The drive from our condo in Kihei to the top of Haleakela and back – an easy half day trip. Haleakala volcano is 3,058 metres (10,033 feet high). Driving to the summit will take about two hours from Kahului, assuming you take your time to see the sights along the way. Give yourself an extra 20 minutes if you are traveling from Kihei or Wailea, or give yourself an extra 45 minutes if you are driving from Lahaina/Kaanapali. The road is paved the whole way, although the upper half of the route has many hairpin turns and is quite narrow. Haleakela National Park charges a modest per car fee, which is collected at a toll booth on the way up the mountain.
Make sure your car has a full tank of gas and check all fluid levels before you leave. There are no service stations once you pass Pukalani on Highway 37, so it is up to you to ensure your vehicle is in good condition. Speaking of being prepared – you should take some snacks and drinks with you. Although there is a restaurant and lodge in Kula on Highway 377, most visitors get hungry or thirsty while up on the summit, so bring food and drinks with you. Leave yourself at least a half hour to experience the strange sights from the summit.
The weather on the summit is not easily predictable. It can be sunny or rainy – or both! Keep in mind, you are at 3,000 metres elevation, so the air temperature will be quite cool. Take a jacket. Likewise, it is impossible to predict whether you will be able to view the scenery of Maui from the summit or not. Obscuring clouds come and go…just because you see clouds while driving up the mountain, doesn’t mean they won’t clear by the time you reach the summit.
There are many unusual and contrasting colours at this elevation, so take lots of pictures. Compare my photos of the crater taken in 1983 with the ones taken of the same area in 1995. There are some interesting cinder cones inside the crater.
Although there are observatories and repeater stations on the summit, there is no access permitted to this area. There are some spectacular silver sword plants to see, depending on the season. Please remember – don’t touch. The ecology in Haleakala National Park is very fragile. Please observe signs which restrict access to certain areas used by the nene, or native Hawaiian goose.
On the way up, observe the transitions through several ecosystems – from the tropical valley floor, through the temperate forests on the lower slopes, to grasslands on the middle slopes. The higher elevations have very little vegetation, except the hardiest of plant varieties.
You never know what you will encounter on these trips. Who would have thought that a Viper sports car would be parked at the top?
One last warning – traveling from sea level to 3,000 metres (10,000 feet) so rapidly is hard on the human respiratory system. If you have a heart condition, or have respiratory ailments, think twice before making this trip. Hardly a day goes by without an ambulance having to take someone down from Haleakala. Even healthy individuals will find that the rapid climb to the summit can cause “fuzzy” sensations, feelings of slight nausea or loss of balance. While on the summit, take it easy. Walk slowly (even if you feel OK), and sit down for short rests on the benches provided. Haleakala is well worth seeing, so make sure you are one of the 99% of visitors who enjoy this unique experience.
For the more adventuresome, there are many activities available within the Haleakala crater: hiking trips (3 cabins are available, reservations required), ranger-guided walks and hikes, concessionaire-guided trips through the crater, short, self-guided walks, and camping at Hosmer Grove Campground.
Although I have concentrated on the Haleakala Crater portion of Haleakala National Park, there is a second section to the park – the Kipahulu area. This coastal area can be reached by driving the road to Hana (Highway 360), and going past Hana on Highway 31 to the Oheo Gulch (Seven Pools) area. Hiking, swimming, camping, and picnicking is available in this area. Facilities at Kipahulu are primitive. Neither drinking water nor modern restrooms are available. If you are considering going to this area, check with the park administration first. Car rental agencies may prohibit the use of their vehicles on Highway 31, so check before you go.