Haleakalā, a giant shield volcano, forms the eastern bulwark of the
island of Maui. According to legend, it was here, in the awe-inspiring
basin at the mountain’s summit, that the demigod Maui snared the sun,
releasing it only after it promised to move more slowly across the sky.
Haleakalā means “house of the sun”; the park encompasses the basin and
portions of the volcano’s flanks.
A United Nations International Biosphere Reserve, the park comprises
starkly contrasting worlds of mountain and coast. The road to the summit
of Haleakalā rises from near sea level to 10,000 feet in 38
miles—possibly the steepest such gradient for autos in the world.
Visitors ascend through several climate and vegetation zones, from humid
subtropical lowlands to subalpine desert. Striking plants and animals
such as the Haleakalā silversword and the nēnē may be seen in this
The summit-area depression, misnamed Haleakalā Crater, formed as
erosion ate away the mountain, joining two valleys. This 19-square mile
wilderness area, 2,720 feet deep, is the park’s major draw.
From east of the rim, the great rain forest valley of Kīpahulu drops
thousands of feet down to the coast. The upper Kīpahulu Valley is a
biological reserve (no public access), home to a vast profusion of flora
and fauna, including some of the world’s rarest birds, plants, and
invertebrates. Some insects and plants evolved in the Kīpahulu Valley
and live nowhere else.
Visitors reach the lower valley of Kīpahulu via the long winding
Ha-na Highway. Dominated by intense hues—azure sea, black rock, silver
waterfalls, green forest and meadow—the coastal area was first farmed in
early Polynesian times, more than 1,200 years ago. Mark Twain, who
traveled to Hawai’i in 1866, may well have had this part of Kīpahulu in
mind when he wrote: “For me its balmy airs are always blowing, its
summer seas flashing in the sun; the pulsing of its surfbeat is in my
ear; I can see its garlanded crags, its leaping cascades, its plumy
palms drowsing by the shore.”
How to Get There
Fly directly from the mainland, or from another Hawaiian island, to
Kahului in central Maui. To reach the summit of Haleakalā , follow,
sequentially, Hawaii 36, 37, 377, and 378. The 38-mile route is well
marked, but note the last chance to buy food and gas is at Pukalani or
Makawao. Continue on the switchback road through miles of lush mountain
rangeland to the park’s northwest entrance. Allow up to 2 hours.
For the 62-mile drive to Kīpahulu, allow up to 3.5 hours. Take Hawaii
36 from Kahului around the northeastern side of the island to the town
of Ha-na. The road to Ha-na, which becomes Hawaii 360, is famous for its
narrow, tortuous course along 1,000-foot sea cliffs, into deep gorges.
This drive affords many views of waterfalls and cascade pools, but few
places to access them. Proceed past Ha-na on Hawaii 31 for about 9
miles. Just beyond the Pools of ‘Ohe‘o, signs will point to off-road
When to Go
All-year park. Most rain comes in winter, although temperatures
remain fairly constant month to month. To avoid crowds, visit the summit
after 3 p.m.; sunsets can be as spectacular as the famous sunrises. At
Kīpahulu, avoid crowds by arriving early or camping overnight. Weather
varies most at high elevations, and can change from very hot to rainy,
cold, and windy in the same day. Temperatures can drop to freezing
inside the wilderness area, although snow is rare. Coastal Kīpahulu
stays warm but receives considerable rain all year.
How to Visit
It would be neither safe nor very enjoyable to try fitting both the
Haleakalā summit and Kīpahulu coastal regions of the park into one day.
To absorb more of the ambience of this unique sea-girt volcano, try to
spend a day on the mountain, with a hike through the moonscape of the
“crater,” and a second day on the coast. Van and bus tours—some starting
in predawn hours take in the magical summit sunrise—can be arranged
from most island hotels—or visit at sunset and wait for the stars to
appear. From May to September star programs are offered at Hosmer Grove.
Consider taking a guided walk from Hosmer Grove into the Nature
Conservancy’s Waikamoi Preserve, home of living treasures including
various species of honeycreepers, the premier family of native Hawaiian
birds. Reservations required; call ahead for the schedule.
Air tours that fly around Maui and across the park are available from Kahului, but regulations limit them to high altitude.