Day 7: Mount Haleakala
Most people are quick to think that Hawaii is purely a paradise of sun and sand. And well, it is. But beyond the beach, high up in the mountain country of Maui, you can get a completely different perspective on the Land of Aloha. Mount Haleakala is Maui’s highest peak, where temperatures drop to anywhere between 40 and 60 degrees fahrenheit. It is also a massive shield volcano that formed more than 75 percent of the island of Maui. Visitors can drive up to the summit in Mount Haleakala National Park, which is exactly what we did on day 7 of our Hawaii vacation.
If you have any plans to visit Mount Haleakala during your tropical vacay, you ought to bring some pants and a fleece jacket. Although if you forget, you probably won’t stick out like a sore thumb. Mikey braved the cold in shorts and a t-shirt, and we saw a few other tourists rocking shorts and sandals in the midst of the subarctic temperatures. Who really thinks about fleece attire when you’re packing sunscreen and swimsuits, anyway? (Um, me and my always-prepared dad. Mom and Mikey not so much.)
From the moment I stepped out of our rental SUV at the first Haleakala visitor’s center, I knew something was up. I felt funny. And it wasn’t the chill in the air. It was altitude sickness. It shouldn’t have been a surprise. Nausea had quickly become standard operating procedure for me while in Hawaii. It happened first during our surfing lesson, a second time during the Road to Hana drive and a third at Mount Haleakala. Wonderful.
After quickly perusing the displays at the first visitor’s center, Dad recommended I sit down and take it easy. It helped, and minutes later, we hopped back into the car to stop at the second visitor’s center. There wasn’t much to see there, so we didn’t stay long. We did encounter some friends in the parking lot though.
Once in the car, the rain clouds came to greet us. And unlike tropical rain that comes and goes and actually counteracts the oppressive humidity, this rain was cold. We decided to wait out the rain before driving the home stretch of road to the summit. Luckily, we had plenty of snacks to keep us entertained.
The rain eventually ceased, and by the time we reached the summit, I was feeling much better. My body was adapting to the altitude, and I could finally enjoy some of the scenery — massive clouds in motion right before our eyes. Red rock emitting the only source of warmth from the hard earth below us. It felt like we were standing at the edge of the world.
One of my favorite Haleakala sights is the silversword, a plant endemic to Mount Haleakala. That means this is only place in the world where this plant grows. The blade-like stems at the bottom reminded me of succulents, and the flowers that extended north reminded me of purple coneflowers, but with much shorter petals. It was cool to stand face to face with something so rare, and we were lucky to have been there at the right time to see many of them in bloom.
By the time we piled back into the car, my altitude sickness had pretty much worn off, but unfortunately Mom was coming down with it. She dozed off, while Dad navigated the winding road back down to the warm island breezes that we came to Hawaii for.
While my Haleakala experience got off to a rocky start (no pun intended), I’m glad we did it. If I did it again, I’d like to go at sunrise and get some great pictures. In fact, that’s what many of the tourist sites recommend. But realistically, we knew our inability to a) get up before the crack of dawn, and b) get out the door in a timely fashion, so we didn’t even attempt an early rise that morning. If we had, it would have been a 2am wake-up call.
Many of the tourist sites also mention the option of riding a bike from the summit back down to the visitor’s center, but my adventurous side was wary of the all-to-real possibility of biking straight off a cliff. Would be a cool experience though — if I were a little more brave. Fact is, I’m usually willing to try new things, but lounging on the beach is, has and always will be my strong suit.
Next up: the most amazing sunset my eyes have seen…