While we were on vacation in Maui in May 2013, we took Laddy up the great Haleakala, to visit Haleakala National Park. The summit towers 10,023ft above sea level, so the drive along the switchback road takes about 1.5 hours from Kahului (where the main airport is). A tip for the kids or passengers in the back seat: keep your eyes up and not in a book or game to avoid a bad tummy or car sickness. There are lots and lots and lots of turns!
Haleakala, Hawaiian for House of the Sun, has erupted a least 10 times in the last 1000 years. There is evidence that the last eruption happened around 1790 AD. What stands now is a massive mountain, with a huge crater and a landscape that feels other worldly. There are many native species that are struggling to survive in this environment due to the introduction of non-native species to the island. You are asked repeatedly to stay on the trails in order to protect species (please, please stay on the trails), and if you are caught harming the amazing Silverswords, it is punishable by law. Drivers are also cautioned to drive the 20mph speed limit and to keep eyes open to protect endangered birds, especially the Nene, that might be on the road. We need to remember we are visitors to their habitat.
Try your best to find a day where the view is clear and the weather is good. The weather on the mountain is very different than much of the island. Tip for everyone: while the weather at the beach might be sunny and 85, it could be raining and 50 degrees at the top. Bring layers of clothes so you can enjoy your visit more.
Often the top of the mountain is above the clouds, and your view will be blue sky and white clouds. You might be able to see into the crater too. We have found going earlier in the morning can give better views, before weather rolls in. Not sure if this is always the case, but it has been our luck. This trip, we got there and could see much of the island below us, the sun was shining, but it was cool (which for this cold weather lover was a welcome change). A half hour later, you never would have known anything was below, we were surrounded by clouds, and our drive was foggy and rainy.
The drive up on clear days is spectacular, and the views of the Valley Island are amazing. The greens of the upcountry below, the reds and blacks of the volcanic rocks, and the blue of the sea have your head spinning, as does the altitude.
About 5-6 miles from the summit, you will come to the fee house. If you have an America the Beautiful Annual National Park pass, make sure you present it. For folks without one of the National Park Passes, it will cost you $10/car and gives you access for 3 days. There are other fees, should you choose to enter the park in other ways (the link is above).
Just after the fee house is the first of 2 Visitor Centers. We stopped here to change into long pants and sneakers. We also picked up the Jr. Ranger packet for Laddy. I am not sure who loves them more, him or us. It is such a great way for everyone to learn more about the place we are visiting. The program is focused for kids 7-12, so we helped Laddy with the reading and he did the drawing and writing. This packet not only covered geology and different environmental lessons, but also Hawaiian Culture lessons. We learned new words like Malama ‘aina (to respect and take care of the land) and Laulima (Cooperation, working together). The park has 3 main sections and there are lessons in the book for all of them. We didn’t make it down to the Kīpahulu area this trip, so we focused our lessons on the summit of the mountain. For more resources on Haleakala just for kids, check out the NPS website here.
From the first Visitor’s Center, drive the rest of the way to the summit and have a look around. You will see some buildings with white, round tops. These are telescopes used by the University of Hawaii and the US Government. Haleakala is said to be the 4th best place in the world for viewing space. You cant go check them out, as the area is closed to visitors, but it was fun for the space-loving Lad. You will also have a chance (if the weather is good) to look into the crater.
From there, head back down to the second Visitor’s Center, which is a short walk or drive. There are no trails, so if you decide to walk, please stay on the road and don’t cut through what appears to be nothing.
From this location you can set off on several hikes. With the weather, we chose to take a very short hike up the hill right next to the Visitor’s Center. It was .2 miles each way, so it was nice and easy, especially with the altitude and a tired, hungry 5-year-old. Other people choose to hike into the crater, and the most adventurous, choose to hike through the crater all the way to the shore along the Road to Hana. There are some rustic cabins to over night/rest in along the way. If either of these options are of interest, make sure you do your research here.
There are lots of other things to do on the mountain through the tour companies on the island, from Sunrise Breakfasts to biking down the Crater Road.
If you visit the island of Maui, make an effort to get up to see this wonder. It is really something special!