The Haleakala Sunrise is stunning, and a must-see if you go to Maui. Watching the sunrise above the clouds is such a cool experience. Actually, it’s very cold. Like, freezing cold. But I’ll get to that in a minute.
First, you must have a reservation. There are two ways to go about this: you can either make a reservation yourself on the National Park Service website, and drive your vehicle up the mountain, or you can pay a tour company. My first choice was to do this ourselves, but when I went to the NPS site to make a reservation, there were NONE available for the entire week that we were going to be there. If you want to drive yourself up for sunrise, get on the website and reserve a spot several weeks in advance of your trip (up to 60 days in advance). You will need to pay a reservation fee of $1.50 at the time of making the reservation, then you will also pay a park entrance fee of $25 the day you go. You cannot enter the park between 3:00 a.m. and 7:00 a.m. without a reservation.
Because I couldn’t get a reservation, we went with a tour company. I chose Skyline Hawaii because I figured if we were getting up early and paying someone to drive us, we might as well make a day of it and tack on a Zipline adventure. Skyline Hawaii is a highly rated tour company, and has won awards from various groups. They are also a 1% For The Planet member and participate is sustainable eco-tourism.
I received a call a couple days in advance confirming our tour and letting me know that our pickup time would be 2:10 a.m. just outside the gates of our complex. I received a text at 2:05 that morning letting me know that the bus driver was 10 minutes behind, which was really no big deal. We were the last pick-up of the morning, so that’s totally understandable. Our next stop was the tour company office in Pukalani (about 45 minutes away) where they provided pastries, fruit, coffee, and warm jackets! Don’t be shy or act like a tough guy – you’ll need this jacket when you get to the summit. If you are doing a bike tour, you’ll also get pants and a helmet (we did not do the bike tour). Two other buses arrived while we were there, then we were placed on buses according to what tour we were doing (sunrise only, sunrise and zip, sunrise and bike), and then began the trek to the top. They also had ginger candies at the office, which are nice for anyone who suffers from motion sickness. My daughter took a Dramamine just to be on the safe side, as it is a windy climb to the top. Our driver, Carlos was awesome. He was very knowledgeable about Hawaiian history, and just told stories the entire time he was driving. It’s approximately an hour to the visitor’s center at the top of the crater from the Skyline tour office. Carlos was also great about giving us advice on where to stand (next to the Visitor’s Center).
Then the long, cold wait begins. It’s brutal, folks. 37 degrees doesn’t sound bad, but when you’ll been enjoying fun in the sun, it’s a big of a shock. Also, it is super windy up there. Keep in mind, you’re in the dark on a mountain above the clouds. I recommend dressing in layers, jeans, socks, long sleeve shirt and sweatshirt in addition to the coat they provide. I wish I had brought along a hat and gloves and some of the hand warmer packets, because they would have really helped. The wait was around 45 minutes or so until the spectacular sunrise (lasting about 2 minutes) happens, but prior to that, the sky slowly turns to shades of red and orange throughout the morning, and as it gets lighter, the crater is revealed.
If it’s not too cloudy, you’ll be able to see the peaks of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa on the Big Island to the east. Be aware that there are LOTS of people there, all with phones and cameras, all wanting to get the best view. Some folks can be a bit obnoxious, so this is an exercise in patience, but well worth it. As the sun rises, the crowd cheers, and a park ranger does a traditional chant.
Afterward, Carlos drove us down a little ways and let us out to take photos. He staged some of those “holding the sun” and jumping mid-air photos for folks. We did our own photos. It was really cool to see the volcanic cones in the crater, and you can see where, years ago, lava once flowed. Back on the bus, we drove a short distance and then stopped to let the bikers off the bus so they could bike the rest of the way down. We then made our way to the zipline course at Skyline Eco-Adventures.
This is actually the first zipline company in the U.S., so they own the zipline.com domain. Upon arrival, we first visited the coffee shop that is onsite for some drinks, then made our way over to the zipline building, where we weighed in (there are minimum and maximum weight requirements) and completed a lengthy waiver form on iPads. Our guides arrive, Kyle and Eric, and that’s when the fun began. These two guys are like a comedy show. Kyle introduces himself with his long Hawaiian name, pauses and then says, “Or Kyle.” He takes the time to get to know everyone in the group, which was about 12 people. They provide fanny packs to put your phones and other stuff in, and then help you gear up with the harnesses and helmets they provide. If you wish, you can rent a GoPro helmet, or bring your own GoPro and you can attach it.
*Tip: it is much warmer at this point, which is why dressing in layers is key. Also, you must wear sneakers or hiking boots – no flip flops or sandals!
Once everyone is ready, you hike out to the first platform. It’s a short walk, and as you are hiking through the forest, the guides talk about the various birds and other wildlife in the forest. We even saw a cool chameleon that day (Eric thinks he’s the king of finding them in trees). There are 5 platforms, and the hikes between each really aren’t bad. The guides are both VERY SAFETY CONSCIOUS and go through all the necessary checks before setting you free. Once you get to the end of the course, the guides load you up in a van and drive you back to the main building, where we had lunch waiting for us (this is included in the price of the tickets – your choice of wrap sandwiches or a salad). After lunch, we boarded the bus, and Carlos took us back to our house. I definitely recommend this tour company. Every employee was not only nice, but enthusiastic and appeared to really like their jobs.
For dinner Saturday evening, we hit up Paia Fish Market on Front Street in Lahaina. This is another counter service restaurant where they bring your food to you when it is ready. They have a great menu featuring fresh fish selections, tacos, fried options, and even some pastas, and they a nice selection of beers and wines. Once again, I went for fish tacos and they were fantastic. We also ordered shrimp & chips, and a fresh catch plate with Opah. Everything was delicious, fresh, and once again that friendly Maui service that we were getting everywhere. After dinner, we walked up to Ululani’s for shave ice again. The line was longer this evening that it was the previous afternoon, so I left the girls and my husband in line and went shopping for a bit before meeting back up with them and heading home for the evening.