As soon as our plane leaned towards the windswept palm trees on our descent down to Kahului Airport in Maui, I had a feeling of instant joy spread through me. A small sigh of relief escaped my lips when we landed on the tarmac with little to no turbulence, a feat for the windiest airport in Hawaii.
Coming into Maui from the sky, I was able to look over the landscape and see exactly what was in store for me – most notably, the largest dormant volcano in the world, Haleakalā. The volcano stands at over 10,000 feet and is one of the major adventure activities to do in Maui. There are bike tours at sunrise, hikes, or even bus loads that quickly take you up to the top and back down if that’s more your style.
When looking at accommodation in Maui, our main goal was to find a place that was affordable but also one that offered a lot in amenities since we wouldn’t have a car to get around. We found Banana Bungalow, not the best location on the island, but a hostel that offered free tours 7 days of the week. Their Saturday tour is the extensive 12-mile hike through the volcanic crater of Haleakalā National Park, and a trip to the summit to watch the sunset above the clouds at the end of it.
We signed up for it immediately when we checked in since spots fill up fast and only a maximum of 27 guests can come every week. We snagged two of the last spots and gleefully looked forward to our early morning wake up call on Saturday. We knew we would be in for an epic day with a tour that went from 8:30am to 8:30pm and a 12-mile hike of varied terrain in between that.
We groggily hopped in the van on Saturday to leave at 8:30am sharp and made our winding way up to the starting point of the hike. As soon as we jumped out of the car we were thankful we had brought an extra layer of warm clothing. Even though it was sticky and hot back at the hostel, we knew it would be about 30 degrees colder once we reached the summit, so this was just the beginning.
To give a background to the history and folklore of the volcano, its name Haleakalā means “house of the sun” and the summit was said to be the home of Maui’s grandmother. For those of you who don’t know Polynesian and/or Hawaiian folklore, Maui is the demigod in many legends. He is said to have created the Hawaiian islands and to have slowed the sun from its rapid progress to create longer days. Maui’s Grandmother was meant to have helped him capture the sun and help slow its movement in the sky.
We set out from the trailhead at the visitor’s center and started our 12-mile journey into a landscape that looked straight out of a movie about planet Mars. Red, shaded brown, and silver earth was around us for most of the trail with few shrubs and plants along the way.
The most famous native plant that you’ll find here is the Silversword, a rare flowering plant that is only found in Haleakalā National Park. Silverswords can live anywhere between 3 and 90 years and only flower once before dying. We saw a couple of left over blooms during our trek, but the season for them being in bloom had already recently passed. Regardless, it was an amazing sight to see all of these bright silver plants knowing that this is the only place I will ever be able to see them in nature.
Throughout our long hike we came across every imaginable volcanic terrain. The rust-colored earth beckoned us to keep moving our feet forward, and we were rewarded with views that could best be described as landscape paintings with the most delicate brush strokes. The earth radiated multi-hues of red and brown, it was dusty yet tropical at the same time. I’ve never experienced anything like it.
It was a long journey but we took multiple stops along the way to enjoy our surroundings, have a chat with our neighbor, or nibble on the snacks we had brought with us from the hostel. Luckily, hiking groups are only allowed to have 12 hikers in each party including the guide, so our group was relatively small and could keep up a decent pace.
We were the first group to finish the treacherous switchbacks at the end of the hike. Steep and crumbling, the switchbacks made me partially understand what a mountain goat must have to go through on a daily basis.
This was the steepest part of the journey and every time I briefly stopped to glance behind me, I quickly lost my breath with the elevation gain and the beauty of the crater laid out before me. It was a sight I will not soon forget. Those feelings of pure happiness and contentment came back to me in those moments, similar to when we had initially landed on the island. Even with me sweating and huffing profusely, I couldn’t help but laugh at how happy I was to be there.
Once we arrived to the end of the trail and a zillion switchbacks later, our trip wasn’t quite over yet. Now came the experience we had all been waiting for, watching the sunset from over 10,000 feet up in the sky at the summit. We were whisked away in our van from the visitor’s center we had stumbled into and taken up to the very top.
We couldn’t have timed it more perfectly, the sun was on its descent within 15 minutes. As soon as the sun started going down the tempertures quickly dropped to freezing and even my extra layer wasn’t keeping me from shivering. We spent a lot of time in the indoor viewing platform that gave a 180-degree view of the vivid cloud covering, and ran out just before the sun started going down to sit on the ridge with the rest of the 50 or so people taking in the view.
It was my first time watching the sunset above the clouds, the only way I could describe it is magical. I looked over at my Kiwi travel partner and beau who had already journeyed over 4,500 miles to share this experience with me. We smiled at each other without a word, understanding how far we had come to reach this point and knowing that this was just the beginning of our adventure.
As the last ray of sun fell beneath the clouds, I could easily say that it was the happiest moment of my time in Hawaii.
We all made a bee-line to the parking lot in shivers and chattering teeth to enjoy the warmth of the van. We excitedly started talking about what a great day it had been on the dormant volcano, but a silence quickly overtook us as we winded back down to our hostel. All of us exhausted but content beyond words, an easy smile on our lips to have had a day we would be telling in our old age one day. There was no need for words to describe it just yet.
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