Visiting Haleakala

The Largest Volcano on the Hawaiian island of Maui

Approaching Maui

The Hawaiian island of Maui is actually two volcanic cones joined by a small piece of land. The larger volcano to the southeast is Haleakalā towering 10,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean and still considered active, though currently quiet.

North shore surf seen from 10,000 ft
North shore surf seen from 10,000 ft
 The Haleakalā Observatory
The Haleakalā Observatory

The Haleakalā Observatory, also known as the Haleakalā High Altitude Observatory Site, is Hawaii ‘s first astronomical research observatory.

Haleakalā is a unique place since there are very few places on earth where you can drive from sea-level to ten-thousand feet in just a couple of hours.

Afternoon clouds role thru the crator
Afternoon clouds role thru
The view across the caldera
The view across the caldera

The trip up the slopes to the Haleakalā National Park from the seaside town of Kapalua is a full two-hour drive. The steady climb up the slopes represents half the trip but the views from the summit are worth every minute it takes to get there. From the summit looking off to the north you will see the coast with its reefs and surf just offshore from the coastal Hana highway. Looking south is the spectacular view out across the caldera with its numerous smaller eruption cones and gorgeous multi-colored deposits of cinder and earth. The landscape makes you feel as if you are on the planet Mars.

The view across the caldera
The view across the caldera

A popular expedition is to go up to the 10,000 foot summit before dawn to watch the sun rise out of the sea (you need to get a permit for the pre-dawn trip). Mark Twain called sunrise from Haleakalā “the most sublime spectacle I have ever witnessed.”

The best way to really experience the park is by walking its trails. There are 35+ miles of hiking trails in the Wilderness Area that guides hikers through sub-alpine scrubland, rain-forest, and cinder desert.

Maui silversword
Maui silversword

On the slopes of Haleakalā are a number of native birds and over 800 species of plants with over 300 species native, or endemic to Hawaii, found only in the islands. At the higher elevations you will find the Maui silversword or Haleakala silversword, a rare plant, part of the daisy family Asteraceae.

Maui silverswordThe silversword in general is referred to as ʻāhinahina in Hawaiian (literally, “very gray”). The Haleakalā silversword is found only at elevations above 7,000 feet on the Haleakalā volcano, on the summit depression, the rim summits, and surrounding slopes in Haleakalā National Park. The Haleakalā silversword has been a threatened species as defined by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, since May 15, 1992.

If you are only spending a day or two on Maui probably the least costly way of getting to see Haleakalā is by rental car. Cars are usually about $75 for a day and at the most $100. It is also worth pointing out that the best time to visit is in the morning. Because of the islands height it has a tendency to develop clouds around the peak in the afternoon and while it is a beautiful sight being above the clouds on Haleakalā you could miss some spectacular views of the island.

The view across the caldera
The view across the caldera
View at 6,000 feet
View at 6,000 feet
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Hawaii – Planning a Trip

Hawaii is a destination on many bucket lists and if it’s not on yours you should add it. There are eight major islands in the Hawaiian archipelago so it is important to decide how to handle a visit. Our first choice is cruising as you are able to see several of the islands in one trip. Alternatively, you can select an island to visit and just stay, with Oahu being our first choice. There are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches so be sure to do research before making your decision.

If you go with a cruise, only one company at present does weekly sailings around Hawaii and that is Norwegian. They offer 7 night trips in and out of Oahu with stops usually on three other islands. Alternatively, if you have around 14 nights available, you

Honolulu & Waikiki Beach

can sail round trip from several different California ports or one way from Vancouver Canada or even consider an Australia – Hawaii cruise. The advantage to the one way sailing is that allows you to spend extra days on the island where the cruise begins or terminates and only pay for a one way plane ticket. With any of these options, you are likely to visit four or five different ports giving you the ability to do some exploring on your own or taking a ship’s tour to see the island.

Rainbow Falls

The advantage to cruising is that you know many of the costs upfront and you know you will have good meals and a comfortable bed every night. You get sea days to relax and port days to see as little or as much as you want. You also have the option to try food and drinks ashore and see highlights in each port (like volcanoes), and shop at local stores and galleries. Some ships also bring on board Hawaiian performers and craft instructors to teach you things like making leis. Our last cruise had a naturalist on board giving lectures on whales and other things you MAY see. The disadvantage to cruising Hawaii is that your time in port is limited so you may not get to all the highlights on a particular island.

The island of Maui
O’hau
O’hau

If you decide to fly, you need to select which island you want to visit. Roundtrip air can be pretty expensive and, if you want to visit more then one island, you will need additional inter island flights, also not cheap. Flying is the main transportation between islands as there is only one ferry service and it only connects Lahaina (Maui) and Lanai. Hotels are also fairly expensive as many of the hotels are beach resorts. Food is more costly then what you find on the mainland, especially in restaurants. If you don’t mind fast food, there are lots of options available to help keep costs down and Hawaii has some unique offerings that we hadn’t seen before. Because of the Asian influence you will see lots of sushi and noodle places and don’t pass up the food trucks.

Once you get over how expensive Hawaii can be, having several days to explore a particular island is a plus. You can walk, ride public transportation or hail a taxi but if you want to do a lot of exploring, renting a car is the way to go. If you book in advance, rental cars are not expensive but you will need GPS either in the vehicle or on your phone (our Verizon iPhones worked great for navigation). The islands are easily drivable but the long and unusual road names make navigation a bit of a challenge.

Kona on The Big Island

Whichever way you decide to visit Hawaii, plan your trip in advance so that you can get the most out of it. There is so much to see and do, it will be difficult deciding on priorities.

 

 

To get you started here are a few ideas:

  • Visit the volcanoes on the Big Island and Maui
  • Take a walk on Waikiki Beach
  • Learn to surf and/or paddle board
  • Have a Dole Whip at the Dole Plantation on Maui
  • Go snorkeling among the 250 marine species that call the area home
  • Sample coffee on Kona*
  • Have a Hawaiian shave ice
  • Visit Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial on Oahu
  • Hike or bike one of the many lush nature trails
  • Spend time on a beautiful beach
  • Bring home Macadamias* or coffee

* Oahu now has a new coffee grower and café located in the neighborhood of the Dole Plantation

 

Honolulu and Diamond Head

**Hint: When you go shopping for Macadamia nuts visit the grocery and drug stores and save over the tourist stores. We visited the Mona Loa factory on The Big Island and their prices weren’t any better. Long Drug is the big Hawaiian drug chain and their prices are usually the best we’ve seen. They have also recently been acquired by CVS so if you have a CVS loyalty card be sure and use it and take your coupons and bucks with you.