, Maui hurried home and told his mother the good news. As a reward, Hina made her son a new cape, and sure enough, it dried in one afternoon.
HALEAKALA NATIONAL PARK
Man, I am using my coconuts all wrong! I thought they were just for eating, wearing as a bra, and clapping together while you gallop around like you’re riding a horse. Anyhow, if you are lucky enough to have been to the summit of Haleakala you will understand where this story must have originated. The principle reason visitors journey up Haleakala is to watch the sun rise at 10,000 feet. Up there you will observe that Haleakala’s landscape differs from your ideas of “Hawaii” and has a strikingly, I imagine, lunar or Martian kind of feel to it, complete with some bizarre-o plants that solely grow way up there. So if you’re in Maui and want to see a spectacular sunrise or pretend that you’re a space alien, don’t miss out on Haleakala National Park.
As I said, watching the sun rise from Haleakala’s summit is like the thing to do in Maui. In short, you will not be alone up there. Even if you have to wake up at ungodly hours and then haul ass up the mountain in infinite darkness. Oh, and did I mention it’s like 30°F at the top? Good times!
There are many options for your day’s activity but I chose to do the “take the van up the mountain, trying to stay awake as if my life depended on it but ultimately failing miserably, then white-knuckle it down the crater on a mountain bike.” I think they officially call that the “Sunrise Special Tour”. I must say, I think I chose wisely since gravity did most of the work, although my exhausted brakes might have disagreed with that. Again, there are many options for tour/bike companies but I chose the best. Like, the best. Haleakala Bike Company – I can’t recommend them enough.
This is how it works:
- Be prepared to wake up early as crap or just don’t go to sleep at all the previous night. Gravity, take the wheel!
- Eat a good breakfast somewhere that is open 24 hours – apparently this exists because apparently I ate there?
- Forget driving there and eating breakfast altogether because you are deliriously tired and borderline fever-ish.
- Check in at the Haleakala Bike Co. located at the Haiku Marketplace at 3:00 AM.
- Get fitted for your fancy threads: pants/ jacket/ helmet. Seriously, plastic is so in right now and like I said, it’s wicked cold and sometimes wet up there so they provide you with gear and a badass helmet that probably once belonged to a Ruff Ryder.
- Choose your bike. (“Extra small for me, please!”)
- The bikes get loaded onto a vehicle of their own and you get on a tour van with a super awesome Hawaiian tour guide dude.
- Ride up the mountain (take your Dramamine!).
- Sunrise: ooh… ahhh…
- Tour of Mars and its inhabitants
Now let me tell you a little something about the ride up. This “guided van tour” will take about an hour and a half and the guide will tell you DO NOT SLEEP. Like whaaa? You must be trippin’. There’s a reason for this though. At check in you’ll be given a map of your route but if you’re anything like me with maps you can already smell disaster (think burnt popcorn, sewer leak, low tide). The guide not only talks about Hawaii, Haleakala, and a hundred other things, but he also details your route and explains where you should be turning and necessary information like where you will most likely get hit by an oncoming vehicle, etc. It actually is pretty neat/helpful/lifesaving information but, good god, the darkness is palpable and it’s 3:30 AM and I’m on a bus and I don’t remember eating breakfast!
I don’t have any pictures of this because I was basically unconscious and because they would probably have looked like this:
You will arrive at the summit about an hour before sunrise to claim a spot somewhere along the edge of the crater which I assume is a perfectly safe thing to do. You’re 10,000+ feet above sea level and though it may be 80°F down in your beachside cabana it’s 30°F up here. However, this hour remains my favorite part of the whole day.
Apparently, the summit of Haleakala has some of the world’s best stargazing and I believe it 100%. I have never seen so many stars in my life. I guess with a tiny, barely inhabited island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean you can’t get better stargazing conditions than those. In the hour before the sunrise I saw billions of stars, seven shooting stars, and one big-eyed creature whispering to me from a glowing orb “come with me if you want to live.” Totes normal. This was all such a pleasant surprise that I didn’t even want the sun to rise that day. But it did and thank goodness because I think we’d be singing an entirely different tune right now. Or fighting to the death for the last pineapple and what’s left of an old Yankee candle that smells like laundry.
The sunrise viewing at Haleakala tops all the Maui things-to-do lists. My photos don’t do it justice because 1) I brought my less-than-awesome camera that wouldn’t ruin my day if I dropped it while stupidly trying to take selfies while wheeling dangerously fast down a mountain on a bicycle and 2) I have no idea how to photograph the sun regardless of my equipment choice.
After the sun has risen and the oohs have been ahh’ed the group tours different areas atop Haleakala. The guides introduce you to the ʻĀhinahina, the native plants that grow here and only here. Literally, the summit of Haleakala is the only place on Earth these plants are found. And let me tell you, they are weird. They look like something you would see more in a coral reef and less at 10,000 feet above sea level. I’m telling you, some extra terrestrial shit be happening up here. They’re silver and hairy, and then these things grow out of the top of them? I don’t know. On top of that, they can grow for 40 years before flowering. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
After all the learning and pretending like you’re an alien on Mars – beep boop beep – you are driven to the ~6,500 foot mark outside the summit and let loose down a hill on two wheels. The road down the mountain is an active highway but I remember there being only a small number of cars. This is the residents’ everyday lives so I’m
hopeful sure they’re prepared to see you on the road. You’re free to ride at whatever pace you prefer and independence is yours. The only rule being that you must report back to the Haleakala Bike Co. headquarters by a certain time. So go as fast or as slow as you like, or go “frighteningly fast” like I did which was really slower than everyone else because I pretty much rode my brakes the whole way down.
On this route you’ll zig zag across the mountain on scenic roads, past horse and goat farms, through the fragrant eucalyptus trees and lavender farms, through the seven levels of the candy cane forest, through the sea of swirly twirly gum drops, and then walk through the Lincoln Tunnel. OK, only half of that is true. In short, this is nothing what I thought Maui would be like.
// An SAQ session //
We all know about FAQs but, believe it or not, no one frequently asks me questions about my trip up and down Haleakala Crater. Perhaps that’s a clue that I should have written about something else? Hmm… Well I’ve already dug a hole this deep so I’ll just keep on going. Just in case, as a preemptive strike I have prepared for you a list of Should Ask Questions should you find yourself in Maui with the need for speed.
Why should I visit Haleakala National Park? I can’t even pronounce it…
Because when was the last time you watched the sunrise at 10,000 feet? Uh-huh, I thought so. Plus you get to roll down a (really big) hill, learn about Hawaiian culture from the Hawaiian culture masters, see and learn about weird plants that probably don’t come to life on a search for intelligent beings when no one is looking, see Maui from many new points of view, and sleep on a van. Oh and if you’re an astronomy geek (or astrology, let’s face it there’s shit up there for you too) then the stars alone make this a worthwhile trip. Come prepared with a handful of wishes.
Also, the stuff you can’t pronounce is often the best stuff. Hence, everything on the sushi menu, Worcestershire sauce, the levitation spell (“It’s LeviOsa, not LevioSA.”), all Icelandic places.
What is the terrain like up there?
Rocky, desert-like, brown… very Mars, or Moon. Wear appropriate footwear (moon boots?).
And then very green and lush. I would never guess that either of these photos were taken in Hawaii. What gives, Maui?
What are those flames I see? Is something on fire? SHOULD WE CALL 911? Is no one at all concerned??
On your way up the mountain in the never ending darkness the only thing you’ll see are flames in the distance. This is frightening because obviously something is on fire and also because you can now grasp the reality of your altitude and that you are tempting gravity on the steep edge of a mountain. These flames belong to the process of sugar cane burning. From what I’ve read, farmers burn sugar cane before harvesting to remove the leafy waste that makes up about a quarter of the plant and that can make it harder to get to the really good stuff. Keep up the good work folks; I need something to stir my mojitos with.
What should I wear?
I know it’s Hawaii and the only thing you brought with you is a hula skirt and a coconut bra but you’ll need to come prepared for this. I mean, wear your hula skirt if you want but that might hurt on a bike seat. It’s going to be frigid at the summit and on the way down because you’re going to fly down the mountain at warp speeds so I’d recommend wearing something warm and fuzzy. Frigid temperatures = another reason to forego the hula skirt although I think you’re good with the coconut bra. #nipples Haleakala Bike Company provides rain/cold gear but you will need shoes of a certain appropriateness.
Do I need mountain biking experience?
No – gravity. Just as long as you know how a set of hand brakes works, you’ll be fine.
Will I see any wildlife?
You will see life. Some of it wild, some of it domesticated, and some of it very, very lazy. For instance, pictured below is the nēnē (aka Hawaiian goose), the state bird of Hawaii and, we were told just minutes before seeing these, that they are the rarest of all state birds. Then BOOM there they are. How lucky were we!
You’ve got your run-of-the-mill farm animals – horses, cows, chickens – and your lazy as crap goats. I mean, why even stand at all?
What will the bike ride smell like?
As previously mentioned, your route will take you through a fragrant eucalyptus forest that smells just like a Hobby Lobby and shortly after that you’ll pass the lavender farm, so like a Bath & Body Works.
Aren’t there cars on the road?
Not so many that you should worry. But not so few that you should ride straight down the yellow line on just your back wheel. Just stay to the right, people! Standard American driving rules.
Will I get lost?
Upon checking in at Haleakala Bike Co. you will be given a map. This can either mean a ‘Yes’ or a ‘No’ to you. Had I been alone on this day I would most certainly have gotten lost. It’s just part of my charm. I hardly remember anything about this map other than it was a white piece of paper with some black squiggly lines on it. I wasn’t in charge of the map for the day (nor did I stay awake for the route lesson on the way up) but I know there are certain landmarks listed that should help. I do remember stopping a car at an intersection to ask for directions at one point and magically arriving at the Bike Co. without a clue of how I got there. (That’s textbook alien abduction right?)
Should I take pictures while riding the bike?
What do you think? Did your parents teach you nothing about safety? You should probably just pull over and then take pictures. I didn’t do this. Did I crash? No. Did I almost crash? Many times. I wanted to get some action shots, sheesh!
What else can I use coconuts for?
Consult Pinterest. I’m sure there’s a plethora of household DIY projects using coconut shells. In one quick check I saw candles, buttons, some goo you put in your hair, a bird feeder, earrings, and a lamp shade. The possibilities are endless! What I didn’t see was coconut lassos but I bet you could ask your Hawaiian tour guide dude about that.
What if I get hungry?
Don’t worry, bananas. And sometimes avocados it looks like.
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