I was told a Maui sunrise would be spectacular so I made sure to schedule it in during our trip to Hawaii this week. John and I are staying in the Ka’anapaali Resort area which is on the Western side of Maui, about a two hour drive from Haleakala National Park on the Eastern side of the island. We knew that it would mean a bit of sleep deprivation but figured the experience would be worth it.
Maui Sunrise at Haleakala National Park
To prepare us for the trip from sea level to 9,000ft up to the Haleakala crater I looked online and found a great blog post that provided some great tips. Here’s what I took away from the post:
- Bundle up! Wear layers, borrow blankets from your hotel, bring beach towels.
- Bring a camera, a flashlight, and binoculars if you have them.
- Bring water and a light snack since there’s no food services at the park.
- Make your way to this Google Map destination for parking and optimal viewing.
- The road up to the summit does not have lighting and it winds back and forth. Watch for cattle on the highway from nearby farms and drive with caution.
After making the trip ourselves, I would add:
- No really, bundle up! Since visitors don’t typically bring layers of full-coverage clothing to Maui we saw many people with blankets and towels wrapped around their bodies. Everyone’s there for the same reason and you won’t look foolish, you’ll at least be warm. Our car registered 8C as the outside temperature plus the high mountain winds were howling fiercely.
- Arrive at least 45 minutes early. We arrived at 5:30am for a 6:11am sunrise and the upper lot (in the Google Map I posted above) was already full. There was a park ranger on the roadway to direct us to another lookout which was just as spectacular and only a few hundred feet lower.
- Check the sunrise time. Google “Maui Sunrise” and the exact time of the sunrise will appear in the search results.
- Bring cash as there is a $10 fee to enter the national park but your pass will be valid for three days.
- If you’re coming from a resort area make sure you have at least 1/2 of a tank of gas to get to and from Haleakala. We used about a 1/3 tank going to and from Ka’anapali.
- The highway does wind quite a bit but it is very well-lit with reflectors. If you’ve driven up Cypress, Seymour, or to Tofino, you’ll have the perfect experience to master this road.
There are a few “last stops for coffee” before you reach the summit but I would recommend pushing through and getting up to the top to ensure you can get a parking spot and not have to waste time parking on the road and walking up to the lookout. You won’t have to wait long to get your morning cup o’ java as there are a few places to stop on your way back down like the Kula Lodge Restaurant or the Kula Sandlewoods Cafe.
Once at the lookout point, we stood in silence and awaited the golden crest of the sun over the horizon as clouds crept over crater peaks like ocean waves crashing on the rocks in slow motion. The only sounds were that of volcanic rocks crunching under the shoes of late arrivals and the cell phone alarm clock of a woman who must usually wake up for work at 6:00am.
The clouds turned from white to pink to yellow. 6:11am came and the sun rose as cameras fired. As soon as it was 100 percent above the horizon everyone shook off their frozen shell and moved about the lookout area. Couples posed for self-taken photos, friends sprung in the air to get caught on camera mid-leap, while some remained still and stood in awe of this epic scenery. The daylight reveled just what exactly surrounded us, like the inside of the crater, lava domes, and valley views facing West.
Once all the photos were taken and blankets were folded up, piled neatly into the trunks of rental cars, a steady stream of sunrise witnesses descended the mountain.
We drove right past the Kula Sandlewoods Cafe but turned around to check it out. It was 7:00am and the giant “OPEN” sign was all we needed. It was very relaxed and the gentleman serving us (who whispered calmly when he spoke) was kind enough to give us the WIFI password even though it is typically reserved for guests of their cottages. Our breakfasts were immaculate — not you regular diner fare — garnished with fresh slices of pineapple and sprigs of rosemary. The bacon was crispy, our over-medium eggs were cooked perfectly, and we had views of Maui’s central valley below us.
The sunrise was definitely worth the 3:00am wake-up call and 5-hour roundtrip (including a stop for a hearty breakfast). In Vancouver we enjoy so many sunsets so it’s just such a treat to soak up an island sunrise from the other side of the Pacific.