Maui has one National Park called Haleakala and it has two distinct districts: Summit and Kipahulu.
When most people think of Haleakala, they picture the mountain area that rises 10,000 ft out of the ocean. It’s spectacular and is hard to beat in terms of view. On a good day, you can see 6 of the 8 main Hawaiian islands. Hawaii is actually made up of over 150 islands, most of them in the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.
Most people will tell you that it is required to spend at least one morning of your visit to Hawaii watching the sunrise while sitting atop Haleakala. Unless you are a morning person, or you plan it for your first day or two when you’re seriously jet-lagged, I would suggest going the opposite route: sunset. It is equally spectacular, and for us night owls, a lovely alternative.
A few years ago my in-laws brought some friends along on their yearly winter pilgrimage to find sun. My father-in-law and his friend thought it would be a fabulous idea to bike down the side of Haleakala. They had a grand time. Some people prefer to hike into the crater. I choose to sit huddled at the peak with my parka and hot cocoa. It’s just too cold to contemplate actual movement.
The other district, called Kipahulu, is the coastal district located a few miles from Hana. Yes, THAT Hana. When we head that direction, we pack a picnic lunch and drive around the “back side” where the road is less crowded, the curves less curvy, and the drive a few minutes shorter. Shorter is relative, because it will still take you 2-3 hours depending on how sturdy your stomach is on the winding terrain. The visitor center on this side is more interesting, and the park rangers more chatty. Of course they’re more chatty, they’re not freezing to death! There are great picnic areas, beautiful hikes through bamboo, and seven pools with waterfalls called Pools of Ohe’o.
It’s a tough call which part of the park I prefer, but the sunsets and colors of the crater are certainly the more spectacular and unusual.
Today, April 16, 2016 begins the celebration of National Park Week. You’ll get in free until the 24th. If you miss these dates, your entrance fee to either district of Haleakala will give you free entrance to the other district for three days.
Happy 100th Birthday to the National Park Service!