We kicked off our Maui vacation as anyone would expect…by waking up at 2:30 a.m. on our first morning there! If you would have told me that this would be the top highlight of our trip I would not have believed you. I would highly suggest planning to do the sunrise on the first night of the trip if you are traveling from the mainland. You will be surprised how awake you are due to the time change.
If you have read anything about Maui or even just looked at a map you can easily see that the island is made up of two mountains: West Maui Mountain and Haleakala. (The entire mountain actually being called Haleakala rather than just the summit is up for debate but that is a discussion for another day on another blog…people there call the whole thing Haleakala). West Maui Mountain is on the…you guessed it – west side of the island. Haleakala is to the east and separates the west side from the tiny town of Hana. (Check out our Road to Hana post here!)
Haleakala is one of two national parks in Hawaii. In the past, visitors were able to visit it at any time, guides could take teams of tourists up to the summit to bike all the way down and you could even go horseback riding inside the crater! If you picked up our highly recommended guide book it gives you a better insight on the politics behind it all but in summary, you have to make a reservation to see the sunrise and it is now BYOBike and BYOHorse.
Reservations sell out quick but aren’t impossible to get. I wasn’t able to secure one for my parents’ and grandparents’ trip but I snagged one for ours. The cost to reserve is only $1.50/car (read carefully – per car – not per person.) There is a lot of specific information for when you need to arrive and be sure to have the reservation printed out or on your phone or you will not be allowed in. The fee once you arrive is $25/per car and that is the national park fee. It is good for 3 days so save your receipt if you want to visit other areas of the park on your trip!
We stayed in Kihei the morning of the sunrise and left the Airbnb around 3:00 a.m. We arrived at the park entrance around 4:00 a.m. and it was a good
Once we got to the summit we climbed out of our Jeep into “refreshing”
From the parking lot we climbed up a sketchy set of stairs – a flashlight will come in handy here – and there was a small hexagonal building to your left and a bunch of Star Wars looking stuff to your right. The Star Wars stuff is a bunch of government telescopes – not much you are able to check out there. We checked out the inside of the building to get out of the wind but spent most of the time outside.
This is where getting there early really pays off. Only a few other people had already arrived so there was no crowding for a spot. We were able to check out the area and when we looked up it was quite a magical moment. We saw more stars than I had ever seen at one time in my life. Being up above the clouds gives you such a clear view and the tiny specks against the pitch black darkness was awe-inspiring.
People started slowly arriving until there was a decent crowd so we set up camp along the tiny rock wall in front of the building. If you plan on taping the sunrise (I recommend a time lapse) definitely bring a tripod (here is the one I have). I dug the ends of my tripod into the rock wall (remember, wind!) and then sat and relaxed to enjoy the views. One poor girl, (in nothing but a tee and cardigan!) held her phone in the exact same position for over an hour. Talk about cold and ruining the experience!
You will see what looks like the ocean slowly come into view but it’s more likely that those are actually clouds. The colors and the silhouette of the mountains are truly gorgeous.
This was not what we envisioned for our Hawaii vacation but it ranked number one on top experiences for the trip.
Once the sun breaks across the horizon we took a few photos and enjoyed the scenery in the daylight. Look for the silverswords near the parking lot – google more information about them if you are so inclined!
We then headed back down the mountain and stopped at the park headquarters to do a quick hike.
We also stopped at the Leleiwi Overlook which was recommended as a secondary sunrise viewing area if the summit is too crowded. There is a great view of the lava flow ash from this point.
We headed back to Kihei after than and spent the day at one of our favorite beaches during the whole trip.
If you are planning a trip to Maui be sure to check out our other posts. You can find the link to reserve your sunrise spot here and other park information here. Again, here is a link to an awesome guide book that gave us some great tips to make the best of our trip.
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