Sunrise at Haleakala

Haleakala is a volcano on the island of Maui in Hawaii. Haleakala means house of the sun in Hawaiian. According to legend, the demigod Maui roped the sun in order to extract a promise from the sun to move slower and thereby make the daylight longer.

The guidebooks and tourism industry tell tourists to visit Haleakala at sunrise. We had never done this, so we decided to try it.

Sunrise in February is around 7:00 am. We left Kaanapali at 3:15, allowing 2.5 hours to drive to the summit and park by 6:00, an hour before sunrise. Parking is limited at the summit. We stopped at the first visitor center to use the restrooms, since the summit has no restrooms.

It’s windy and cold at the summit. To make matters worse, there was a solid bank of clouds below us and no clouds above us, so there were no beautiful red and orange clouds before sunrise. The first photo shows the sun rising from the clouds. The second includes the peaks of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa on the Big Island.

Sun emerging from a sea of clouds, Haleakala
Sun emerging from a sea of clouds, Haleakala
sunrise with Mauna Kea on right
sunrise with Mauna Kea on right

The peak at the Haleakala summit 10,023 feet (3,055 m) is called Red Hill in Hawaiian. Below the red cinders are painted by the rising sun.

Haleakala - Red Hill and Science City
Haleakala – Red Hill and Science City

The Haleakala crater is about 11.25 km (7 mi) across, 3.2 km (2 mi) wide, and nearly 800 m (2,600 ft) deep. From the crater visitor’s center, see the cinders sloping down to the crater bottom. Decades ago, I hiked and camped in the crater for four days. The trail down to the crater is called the Sliding Sands Trail. Some parts you take a step and slide down another step, a fast way to go downhill! The easiest way out of the crater is a rocky trail behind the crater wall on the left.

Haleakala crater with ciders
Haleakala crater with ciders

This photo shows the cinder cones on the crater floor. Water has worn away two gaps in the crater walls: the larger one on the left, and another on the far right that feeds streams near Hana.

Cinder cones in the crater
Cinder cones in the crater

The sunrise was not worth getting up at 3:00, driving up the mountain in the dark, and freezing for an hour waiting for the sunrise. But we did this at the beginning of our vacation, while we were still adjusting to the time change from the mainland, so we were waking up early anyway. From our condo we saw the sun set during our week-long vacation.  These sunsets had little color, so perhaps we weren’t so unlucky with our sunrise.

I enjoyed seeing Red Hill and the crater at dawn. Outside the golden hour, Red Hill wouldn’t be so red, and the rocks and cinder cones in the crater would appear flat. Now I’ve seen a sunrise at Haleakala summit, and I don’t wonder about what I’ve missed all these years.


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I enjoy travel, art, food, photography, nature, California native plants, history, and yoga. I am a retired software engineer. The gravatar is a Nuttall's woodpecker that visited our backyard.

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