According to legend, the demigod Maui set out to capture the sun and slow it down for his mother, Hina. She was a talented woman who created cloth out of pounded bark (Kapa), but lamented that the sun moved across the sky too quickly for her cloth to dry. So Maui headed to the peak of Mt. Haleakala, AKA “house of the sun.” Once at the top, Maui lassoed the sun in an effort to slow it down and lengthen the day.
Emerging from two large shield volcanoes, the West Maui Mountains first appeared approximately 1.3-2 million years ago with Haleakala following approximately 750, 000-1 million years ago. As lava flowed from the volcano, Haleakala continued growing over time. Today it stands 10,023 feet above ocean level. The crater is roughly seven miles across, two miles wide, and 3,000 ft. deep. Recent dating tests reveal that Haleakala most likely last erupted sometime in the 17th century. Once thought to be extinct, scientists now believe the volcano is actually just dormant and may erupt again in the next 500 years. Sensors have been installed on the mountain to monitor seismic activity.
Haleakala is at the heart of the Haleakala National Park, but there’s more to the park than just the volcano. Established in 1916, the national park covers more than 30,000 acres. It runs from the volcano’s rim all the way down to the Pacific Ocean shoreline.
The Haleakala National Park is home to more endangered species than any other U.S. National Park. The Hawaiian silversword is an endangered plant that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. The nene, a once nearly extinct Hawaiian goose, can also be spotted (and heard) in the park.
It has been argued how many climate zones there are in the world, some say 14, others say 20. What we do know, is that Haleakala National Park has a majority of them; descending from desert to forest to coastal. When visiting Maui, most people don’t think to pack a heavy jacket, but a warm jacket is important if you are planning a trip up to the summit to watch the sunrise, because there are often freezing temperatures.
Over the years, crowds wanting to watch the sunrise at the summit have grown. Consequently, the National Parks Service have implemented a way to manage the crowds. In February, 2017, a reservation system was put into place. Reservations are now required to enter the Summit District between 3:00 A.M. and 7:00 A.M. For more information or to book your reservation, visit the National Parks Service website.
A majority of people, who enter the national park, are there for the sunrise. But, if you want to skip the heavy crowds (or forget to make reservations), we recommend visiting at sunset. Nearly as beautiful, it’s a far more relaxed atmosphere for viewing, and you don’t have to rush to be at the summit in the wee hours of the morning. Additionally, if you stay up there until it’s dark, you may be able to see the Milky Way. At the least, you’ll see planets, moons (Jupiter’s moons!) and millions of stars. It’s one of the best stargazing locations in the world. The visitor center has star maps, and you can rent binoculars from various dive shops or hotels.
Haleakala is one of Maui’s natural treasures. If you visit, take your time to enjoy it. There are things at Haleakala National Park you won’t see anywhere else in the world.