Haleakala, or “house of the sun” in Hawaiian, is a sacred place in island culture. According to one legend, the Hawaiian moon goddess Hina couldn’t get her kapa (cloth made of bark) to dry properly because the days were too short. Her son, the demigod Māui, climbed atop the Haleakala volcano and ensnared the sun with a rope made from his sister’s hair. He admonished the sun for moving too quickly, holding it hostage until it agreed to make the days longer in summer and shorter in winter. It’s just one of the demigod’s many exploits chronicled in the hit song “Maui Hawaiian Sup’pa Man” by late singer Israel Kamakawiwo‘ole.
Seeing those Māui-directed sunrises from the Haleakala summit is an ethereal experience. When the weather cooperates and the crater is clear of fog, the sun’s rays cut through the cloud cover, exposing a dazzling array of purples and oranges. The sun appears close enough to touch.
The two-hour drive from beachfront hotels isn’t easy—the winding road up the volcano climbs almost 10,000 feet and can be interrupted by grazing cattle—and most mornings draw a crowd, so visitors picky about panoramas should arrive much earlier than the sun. That means leaving around 3 a.m. in time for a 5:30 a.m. sunrise. Tours combine the trek with a bike ride—it’s literally all downhill from here. The Haleakala view is worth the effort even when clouds shroud the summit.
After the morning fireworks, Haleakala National Park buzzes with activity all day. Hikers enter the crater of the world’s largest dormant volcano, an expanse big enough to hold Manhattan. Bird enthusiasts relish the chance to spot one of Hawaii’s many native birds, including the nene (Hawaiian goose) or pueo (Hawaiian short-eared owl). The park’s entrance pass also provides access from the other end of the park, in Kipahulu on the road to Hana.
Keen eyes might sight a lone ‘āhinahina, or silver sword, a highly endangered plant with succulentlike leaves covered in silver hairs. Once rendered nearly extinct by cattle and trampling tourists, the plant was protected once the area became a national park. Hina, aforementioned moon goddess, was also said to be a protector of forest plants that grow low to the ground. Haleakala is a special place where deeply rooted Hawaiian culture coexists with curious visitors. nps.gove/hale
What to Do on Maui
A) Take the Road to Hana
The 60-plus mile road to Hana doesn’t seem like much of a trip in distance, but it’s an all-day affair, thanks to winding roads—there are more than 600 curves on the stretch—and motorists slowing for every gorgeous waterfall along the way. Stops include Paia town, the black sands of Waianapanapa State Park, and pristine Hamoa Beach. roadtohana.com
B. Spot Humpback Whales
It’s not hard to find a decent whale-watching tour on Maui, but to save a few bucks or accommodate a sea-wary family member, sit at any beach (Wailea has a good reputation) from November to March for a chance to see humpback whales in full breach.
C. Drink Maui Beer
The tour of Kihei’s Maui Brewing Co. includes tastes of Bikini Blonde Lager, Pineapple Mana Wheat, and Coconut Hiwa Porter; the brand’s cans are becoming almost as popular as local competitor Kona Brewing. mauibrewingco.com
D. Ferry to Lanai
Hawaii’s smallest populated island is just an hour-long passenger ferry ride away, home to luxurious resorts and jeep trails through Garden of the Gods, a stunning, Marslike landscape. go-lanai.com
E. Shop Lahaina
This former whaling town is now the center of visitor activity in West Maui, packed with local boutiques and art galleries lining Front Street, many with white railings along second-floor balconies. frontstreetlahaina.com
F. Lounge on Kaanapali Beaches
Maui is characterized by its numerous white sand beaches—over 80 accessible ones, the most of any island. Kaanapali resort area has Black Rock Beach behind its hotels and golf courses, popular for snorkeling and cliff jumping.
G) Eat the Catch of the Day
With three locations (Paia, Lahaina, Kihei), Paia Fish Market is known for its fresh-catch plates pairing local fish like mahimahi, ono, snapper, ahi, or opah with hand-cut coleslaw. paiafishmarket.com