The magic of a trip up Mt. Haleakala on Maui - 10,000 feet in less than 2 hours
MAUI - They say it's the fastest climb on earth. Probably right up there with Apple stock prices.
You start off at sea level - literally - and in less than two hours you've driven about 35 miles and are standing at what feels like the roof of the world - the summit of Mt. Haleakala at 3055 metres, or 10,023 feet. That's like the mile high city times two, folks.
(Just fyi, it's pronounced HAH-LAY-AH-KAH-LAH - which means "house of the sun" in Hawaiian. It was considered a sacred place to ancient Hawaiians and not the sort of spot the average person could simply hike up to on a lark).
I HATE heights and don't like curvy, mountain roads but this one's not bad at all. The first half hour or more from Paia or Wailuku/Kahului is spent rising slowly through cane fields and cute towns such as Makawao,the centre of paniolo or cowboy country on Maui (see photo at left). Stop at the Rodeo General Store for snacks or nice but inexpensive t-shirts, or stop in at one of the art galleries or at the fun Aloha Cowboy shop. LIke sweets? Try the guava-filled pastries called malasadas (like donuts) at the T Komoda store.
After Makawao you then start rising towards Kula country, where they grow magical onions, strawberries and some of the most gorgeous flowers on earth. I stopped for lunch at the lovely Kula lodge (nice views and great gardens) and had a great hamburger with grilled Maui onions as I drove to the Ali'i lavender farm on my way up.
Truth be told, I was disappointed in the lavender farm. I was envisioning row upon row of brilliant, pale blue-purple flowers but they weren't in bloom; at least not the ones I saw. There are some lovely gardens (see photo at right) and a nice shop with lavender products, and the view is terrific. So it wasn't a bad stop; just not what I had hoped for. You can try it yourself, or go up towards Haleakala straightaway and wind your way through forests of eucalyptus trees imported from Australia. Pretty soon, you're above the tree line and winding your way up and down some decent hairpin curves through rocky, scrub-like terrain.
I was unlucky and had a case of what locals call "volcano fog" on my way up, so I couldnt' get the great views of Maui and the Pacific (and neighbouring islands) that folks can usually get. But it was still cool to be up so high looking down on civilization - and down on the clouds.
Pretty soon you'll come to one of several overlooks on the highway, the Leleiwi Overlook, reached via a two-minute walk over the scrub and rocks on a well-worn trail. Almost nothing can prepare you for the stark beauty of a massive, 13-mile (or thereabouts) crater (or series of them) with massive, rust-orange cones and black rock and craggy brown stone and tiny flowers. Oh, and wind. And cold. It was 26 degrees when I left Paia the other day. When I got to the summit it was about 12 degrees Celsius with a howling, fierce, penetrating wind of maybe 70 kph. Yikes and double yikes.
They do, luckily, have some nice glass panels you can hide behind to avoid the wind. A lot of visitors come for the sunrise but that usually involves getting up at 3 or 4 a.m. at the latest so I skipped it. And I didn't have time to take in the sunset, which also is supposed to be spectacular. But at mid-day it was clear and sunny and glorious, if cold as nails. The Kalahaku overview is possibly even better; just a few minutes up the road.
The visitors centre at the summit has great explanations of the crater, which looks inactive and hasn't erupted for centuries but still is considered an active volcano, being only a few miles from the still-spouting volcanoes on the Big Island of Hawaii - clearly visible from Haleakala most days.
One of the really cool things about Hawaii is the difference from one side of the various islands to the other. It's similar in other parts of the world, but it seems more dramatic to me on the smaller islands of Hawaii. The weather here usually comes from the east, and the moisture from the Pacific condenses into clouds on the east side of the islands. The mountains of Hawaii's islands cause clouds to form, and moisture falls in buckets on the east side of the islands. Where the mountains are high, there's a huge rain-shadow effect and very little rain falls. Which means you can drive eight or ten or fifteen miles and be in a completely different environment.
On Maui, the eastern slopes of Haleakala, above lovely Hana, get about 400 inches of rain a year. Dripping moisture, ferns, impenetrable jungle; the whole bit. The dry, western side above Wailea and Kihei is 15 miles away? The yearly rainfall on that slope? Ten inches. Cactus and scrub and rock. And great weather for sun-worshippers at the beaches below.
By all means, enjoy Maui's beaches and the snorkeling and the hula shows and the mai tai's and the golf and all that. But be sure to take the time to check out Haleakala. You won't regret it.