Watch the sun rise—and then ride a bike down a volcano
Who’s to argue with the local saying Maui no ka oi— ‘Maui is the best’. The ‘Valley Isle’ is named after the Polynesian demigod, who, after having plucked all the Hawaiian islands up out of the sea, decided to make this, the most beautiful one, his home. Nothing beats the views of and from the hulking mass of 10,023-foot Haleakala (‘House of the Sun’), whose dormant volcanic crater, 2,600 feet deep and 21 miles around, is the largest in the world—so big that the island of Manhattan could fit inside.
Annually, more than 1.5 million visitors follow a must-do tradition and make the 3 a.m. ascent through the cool upcountry landscape to Haleakala’s lofty peak to watch a sunrise that Mark Twain called “the sublimest spectacle I ever witnessed”. Just going up the mountain is an experience in itself; it’s the only place in the world where you can drive from sea level to over 10,000 feet in just 38 miles. The two-hour trip snakes through three different climate zones along the way and offers magnificent views of the island’s lush sugarcane and pineapple plantations, as well as some of Maui’s 81 accessible beaches along its famous 120-mile shoreline.
At the headquarters of the 27,000-acre park, you can get info on Haleakala’s geological wonders and maybe catch a glimpse of Hawaii’s state bird, the endangered nene, or Hawaiian goose. On the road, don’t miss the Leleiwi Overlook, the first place to get a glimpse of the moonscape inside the crater. Another overlook, the Kalahaku, offers close-up views of the rare silversword, which grows only on Haleakala and the Big Island; a striking plant with silvery succulent foliage, it takes as long as 50 years to reach flowering stage, at which point it throws up a tall stalk of hundreds of sunflower-like maroon flower heads, sets seed and then dies.
At the summit, you get a full view of the crater and also, in the distance, the summit of Mauna Kea on the Big Island. Tour operators offer hiking and horse riding trips that take you down into the crater, and several companies operate bike tours that start from the mountaintop and require only 100 yards of pedalling the whole descent.
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Trip idea text ©Patricia Schultz. For contact information about the places mentioned and many more USA trip ideas, see Patricia Schultz's blockbuster book.