It is easy NOT to visit Haleakala. Here are 5 reasons why:
1) It’s cold. Cut to the bone cold. I grew up in Wyoming. I know cold. Haleakala is cold.
2) It’s windy. I know windy. (Did I mention the Wyoming thing?)
3) You have to get up at o’dark thirty. I dragged our kids out of bed at 2:30am to make the drive. There’s a big difference between staying up until 2:30 and getting up at 2:30. I think I’ve reached the age where neither is enjoyable.
4) It’s a long and winding road. Sounds nice in a Beatles tune, but the weak-stomached will need dramamine.
5) It’s the opposite of the Hawaii you came for. No palm trees. No soft sand. No lapping waves. No tiki bar.
There’s really only one compelling reason to endure all of the above:
To sit in awe.
To have a moment of complete wonder, where you are slack-jawed in amazement at the world around you.
That’s what happened to me anyway. I’m usually not good at living in the moment. My mind is always at work, thinking about all the things that aren’t getting done because I am doing something else.
Not this morning. A small group of locals next to me sang a Hawaiian chant as the sun – the entire, massive, center-of-the-universe sun – lifted above the horizon in a matter of seconds, glowing deep orange, then throwing beams of light in all directions before becoming so blazingly bright that you couldn’t look at it. I was consumed by the sight. I thought about nothing else. Worried about nothing. I almost forgot to take pictures. I almost didn’t want to take pictures.
It was awesome. Not the “Hey man, your new rims are awesome” kind of awesome, but big-bang, lump-in-the-throat, cosmic wonderment kind of awesome.
A big thanks to the park ranger who suggested we go to the Leleiwi Overlook instead of going all the way to the summit. I’ve read that the top gets crowded, but there were less than a dozen of us at Leleiwi, and the view was spectacular to say the least. There is a lookout platform there but I recommend hiking another 50-100 yards up the ridge. You’ll have a totally unobstructed view and likely no one at all around you.
Go early. The receptionist at our hotel was way off on her drive-time estimates and we could have gone at least an hour later. But it turned out to be perfect. We avoided the long line of cars that queue up at the entrance to Haleakala National Park. In fact, we beat the ranger there and didn’t have to pay the entrance fee. We had the road to ourselves and plenty of time to get to our spot. The last thing you want to do is go through all that effort then have the sun come up while you’re in your car a mile from the summit.
And if that happens, don’t worry. Set the alarm. Put on the parka. Pop the dramamine and go again. Because it may be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but on Haleakala, it happens every day.