Maui was our first stop on our November Hawaii tour … and sadly, we only planned 2.5 days there.
People come to Maui for the balmy ocean air, stupidly perfect sunsets and dancing palm trees. And we did that. But our main Maui purpose included none of that.
Marking our 56th National Park, we were quite surprised at how much we loved Haleakala National Park. Many, many, many people asked us if we were doing the sunrise and/or bicycle tour up Haleakala. No, we were never planning to do that. Mostly because we do not love crowds or tours in National Parks, but also because we are NOT sunrise people (give me all the sunsets and let me sleep in the morning).
Instead, we left behind the roar of the ocean at sea level and traveled up up up the winding switchback crater road, passing the long line of cars coming down from the sunrise. The drive up was pretty beautiful in itself through eucalyptus forests and among wayward clouds, with temps falling at least 20 degrees. We arrived into an empty world on top of the Haleakala Volcano summit at 10,023 feet! (Not recommended to go from 0 to 10,000 feet in a few hours, but we survived without giving ourselves blood clots or altitude sickness.)
The summit area was a whole new prehistoric-looking landscape from what lies below at sea level. Besides the observatory (closed to the public), which is the 4th best spot in the world to observe space, there’s a lot of red hills with rocky outbursts like bony spines protruding here and there. NASA could have faked a Mars landing here.
But cooler than that landscape was an endangered and endemic plant: ahinahina. It is believed to be a relative of the sunflower plant which landed on the summit after hitchhiking on the wings of a bird or blown by the wind millions of years ago. Since the summit does not provide an ideal growing environment for something like sunflowers, the seed evolved and adapted. The ahinahina exist nowhere else in the world, found only at high, dry alpine desert over 7,000 feet, like Haleakala in Hawaii. It looks like a jellyfish grew spikes, which is why it is also called silverswords. It can live for up to 50 years, but once it blooms a stalk of flowers, it dies. Plants are so cool!!!!!
After exploring the summit, we hit the Sliding Sands Trail (Keonehe’ehe’e), which took us about 3 miles down to our end destination of a lump-in-your-throat Haleakala Crater. This depression in the Earth was not the result of a giant volcanic explosion or collapse of a magma chamber, as true craters are. It’s really just a basin caused by erosion on the sleepy volcano (most recent eruption was 1790!). The ever-eroding walls and colors inside are amazing—red, yellow, brown—like a mixing bowl or piece of art.
After catching our breath from the crazy crater, we had to retrace our steps back up. Climbing 2000 feet over 3 miles doesn’t sound like much, but at an elevation of 9,000 feet, it hurts. Not so much Justin, but me. If my RESTING heart rate of 155 doesn’t tell you how I was doing, let me try to describe it. Imagine there is not enough room in your rib cage for your heart and you are breathing through a harmonica. Once again, not recommended to go hiking at elevation from sea level. For the record, Justin’s max heart rate was 120.
Tough hike, but nothing shave (shaved) ice can’t fix.
Justin’s mom had joined us for the short trip to Maui, but not for the summit and National Park trip. The three of us agreed that the saying “Maui-wowy” is fitting. We spotted Humpback whales (maybe the same ones Justin & I saw in Sitka, AK??), an incredible full moon rising from our sunset cruise and the partial lunar eclipse from our nearby beach. Justin & I already have plans to go back to Maui, not only because it’s lovely, but to explore the other side of Haleakala National Park via the Road to Hana. This side of Maui is a completely different ecosystem with rare biotic species, waterfalls and the southeast coast. Although, we’ll need a little time to recover financially from this Hawaii vacation, so it will probably be a few years before we can return.
Stay tuned for my last Hawaii post about the Big Island!