A great day trip to make on a trip to Maui is up Haleakala, the large shield volcano that makes up 75% of the island. Haleakala National Park includes the volcano and its crater, and more than 24,000 acres of surrounding wilderness. We planned on driving to the summit and then hiking down into the crater a bit.
We left our condo early in the morning to drive around to the east side of the island. We were staying at Makani Sands, which are rental condos located north of the town of Lahaina, on the west side of Maui. The drive took about 45 minutes to reach the park entrance, at which point we were already at an elevation of about 4,600 feet. It should be noted that you have to pay to get into the park, $15 for a private vehicle is good for 3 days entry. The temperature when we left our condo was 84 degrees, but was steadily declining, so if you are visiting Haleakala, dress warmly! The road zig zags along the side of the volcano, with spots to pull over for photo opportunities of the island below. You will pass through the clouds on your ascent as well, so be careful driving through the fog. Beware of bikers coming down the road- there is a sunrise bike tour that includes a bike ride down the volcano afterwards, so there are many people passing by on their journey.
As you near the summit, there’s an Observatory and Visitor’s Center just below the top. The Visitor’s Center is open from sunrise to 3pm, and you can stop in and learn about the history and geology of the volcano, the plant and animal life sustained in the park, and about the Ahinahina Silversword, which is a plant found in the high elevations of Haleakala and nowhere else in the world. It is a silvery gray plant with fleshy leaves like aloe growing in a rosette formation that lives for up to 90 years. It flowers once, sending up a tall stalk with beautiful red-orange flowers, and then dies. Unfortunately none of them were in bloom while we were there, but we were told they are an impressive sight to see. Visitors used to pull up these plants and take them home as souvineers, but they are now protected by park management and many are fenced off to prevent tourists from stepping on seedlings and root systems.
The winds at the summit were very strong, and it was about 45 degrees Fahrenheit. We took a few photos and marveled at the crater from inside the glass windows of the viewing area, and then headed down to the Sliding Sands trailhead. The Sliding Sands trail is a very difficult hike into the crater, descending 2,800 feet in elevation in the first 4 miles. Most people hike a mile or two in, and then turn around to hike back out, but be warned, the hike out takes twice as long due to the steep ascent and is very tiring. We went a little over a mile into the crater, and then Sarah and I made it a mission to make it back to the top without stopping. Definitely counted as our workout for the day!! Rebecca and Peter were next, followed by my Mom and Dad at the end. I would have liked to do a much longer hike into the crater, and there are cabins and campsites 5.6 and 10.4 miles in if you want to stay overnight, but it was enough for our trip that day.
We drove back down the volcano tired, dusty, but feeling content knowing we had just hiked (a little) into the crater of an active (not since the 17th century) volcano! I also took a little souvineer from our hike- I picked up a small piece of volcanic rock from inside the crater. Park officals tell you not to do it, and Hawaiian natives consider it bad luck- many people have even sent back the rocks that they’ve taken because they believe the superstitions. Considering the amazing life of travel I have with Julio now, I’ll take my chances.