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Saturday, November 28, 2009

How To: See Sunrise at Haleakala National Park Volcano on Maui and Other Tours

So you want to visit Haleakala National Park to see the sunrise at the famed volcanic crater?

We wanted to. It's listed in the book, 1,000 Places to See Before You Die -- and also well known as one of "the things" to do on the Island of Maui in addition to the road to Hana.

However, you may have been scared off by the rumored 3:00 AM wake-up time to make it to the summit in time for that perfect moment. Let's just start by saying that during many times of the year, you DO NOT need to get up quite that early.

This post will take you through some basic "how to" in order to guide you on your journey and separate a lot of the fact from fiction that we encountered on our tour. Furthermore, we'll take you up close and personal on our recent visit to Haleakala including our Pony Express Crater horseback ride that we took just a couple of weeks ago while on vacation in Maui, Hawaii.

Sunrise and Tours at Haleakala Volcano Crater: Capturing Sunrise

Let's talk about planning for the trip.

In our case, since we were coming from California on our vacation to Maui, Hawaii -- we knew that the very next day on the island would be the best choice for us to make the journey to the summit of the 10,000 foot volcano crater. The reason was that we had a 2 hour time difference, meaning depending on when we woke up, it would not be a huge adjustment for us. For example, waking up at 4:00am would really be like waking up only at 6:00am if we were still in California with the time adjustment.

Once we got to the hotel, we spoke with one of the concierges who recommended we wake up by 3:00am and leave the hotel no later than 3:30am. Looking at the time tables for the sunrise -- it was set to rise at 6:30am the next morning. At first it really sounded crazy that it could take 3 hours to get to the summit -- especially from where we were staying at the Grand Wailea Resort in Wailea, Maui. We were planning to drive ourselves, but alternatively there are tours that will pick you up at your hotel (earlier than you would have to leave yourself) but leaves the driving to them.

After consulting Google Maps and identifying that the drive was only 51.3 miles and that Google Maps showed only 1 hour and 47 minutes to get there -- we decided that getting up at 3:00am was way too early. We decided to wake up at 4:00am, planning on about a 2 hour drive to the summit for a sunrise watch.


View Larger Map

And goodness, were we right. The next morning we woke up at 4:00am, headed out from the hotel at 4:20am and arrived at the summit at approximately at 5:50am -- only an hour and a half to make it to the summit. Now, I used a GPS in order to make sure to not make any wrong turns. But, since Ashley commonly gets very motion sick -- we took it very easy on the way up in terms of driving to the summit.

For us, getting there about a half an hour before the official sunrise was perfect, which I will describe a little more, but first a detailed recommendation about getting there if you drive.

When to leave:
The first thing to realize that the sunrise time changes fairly dramatically during the year, so in the summer time you may need to leave at 3:00AM. However, in the Winter time you can get away with much later times. What I would recommend is finding out what time the sunrise will be that morning and then taking two hours and fifteen minutes earlier as the time you should leave. For us, since the sunrise was at 6:30am, leaving at around 4:15am using the rule of thumb would get you there about 45 minutes before sunrise -- able to see some of the pre-sunrise lighting. This is an approximate time if you're leaving from Wailea, Maui. If you're leaving from Lahaina, Kaanapali, or Kapalua -- you'll need to add 15-30 minutes to the time.

Getting There:
The first thing to remember when you go is that it will be VERY COLD compared to the rest of the Island, often a 40-degree Fahrenheit temperature difference. You should pack at least a heavy sweatshirt and possibly even gloves for the early morning. It likely will be in the 40's, so be prepared -- it even gets colder depending on how windy it is.

The second thing to remember is that no stores will be open on your way there. Not even the Starbucks in Kahului. Pack your own food, breakfast, snacks, water and hopefully a thermos of coffee or hot cocoa for your trip up there. There are no food or general store facilities within the Haleakala National Park, so if you forget, you are really on your own. Also, bring a LED flashlight or headlight as it will be pretty dark when you arrive and you do not want to trip and fall over a volcanic rock which you may choose to walk over. And lastly, don't forget the sunblock. If you do any activities there, it will seem cool -- but given the intensity of the sun in Maui, Hawaii and the altitude of 10,000 feet -- you will burn very quickly if you're not careful!

The last thing is to remember that the Ranger Station at the base of the National Park will not be open. You will need to pull over to the right after you pass the booth and use the automated machine. As of this posting (November, 2009) the cost was $10. While the machine will take $20 bills, just remember the change will be made in $1 coins, so be prepared for heavier pockets if you do not have $5 or $10 bills. The Haleakala National Park pass is good for three days in case you are camping, or want to return. Do not forget, it is not worth getting a ticket from the Park Rangers for failing to register.

Once You're There:
There are two lots once you arrive at the top. A "lower" lot at about 9800 feet or so, and an "upper" lot at 10,000 feet. The lower lot is where the the Ranger Station is at and is a little larger of a lot, and where most people choose to go. If it is full, you can proceed up to the upper lot. While we never made it to the upper lot, there are definitely restrooms at the lower lot that are open.

Once you park, get a few layers on and proceed to the observation point. It can get crowded, but generally there are spaces available against the rail (which we found) if you're there a half hour or more before the sunrise. There you can just hang out and chat with others while you wait for the show to begin. We ended staying outside for about 40-50 to watch the entire sunrise.

Once you're done with a sunrise, there are a ton of other options for you.

What to do After Sunrise at Haleakala Volcano Crater:

First, a note -- weather can change quickly and dramatic at Haleakala. It can go from a sunny 60 degrees to a freezing 40 degrees or lower with lots of rain very quickly. Please make sure you're prepared for the elements.

Horseback Riding
What we chose to do was take a Horseback ride down into the crater. Horses and people on foot are the only ways that you can get down into the actual crater itself. The tour operator that provides the tours are the Pony Express Tours. If you book online (click here) you can save 10% on the price. You can either check in with them on your way up (except Sundays) if you do not want to catch sunrise -- or you can make arrangements like we did to just meet them at the top. It'll be enough time where you can catch a nap in your car between sunrise and the horseback riding if you want. They also provide rain equipment in case of weather changes.

The ride into the crater is approximately a 5 hour tour. A couple hours down the Sliding Sands trail into the crater -- then lunch -- then a couple of hours back up the crater, where at this altitude -- you are extremely thankful for the horse. We had a great time with our guide's nickname "Ra" from the "Sun God" -- and the lunch was excellent once we got down there. The horses were great and calm, and it was a very enjoyable trip for us. 4 hours on a horse can be pretty long if you are not used to it, so plan on having some extra padding or being a little sore at the end of it.

We highly recommend this tour, and made it back to our hotel shortly before 5pm after the 5 hour tour.

Hiking:
The only other way you can get into the crater is by hiking, which a lot of people choose to do -- and you cannot do it on bicycles or mountain bikes. But hiking comes with a strong caution. Please realize that you are at 10,000 feet and if you are not experienced with the altitude -- it will be difficult. "Ra" told us numerous stories of people (both young and old) that they had to pull out. Going down the crater will be much easier than coming back up as you will traverse about 2,000 feet of elevation -- make sure you plan for time accordingly and bring plenty of water so you do not get dehydrated.

Lastly, make sure you check in at the Ranger Station at the lower lot and let them know you'll be out on the crater in case anything happens or there are dramatic weather changes.

Bike Rides:
Bike riding is an extremely popular event at the Haleakala Volcanic Crater on Maui. There are a ton of companies, but first realize that you will not be going down into the actual volcano crater itself. You will be on other approved trails and roads.

There are a ton of companies that provide this type of tour and event. Rather than recommending a couple of them that are the most popular -- I will point you to an independent site where people review the various tours and often give their ages and skill levels so you can decide for yourself. Click here to read more.

Closing:
In all, a trip to the Haleakala National Park to see the sunrise and the crater are a must on your trip to Maui. We had an amazing time and were glad we got up early and made the full day investment.

Here are a few pictures from our Haleakala visit:

Sunrise and Tours at Haleakala Volcano Crater: Capturing SunriseSunrise and Tours at Haleakala Volcano Crater: Capturing Sunrise

Sunrise and Tours at Haleakala Volcano Crater: Looking Out Over the CraterSunrise and Tours at Haleakala Volcano Crater: Looking Out Over the Crater

Sunrise and Tours at Haleakala Volcano Crater: Watching while others take picturesSunrise and Tours at Haleakala Volcano Crater: Watching while others take pictures

Sunrise and Tours at Haleakala Volcano Crater: Posing in front of the Haleakala crater.Sunrise and Tours at Haleakala Volcano Crater: Posing in front of the Haleakala crater.

Sunrise and Tours at Haleakala Volcano Crater: Taking many pictures to get the right ones.Sunrise and Tours at Haleakala Volcano Crater: Taking many pictures to get the right ones.

Sunrise and Tours at Haleakala Volcano Crater: Our horses ready for the Horseback Tour Ride with the Pony Express.Sunrise and Tours at Haleakala Volcano Crater: Our horses ready for the Horseback Tour Ride with the Pony Express.

Sunrise and Tours at Haleakala Volcano Crater: Ashley on her horse Mele or Merry in Hawaiian.Sunrise and Tours at Haleakala Volcano Crater: Ashley on her horse Mele or Merry in Hawaiian.

Sunrise and Tours at Haleakala Volcano Crater: Kenny on his horse Joe.Sunrise and Tours at Haleakala Volcano Crater: Kenny on his horse Joe.

Sunrise and Tours at Haleakala Volcano Crater: Descending to the floor of the crater from 10,000 feet.Sunrise and Tours at Haleakala Volcano Crater: Descending to the floor of the crater from 10,000 feet.

Sunrise and Tours at Haleakala Volcano Crater: Looking out over the landscape (moonscape) over the volcano.Sunrise and Tours at Haleakala Volcano Crater: Looking out over the landscape (moonscape) over the volcano.

Sunrise and Tours at Haleakala Volcano Crater: Posing on our horses before heading back up to the top.Sunrise and Tours at Haleakala Volcano Crater: Posing on our horses before heading back up to the top.

2 comments:

Sheralyn said...

I love your pics!

We ended up skipping the sunrise thing because we didn't want to get up that early! But you're right, getting up at 3 or 4 am Maui-time isn't as bad as it sounds when you consider the equivalent time back home.

Since we were wimps, and didn't want to get up so early, we ended up getting to the summit later in the morning... It felt like another planet up there - it's so different from anywhere else on Maui!

We didn't end up exploring any of the trails into the crater, but would like to in future. I like the idea of going on horseback though, and after seeing your pics, it's something we'll consider for sure.

Brett Rodgers said...

This is such a cool blog! I really liked it and all the road to hana photos. I really want to go to Hawaii with my family one day and hope that I can make it out there some day soonish. Thanks for this blog and sharing your memories with us.