Haleakala – The House of the Rising Sun

Haleakala – The House of the Rising Sun

Mount Haleakala on the Hawaiian island of Maui is the House of the Rising Sun – literally. The sunrise on Haleakala is of such an epic magnitude that it draws people to get up at ridiculous o’ clock at night and drive up its endless winding hairpin roads to the summit, braving dizzifying steep drop-offs, in order to gawk over the ethereal beauty of its caldera when the sun lights up and paints it in otherworldly colours.

Sunrise at the top of Haleakala

So I circled myself up to Haleakala at an ungodly hour to see the famous sunrise into the Ko’olau Gap. The caldera is full of colourful cones & craters, which are slowly lit up in an amazing display of colours by the rays of the rising sun.

Crater at the Ko’olau Gap caldera on Mount Haleakala, Maui, Hawaii.
Craters painted by the sunrise into the Ko’olau Gap.

Crater hike

From the Haleakala lookout point at the top there’s a walking track into the bottom of the valley. You can hike all the way across to Halemau’u, on the other side of this vast caldera. It’s one big crunchy crater wonderland out there.

I would have loved to do that walk, and explore its countless craters & cones. But unfortunately it was so windy that morning that I would probably have been blown across the valley like a tumbling weed.

Craters and cinder cones, Mount Haleakala, Maui, Hawaii.
Rows of craters and cinder cones.

Freezing temperatures & howling wind

I just couldn’t handle the severe temperatures (below freezing!) and the howling gale-force winds around the caldera, which made it feel like at least 20 degrees (either C or F!) colder. Even with a wooly hat, gloves and 5 layers of clothing I was still suffering from hypothermia. Sadly, I had to let go of my intentions to walk across the Haleakala crater valley…

According to geological definition Haleakala is actually not a real crater or caldera, but an eroded valley.

Halemau’u track, Maui, Hawaii.

Halemau’u track

Steep ridges and weaving clouds

So instead I went down the mountain to the lower & less windy end of the valley, where the walking track from the summit emerges at Halemau’u. It peeks into the caldera from a different angle, with continuous changing views from all sides.

I wandered along steep ridges, while the track was frequently engulfed by foggy clouds weaving in and out of the caldera. But when they lift, you will be rewarded with some truly breathtaking views.

It all adds to the mysterious beauty of this epic mountain.

The walking track at Halemau’u, Mount Haleakala, Maui, Hawaii.
The walking track at Halemau’u, at the lower end of the Ko’olau Gap caldera.

Mount Haleakala, Maui, Hawaii.
The jagged peaks of Mount Haleakala.

How to get to Haleakala

Once you’re on Maui, you can reach the summit of Haleakala by taking Road 37 from the coastal town of Kahului. Take the turnoff to Road 377 and then drive up the steep curvy Road 378 to the visitor center at the top. To indicate the mind-boggling steepness, this takes you from sea level to an altitude of 3000 metres within a straight distance of roughly 20 kilometres.

The distance on the road itself is about 60 kilometres from Kahului. But you will need at least 2 hours to precariously crawl up to the top.

Road up to Mount Haleakala, Maui.
The endless road up to Mount Haleakala.

Hairpin roads in the sky, Mount Haleakala, Maui, Hawaii.
Hair-raising hairpin roads in the sky!

The Haleakala sunrise on Maui

Unfortunately, things have gotten quite busy in the meantime. Since 1 February 2017, reservations are required to go into the summit area between 03.00 and 07.00 hrs to watch the sunrise.

Halemau’u hiking track

The Halemau’u Trailhead is about 11 kilometres down the road from the top, at an altitude of 2438 metres in the Haleakala Wilderness Area. Be sure to bring plenty of food and water – and a Wilderness Coffee to enjoy! 😉

Maui sunset green flash.
The elusive green flash at sunset on Maui…?

View to Haleakala from the south road to Hana, Maui.
View to Haleakala from the south road to Hana.

Haleakala road map

This handy interactive map shows the road from Kahului to the top of Mount Haleakala, and the Halemau’u walking track. You can also zoom in on the different sections of the route for more details.

Mountains & Volcanoes – Mount Haleakala, Maui (Hawaii)

This article was originally published as a NaturePic Challenge: pictures of epic nature with a specific theme, and places that will trigger a natural high.

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Maui waterfalls, Hawaii.
Maui also has an abundance of refreshing waterfalls!

More to explore & discover

Solar eclipse – A mind-blowing experience

Hawaii – Volcanic fields of fire

Flower Art – Hawaiian Pua Lehua

Cook Islands – The stuff of Pacific dreams

Aurora Solaris – The sunset version of northern lights

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First published: 21 February 2017

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