Should you find yourself on a vacation to Maui, Hawai’i and have a full day to kill, watching the sunrise at the Haleakalā Crater is an unforgettable excursion. The uniqueness and magnitude of the crater will leave you feeling accomplished and hopefully satisfied depending on the weather conditions. You can go there by driving yourself or take a tour however I have not found sunrise tours, just day time tours. That’s probably because most people find it to be too cold or don’t understand that great rewards require sacrifice. Did I say cold? I meant freezing.
Haleakalā Crater stands tall at just over 10,200 feet. Not only is it cold but being so high up puts you above or in the clouds, which means not just very cold but also windy and wet.
Leaving from Ka’anapali takes approximately 2.5-3 hours. We left our hotel at 2AM and arrived at the summit around 4:45AM. Being there over an hour early meant we had to sit and wait in the freezing cold for the warmth of the sun to defrost our bodies. However, we were not alone and the parking lots filled up very quickly so it is a good idea to get there early and prepare yourself for the long, cold wait.
My girlfriend and I decided to rent a Harley for our trip and discussed our plans with the very nice lady at Aloha Motorsports. Thankfully, one of the mechanics had done this ride before and warned us that if we were going to attempt this, we would need to be very prepared. He mentioned the Salvation Army would be a good place to find some cheap warm clothing so we set out to get some supplies:
- Thick socks
With 2 pairs of socks, jeans, 2 shirts, 2 sweaters, gloves and a helmet, It was still cold at the top. If you plan on riding to the top, I would highly recommend a windbreaker and face mask to cover your nose and of course some eye protection. You may want to stop at the base of the crater to put on the extra layers since it can get pretty toasty with so many layers. Up until around 7000 ft we were pretty comfortable, however at 8000 ft, the fog and the cold started showing no mercy. After 8000 ft the fog was so bad we couldn’t see more than 10 feet in front of us, and with sheer cliffs on one side we had to go no more than 15 mph and proceed with extreme caution.
Besides the bitter cold, and blinding fog, the ride itself was pretty smooth until getting near the top. We saw a small deer near the edge of the street so be careful and drive the speed limit. A collision with a deer, especially on motorcycle would be devastating. The roads are well paved and pretty straight until you reach the base. Once you start climbing Haleakalā, the roads get very windy with lots of turns and no street lights so drive slow and be extra careful. Even in a car this is a pretty dangerous drive.
Once reaching the top you’ll pass the visitor center and then the lower parking lot. It can be very confusing since there are multiple places to stop but if there is another road, you haven’t reached the top yet. From the lower lot, you can continue up another 1/4 mile and reach the summit. At the summit you’ll find a rounded building with glass windows. This is where those that don’t want to wait outside in the freezing cold winds camp out. It is a good place to read up on the local wildlife, weather conditions and history of the crater. Many people will simply stay indoors to watch the sunrise but I would highly recommend you take a seat on the wall outside and wait it out. The glass windows tend to fog up and you will surely not get the full experience indoors. Be brave, and wait outside.
At 10,200 feet you can bet on seeing a beautiful view of the night sky and waiting for the sunrise seems like a primal but incredibly humbling thing to do. Once you start seeing a glimmer of light, let me magic begin. If you’re lucky the clouds will clear up just in time for you to snap some photos of the breathtaking colors and you’ll start to appreciate how high you really are. Some people get impatient and leave before the clouds clear out and miss what the came to see by just a few minutes. I would hang out for at least an hour after first light to make sure you don’t miss the opportunity. I can’t understand why someone would drive almost 6 hours total and not spend 1 hour waiting to see what they came for. The best reward is on the ride down. The scenic road and panoramic views continue all the way down the crater. There are also a few cafes along the way to stop for breakfast or coffee. This was absolutely a once in a lifetime trip that I will never forget. I’ve attached some photos of the sunrise and the views from the ride down.