One of the things I love about traveling is the memories I bring back with me. Some will fade, some will remain as vivid as a photograph. Those memories are like time portals, in an instant, you’re back in the moment. It’s magic.
My time in Haleakalā National Park is one of those striking experiences that will be forever with me.
“The sublimest spectacle I ever witnessed” – Mark Twain
After a long drive of a strenuous curvy road, you reach your final destination: Haleakalā Summit, more than 3000 m high. The luxuriant Hawaiian pastures have now been replaced by tundra-like vegetation and rocks.
You don’t know it yet, but you’re about to live a mesmerizing experience, one that can be called mythic if not mystic. A god is about the be born.
As you stand freezing at the edge of the crater, you realize that you are above the clouds. At your feet lay the whole island of Maui, and the ocean is all around. In front of you, the silhouette of Haleakalā Crater, gigantic with its center pitch black.
You are at the top of the world.
A sea of broken clouds clawing at the nearby peaks, lays the perfect canvas for nature to play its magic. Slowly, pastel colors appear in the dark: pale blue, yellow and orange. Suddenly, you feel warmer, and an explosion of light illuminates the sky. The sun has just emerged from the clouds and is born again. As you look in the crater, you see the light slowly reaching and illuminating the steep cliffs. Vivid orange with touches of intense green appear as the slopes of the crater, and the many cinder cones it contains, are revealed.
Paying close attention to your surroundings, you discover the crater is full of life. It is as if the birdsong and crowing are rising from the rocks. It’s your lucky day. In a glimpse, you spot a ring-necked pheasant roaming the area, only to discover there are many more. As you gaze at this delicate bird, wondering how it can survive in such arid conditions, a flash of silver light catches your eyes: silverswords. This unique plant found only in Hawai’i may live up to 50 years, but only reproduces once, then dies. The ancient Hawaiians never saw something silver until they found it. Thus, they called this plant ‘ahinahina, meaning gray-gray.
After such marvelous sights you think there is no more wonders to enjoy. If you are brave enough, and dress warmly to withstand the cold, your journey could have started in the middle of the night.
For the courageous
The summit of Haleakalā is among the best sites in the world for admiring the night sky. You can see the Milky Way with your own eyes – no telescope needed! It’s an experience not to be missed and totally worth the long freezing hours. I recommend arriving at least 2 hours before the sunrise, while the night is still pitch black.
As you stand, waiting for your eyes to get used to the dark, you look up and… there it is, our galaxy in front of your eyes. The sight leaves you speechless. How can so many stars be up there without us never seeing them? For an instant, you despise the human race for its desire to bring light everywhere. Luckily, there are still a few untouched part of the world where you can admire the magnificence of the night sky. For a moment, you feel totally in sync with the universe and wish this instant could last forever…
The ancient Hawaiians may not had a word for silver, but they surely named Haleakalā Crater accordingly. It is indeed the house of the sun, and I might add, the house of the stars.
- Length: 11.25 km
- Width: 3.2 km
- Depth: 790 m
- Circumference: 32 km
- Summit: 3055 m
- Seeing the Milky Way
- Kalahaku Overlook
When to go
- Open year-round, 24/7, but can be closed due to severe weather. Check the park’s website for more info.
- Entrance fee: $10 per car (valid for a visit within the next 3 days to the Seven Sacred Pools).
- Be sure to arrive at least 30 minutes before the sunrise, and even 1 hour before if you want to have a parking spot at the summit.
- The sunrise will be more spectacular if there’s a cloudy sky. Check it the weather forecast here.
Where to go
You can admire the sunrise or sunset from: Leleiwi Lookout, Kalahaku Overlook, Haleakalā Visitor Center and Pu’u’ula’ula Summit. We found Kalahaku Overlook less crowded and less windy, while still offering an unforgettable view. Leleiwi Lookout is more appropriate for sunset than for sunrise.
What to bring
- Water: Dehydration can occur very quickly at this altitude.
- Food: There is no food for sale in the park.
- Sunscreen: Since there is less atmosphere to absorb UV rays at this altitude, you’re chance of getting sunburn are higher than at the beach.
Ancient Hawaiians fear the desecration of their ancestors’ remains. They used to come up the crater to toss the bones of their family. They also come to Haleakalā to hide the umbilical cords of their newborns. They believed that if rats, considered thieves, were to steal a baby’s umbilical cord, the child would become a thief too.
What about you?
Have you ever been to Haleakalā Crater?
What is the travel memory you remember the most vividly?
The comment area is all yours, and I can’t wait to hear from you!
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