Watching the Sunrise at 10K Feet

(or one of the coolest things I’ve done on vacation)

I am the ultimate morning person. I can’t stay in bed if I can’t sleep. I’m up every morning, regardless of what’s going on, around 4 or 5 a.m. Every morning. I enjoy being up that early. There’s just something relaxing about that time, it’s magical and can even be spiritual. There’s very little noise and feels like no one else in the world is up. I also like seeing the sunrise. I like sunsets too. I admit it, I’m a bit of a nature boy.

I’ve gotten to see the sunrise in a lot of places in the world, from Italy to the Dominican Republic to Mexico, just to name a few places. The best experience I ever had watching a sunrise was 10 thousand feet above sea level at the top of a dormant volcano in Hawaii: Haleakalā, which is on Maui.

The tallest peak of Haleakalā (“house of the sun”), at 10,023 feet, is Puʻu ʻUlaʻula (Red Hill). From the summit, you can look down into a massive depression that is 7 miles across and 2 miles wide, and nearly 2,600 ft deep.

Photo by Remi Yuan on Unsplash

Excursions are always a big part of traveling and we really wanted the Hawaiian experience. I chose the island of Maui because it was one of the more rural islands. ( If I want to be in a city I can travel 30 minutes north and be in Washington, DC or go another 30 and be in Baltimore. ) Nothing says Hawaii more than a Luau so that was the first excursion we chose. While researching, I found other interesting adventures. The second thing we chose was snorkeling at Molokini. Molokini is a crescent-shaped, partially submerged volcanic crater which forms a small, uninhabited islet located in ʻAlalākeiki Channel between the islands of Maui and Kahoʻolawe.

Photo by Farid Askerov on Unsplash

The last adventure we chose was watching the sunrise on Haleakalā. This one I was most excited about because it really appealed to the morning person/nature boy in me.

In order to have this experience, your day starts very early. The tour company will pick you up at your hotel and we had to be ready to leave at 3 a.m. Again, being the morning person I am, it wasn’t hard for me, but, for my two sons, that was an all-together different story.

Getting up early
Getting that 3 a.m. start — Photo by yours truly

More people were picked up at other resorts on our way to Haleakalā National Park. We stayed at a Resort on the West side of the island so it was a good ride to get to the east side where the Volcano is located. The ride to the park was peaceful and pleasant, but, I must admit the trip up the volcano was an adventure all in itself. The road was narrow and constantly winding with no guard rails. At times it seemed like we were going to drive straight into the side of the volcano. Driving through the darkness was a bit unsettling but I think it would have been more so if we could have actually seen how high up we were.

The best place to experience was at the Summit Visitor Center. The dramatic cliffs and outcroppings nearby reflect the beauty of the morning rays, making for incredible photos. Upon reaching the Visitor Center, getting out of the van was a bit of an experience itself. Being up so high, the air is thin and I got a wee bit light headed. It only took a minute or two to adjust.

Summit Visitor Center 
Summit Visitor Center — photo by me.

The sunrise tour is very popular and there were many buses dropping off groups of people. Despite the crowd, there were no bad spots to watch the sunrise.

Summit Visitor Center Sunrise
Summit Visitor Center — photo by me.

This was in June and the weather on Maui was 80 degrees, but, being up so high, it was a lot colder. The temperature was actually in the 40s. This is why everyone was wearing jackets and blankets to keep warm.

Back in the day, the summit, called The House of the Sun, was only for the kahuna (priests) and their haumana (students) where they lived and studied initiation rites and practices. This gives the atmosphere very spiritual energy that is undeniable.

The cold temperatures become a non-factor as there starts to become a little more light before the sunrise. You can really start to see and appreciate the beauty of being above the clouds which looked thick enough to walk on.

Then the main event.

Rise 1
Rise 2
Rise 3
Rise 4
Rise 5
Rise 6

Making the moment even more spiritual the National Park Rangers performed the mele oli (free verse chanted poetry):

E ala e Ka la i kahikina
 I ka moana
 Ka moana hohonu
 Pi’i ka lewa
 Ka lewa nu’u
 I kahikina
 Aia ka la.
 E ala e!

 The sun in the east
 From the ocean
 The ocean deep
 Climbing (to) the heaven
 The heaven highest
 In the east
 There is the sun

Sun up
Hanging out on Haleakalā — photo by me

As amazing as this event was, we weren’t done. We still had to go up to the very top, to 10,023 feet to the Haleakala Observatory, an astrophysical complex operated by the University of Hawaii, United States Air Force, and others.

Once there, it’s near impossible to describe just how amazing the view is at 10,023 feet above Sea Level.

Haleakala Observatory
Haleakala Observatory 10,023 ft. above sea level — photo by me.

We were so high up when you looked towards the west you could see all of the west side of Maui.

Looking at the west side of Maui 
Looking at the west side of Maui — photo by me

If you look towards the east, you could see the Big Island which is 96 miles away. The human eye can see a lot farther than we know.

Looking at the Big Island from Maui
Looking at the Big Island from Maui — photo by me

We also got to take some pictures at the Observatory with the sun in the perfect position.

Posing with the sun
Taking pictures with the sun — my camera, but a tour guide took the pictures.

After all this amazement, it was time to head back down to sea level. This is when I got to see just how unnerving and challenging it would have been if I had to do the driving.

Watching the sunrise on Haleakalā should be a “must” next time you go to Maui. This only took up the morning and there were more things to do around Maui later in the day.

Interesting fact: The end scene of the original Total Recall movie was filmed on Haleakalā.

Note: Haleakalā (/ˌhɑːliˌɑːkəˈlɑː/; Hawaiian: [ˈhɐlɛˈjɐkəˈlaː]), or the East Maui Volcano, is a massive shield volcano that forms more than 75% of the Hawaiian Island of Maui. The western 25% of the island is formed by another volcano, Mauna Kahalawai, also referred to as the West Maui Mountains. It is located in Haleakalā National Park.



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