Saturday, May 10, 2014

Maui No Ka 'Oi: Walking Above the Clouds in Haleakala

"Maui No Ka 'Oi" means Maui is the best!  But then every island in Hawaii will tell you they're the best anyway! ;-) To be fair, Maui has been voted best island by many for many years.  So does Maui really deserve this?   After visiting every island in Hawaii, I think it's hard to compare them to each other as each one has a distinct character for me.  While Kauai has the best nature, Maui is probably best for a mix of action and nature.  Oahu, in my view, is more about city life, and the Big Island is all focused on its live volcanic action.  But let's go back to Maui and consider some of the best things to see and do.

We spent a late afternoon at the Haleakala National Park ("House of the Sun") hoping to catch the sunset and see the glow of the sun over the craters.  Haleakala Volcano is a dormant volcano at the East side of Maui.  Legend says the Maui demigod lassoed the sun from the volcano's summit to slow it down from its descent so that the day will last longer.  We didn't really know what to expect except for a warm sunset over highest peak in Maui.  But we were baffled by the tip to bring warm clothing as we were advised that it gets really cold up there.  And as any human nature would dictate, there will always be someone in the group ignoring those tips, thinking "Hey, this is Hawaii, how cold can cold get?"

It was a lovely 1-1/2 hour drive from Kahului and beautiful views meet us along the way especially along Haleakala Crater Road or Highway 378.  This is the fastest ascending road up to the peak, just 38 miles ascending to 10,000 feet.  Wally, our driver, was an excellent narrator.  He kept us all awake with his interesting stories and with his hoarse throaty voice, he keeps building excitement as we go.  As we near the park, the roads turn left and right through a series of switchbacks, and we are finding ourselves on top of the clouds.  Yes, clouds!  Then sun seems to be shining and we still feel the warmth from it through the windows, until we got off the bus somewhere in the middle of the ascent to take a good look at these great views.  And boy, was it getting chilly!

Our next stop was a short photo opportunity with the official park signage and now it was getting windier ;-)  The temperature drops about 3 degrees every 1000 feet up and it can get to 20-40 degrees F.  And yes, this is in Hawaii! ;-)

Our third stop was to use the facilities and at this point, we could barely stay outdoors without a jacket on.  It was really foggy and we couldn't see much.  But we also had to get a good look at these Haleakala silversword plants, a very rare plant which is said to be part of the daisy family.  This only grows above 6900 ft at Haleakala on volcanic cinders (rocky surface) like below and can survive the high winds and freezing temperatures up here.  But being endangered, we were asked not to touch them.  We saw some dying ones and it is said that the leaves go limp, dry up and turn into seed for the next round.  Before it dies, it produces sunflower-like flowers along a vine that grows on top.

Rare Haleakala Silversword Plants
Tall ones behind are dried up silverswords after producing flowers
Grey one is dying and turning into seeds for next cycle
Much like the silversword plant being a rare species found in Haleakala, this is also home to the only remaining species of Hawaiian goose, the Nene (pronounced Nini).  They are found roaming around the park or you can hear their call "nay-nay" thus their name.

As we left the area, we get a good glimpse of us being above the clouds.  Here's a shot from the bus through the window as we drove along the final stretch to the summit.

And when we got to the top, here's what it looked like at about 9,700 ft above sea level near Pa Ka'oao (White Hill).  The highest summit actually sits at Pu'u "ula'ula (Red Hill) which is at 10,000 ft above sea level.  It's nearer to the observatories which are closed off to the public.  But as you can see, we could barely see anything from this overlook already.

Jumping around in freezing temperatures

Red White Hill Trail leading to a small hill and overlook is covered in heavy fog, it wasn't advisable to go up as it too cold
New fashion style: that's my sister-in-law covered in whatever she could salvage from her bag!
At Pa Ka'oao (White Hill Trail)
View of the parking lot at Pa Ka'oao (White Hill)

There was barely anything we could see, even the crater area was covered in heavy fog.  But as Wally advised, we will wait till the sun sets and based on previous experience, it is known that the situation can change in a matter of seconds.  So we continue to cross our fingers hoping it the fog will clear out or even just give us a glimpse

The craters (tiny volcanic cones) are on the left side and is part of a massive depression 2,600 ft deep, but the heavy fog has covered them
For a while there, we had to hide near the toilets to warm up a bit
And I got to learn some Hawaiian vocabulary :)
Anyway, this is what it was supposed to look like on a clear day, thanks to photos from

Craters, Source:

For folks like us who come from tropical countries, we were enjoying the cold weather, even though it was below freezing.  We stayed for a good 20 minutes up there, waiting to see if the clouds will open up, walking back and forth between the Crater Overlook area and the parking lot.  And in one of our walks back to the bus, we were met with one of the most wonderful sunsets above the clouds.  It just suddenly appeared out of nowhere.  Here are some photos:

The sun suddenly emerged out of the dark foggy horizon

Close up of the glowing orange sun

Walking above clouds!

View of the Observatories, Science City
After enjoying the much awaited sunset and glowing sky after, we had to make our way back to the crater overlook for one last time, just to see if maybe God would give us a even just a tiny peek.  In fact, it was really funny as we were running up, everybody followed thinking we must have seen the highlight.  But we were actually running because Wally gave us just a few minutes and we had to head back.  It is funny seeing people's reaction, I could actually see a lot question marks on thought bubbles!  We were laughing on the way down, as some more people were rushing back up.  Well, God is keeping His treasure for now!

View of the Facilities and Parking area looking back from atop 
The moon over our bus
White Hill Parking Area at Sunset
Can't help but have a last look at what seems like heaven ;-)
Even if we didn't have the chance to see the crater depression area clearly, the trip up the Haleakala summit was a great unforgettable experience.  With the sunset, the glowing skyline, combined with the clouds and fog, it does feel like we're up in heaven ;-)  In fact, standing at the overlook, we could almost imagine what the crater depression area looks like, just from Wally's description and our own imagination.  We should never underestimate the power of imagination!

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