Sunrise on Haleakala

Haleakala is a rare and sacred place with an abundance of stories from both ancient and modern Hawaiian times. The seemingly barren volcanic landscape delivers a stark contrast to the sub-tropical rain forest just below the massive crater, which measures 7 miles long, 2 miles wide, and 2600 feet deep.

At 2:30am, the alarm rang for our sunrise excursion to Haleakala. Our driver, Preston, has been driving this long switchback route up and down the mountain for a decade, and he was wonderful.

We knew that at 10,000 feet above sea level the temperatures would feel far less than tropical. But WOW! Cold wind! 40 degrees. Not that we would have wanted to pack heavy winter coats, hats, scarves, and gloves, but we sure could have used them. Haleakala National Park temperatures tend to be 30-50°F with 10-40 mph winds. Naturally, it is coldest in the morning and overnight, AND it can be much colder… even icy. Weather was on our side, but we saw a picture of how the clouds at crater level turn into columns of ice crystals in winter.



We had a long wait for the highly worthwhile victory of the gloriously famous sunrise here. This is why there is always a crowd to await the sunrise here. Park rangers and other locals immediately broke into song as soon as the sun had risen. They do this every single morning! I found it a most appropriate way to celebrate dawn on the mountain whose name means “house of the sun.”


There was no road up Haleakala until the early 1930’s. And yet, Haleakala has been a visitor attraction since the late 1800’s, when Samuel Clemens wrote, “It was the sublimest spectacle I ever witnessed. And I think the meaning of it will remain with me always.”

That is true for me, too. Witnessing sunrise on Haleakala is one of those magical moments we wouldn’t even know should be on our bucket list.

Haleakala on the island of Maui in Hawaii is the world’s 3rd highest peak in the most remotely isolated land mass. Maui was actually formed out of 2 volcanoes, rising from the ocean’s floor. Haleakala forms more than 75% of the Hawaiian Island of Maui. (The rest is formed by another volcano, Mauna Kahalawai. After enough eruptions, she finally rose above sea level.

Check how big Haleakala is from base to summit. Though erosion has chopped off 2,000 feet, Haleakala still stands at 29,704 feet from base to summit. Yup. That’s BIG. She stands taller than Mount Kilimanjaro (19,341’), Mount McKinley (20,320’), and even Mount Everest (29,029’).

Atop Haleakala you will find “Science City.” There are several observatories and powerful telescopes.


Even more interesting are some of the species endemic to Hawaii, meaning they are not only native, but they grow nowhere else on earth. One example is the Haleakala Silversword. Its Hawaiian name is ‘ahinahina (which is pronounced like ah-HEE-nah-HEE-nah. This literally translates to “white white,” as the Hawaiian language has no single word for “silver.” This plant grows at 7,500 feet up the mountain and only blooms once per year. They have a soft, hairy feel to them, like the spot just above a cat’s nose. My picture lacks the blossom, as they are done blooming by fall.

Fortunately, our driver, Preston shared his photo with us, and I now share it with you. The base is only knee-high, but with the blossoms, the plant can grow to 8 feet tall. Crazy! Stunning to see the fascinating species that survive and thrive here.


Another favorite, though hardly endemic to Hawaii, is a partridge-like bird we saw scurrying all about our vehicles and the edges of the crater. We learned it is the Chukar partridge, native to Eurasia. The upland game bird is from the pheasant family. So, go Hawaiian and have a Chukar in your pear tree for the 12 days of Christmas.

About Cathy Burnham Martin

Author of 20+ books, and counting! A professional voice-over artist, dedicated foodie, and lifelong corporate communications geek, Cathy Burnham Martin has enjoyed a highly eclectic career, ranging from the arts and journalism to finance, telecommunications, and publishing. Along with her husband, Ron Martin, she has passions for entertaining, gardening, volunteering, active and visual arts, GREAT food, and traveling. Cathy often says, "I believe that we all should live with as much contagious enthusiasm as possible... Whether we're with friends or family, taking people along for the ride is more than half the fun."
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