Haleakala National Park
Driving on the misty and foggy winding road, cherishing the melody of a country song, the ascend through the Advection fog levels is surely one of the most fascinating journeys we had in Hawaii. A mere 2 hour drive from the sea level to the top of the crater, the Haleakala National Park is an attraction where tourists can either spend an entire day, or spend specific parts of the day for various reasons.
Haleakala is a massive ‘Shield’ volcano taking up more than 75% of the area of Maui.It is formed by lava flows from the ocean floor that started merely 2 million years ago.The lava flow is believed to have originated from the hotspot (that sits below the Big Island now due to the movement of the oceanic plate), and the oldest exposed lava in this area is dated to about a million years old.
At the top of the park, there is a massive depression/crater which is ~7 miles in diameter and 2500 feet deep. The crater itself sits at at a height of ~10,000 feet. Weird as it may seem, but the crater itself was not of a volcanic origin. Instead, the original summit of the volcano collapsed due to weathering and created the depression, scientifically named as a ‘caldera’.
Contrary to popular belief, scientists argue that the volcano is not extinct yet and is merely dormant. There have been several eruptions from various parts of the volcano, especially the eastern region, in the last 100,000 years, with the last eruption dating back to 1700’s. The trailing edge of the hotspot might still be lurking under the eastern ridge of the island. If possible, a journey through the eastern edge of the park would surely give you a glimpse of the latest eruptions. The road is not paved and may not be possible to venture out with a rental car. Check out the official take on the potential for Haleakala rising from the ashes.
Exploring the Park
Once past the park entrance, the winding road takes you straight to the observatory level from where there are trails leading to the famous Haleakala Crater. From the top, looking eastward on a clear day, enjoy fascinating views of the Mauna Kea volcano (in Big Island)
with the advection zone cloud and Southeastern Maui landscape in foreground. Because of the altitude and stillness in the air, and being so far from
the city lights, Haleakala is an amazing spot for stargazing. If you are prepared to withstand the cold and the wind, arrive an hour before sunrise or stay on for a couple of hours after sunset to have one of the clearest views of the Milkyway, tens of constellations, and stars.
Tourists often choose to drive up before sunrise or return after sunset. Although the drive could be hazardous (especially for travelers with a major jetlag), on a clear enough day, the panorama and the experience of a sunrise or a sunset is spectacular. Just be warned that the environment is extremely unpredictable and the day of your choice could very well be the one where the Gods decided to drop a load of cloud on the advection zone making it impossible to spot the Sun near the horizon. But most of the times the cloud clears out with the trade winds blaring in.
While you are at the top, take one of the trails (Halemau’u or Sliding Sands) to step foot on the caldera. Look around to spot volcanic activities and lava trails. Walk on the red soil
devoid of any vegetation. Photos of the landscape with smaller hills and the barren land with boulders and rocks can trick an unsuspecting eye on believing its on the moon. Thepaved road and the clouds do give it away though. Keep an eye out for some rare phenomenons like a ‘Glory’.
Things to Know
- Park entrance costs: $5 per person or $10 per vehicle, valid for 7 days. Keep the receipt in the car since you can use it in your stop at Kipahulu in Hana Highway as well.
- Driving: Be extremely careful on your descend from the top as there are not many railings or shoulders in the curves, and the road is extremely narrow. Driving in the dark can be perilous if extra caution is not taken. Shift to lower gear (yes even in an automatic shifter), and drive below speed limits. Tailgating cars can wait. If you are going for the sunrise, or returning after sunset, the cloud/fog starts forming at different levels and can be extremely dense. From our experience, having a GPS actually helps in preparing for the next turn/bend as well.
- GPS Address: Haleakala Nat’l Park, State Highway 330, Kula 96790, USA