Our family has lived on Maui for ten years now, and believe it or not, I had never been to see sunrise on Haleakala. There have been a few reasons – but mainly having young children and my general dislike of crowds.
Those two blocks are no longer a factor – the kids are older, in fact I was able to bribe one of them to come along with me this morning. And as for crowds…. Haleakala National Park has limited visitors with a sunrise registration system a few years ago. And now with Covid, the park has further reduced those numbers.
What to bring before leaving the house/condo
- winter clothes, wind breaker… you mainland folk may be used to standing in near freezing temperatures for an hour or two (don’t forget about wind), but apparently my blood has thinned from living on Maui. I was so cold – but loving every minute of it!
- your wallet (credit card and ID, credit card only $30 for park admission, cash for Komoda’s donuts – they have a $10 minimum for credit card purchases)
- a print out of your Haleakala sunrise reservation
- drinks, snacks
- enough gas to get there and back
- Note: the last place to purchase anything on the way up would be a 24/7 gas station or perhaps McDonald’s in Kahului
Our journey to Sunrise on Haleakala
This morning we left our home in Kihei at around 2:20AM. Right off the bat, we saw a deer right next to the Piilani Hwy by the Kihei police station. I’m sure glad it stayed off the road as we passed. There was little traffic besides a black SUV also headed to sunrise.
We saw someone walking along the Veterans Hwy (formerly known as Mokulele, taking us towards Kahului). He also thankfully stayed on the bike path.
We hit our only red light at the turnoff onto Haleakala Hwy by King Kekaulike school in Pukalani. At this point the highway becomes a two lane road (with exception of a one lane bridge you come upon pretty quickly). It’s a gorgeous drive by day. As we passed through a grove of trees just before Kula Lodge area, we saw a large bird (I think an owl) flying in front of us. For a moment I worried he’d fly right into my windshield, but he changed direction, picked up speed and took off into the trees.
A little past Kula Lodge you follow the signs and turn left and at this point the roads get pretty wind-y as you really go up in elevation. Just past the tree line and past the second cattle gate, we came across a beef cow and her calf. Yes, we have in the past encountered them even laying down on the road. Definitely watch for them.
We reached the National Park gate which is just above the 6500 ft elevation mark when you come to a forested area). I picked up an annual park pass ($55 vs the $30 for a 3 day vehicle pass). We will certainly come up at least once more this year making it worth it. Note, if you have a US national park pass, bring it along as you can use it for admission. The park employee cross-referenced my name with her sunrise reservation list. Then we drove another half hour to reach the summit, passing crater valley parking lot on the way. Guess what – we were the only car there!
The sunrise experience
We bundled up in our winter jackets, hats and gloves, in our excitement completely forgetting to don our face masks. We were about an hour early for the show to begin but enjoyed some stargazing, though the moon was about half full, which didn’t allow us to see the Milky Way. On the plus side, we didn’t have to use our phones as flashlights as we walked around the in part cracked sidewalks. No tripping at the top of the world! Any medical care is a good hour’s drive away at the Kula fire station or perhaps tiny Kula hospital.
We could see Kihei and Kahului’s lights, as well as the faint flashing red lights along the windmills in Maalaea. We could also faintly see a few lights in the distance – I am pretty sure they would have been from Hawi, Big Island.
The skies started lightening around 5:10AM today, in the mean time another five cars had joined us. We walked back up to the lookout area (due to Covid-19 the shelter area was closed). It was a balmy 46F (7.8C) and thankfully no wind. We sure enjoyed the view, the sky changing colors above the cloud cover until finally the sun rose just before 6AM.
By sunrise another 20 cars arrived – a number of them ended up completely missing the show. We stopped briefly at crater valley and headed back down the mountain for our rewards of Komoda’s donuts in Makawao.
Would I do it again?
I’m thrilled we were able to experience a Haleakala Sunrise, even more so that we didn’t have to face the crowds so many are used to seeing at sunrise. However, I think I prefer sunset on Haleakala. Sunset doesn’t require reservations, there are fewer people, you can see if the mountain is cloud-covered prior to leaving Kihei (because it’s daytime). You aren’t exhausted from getting up super early. On that note – I would plan Haleakala Sunrise when you are still undergoing jetlag (at the beginning of your Maui trip).
Silver swords (‘ahinahina) in bloom
What a treat! It’s silver sword blooming season. These are such bizarre, delicate plants that are found exclusively on Haleakala.