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Tips for Viewing the Sunrise at Haleakala

By Viator, December 2013

4.5 161 Reviews | Add your review

In Hawaiian mythology, it was from the summit of towering Haleakala volcano that the great demigod Maui famously snared the sun. According to legend, the sun would race across the sky so quickly that there wasn’t enough time for the people to plant crops. Enraged by the sun’s actions, Maui journeyed to the 10,000 ft. peak and snared the sun in his massive fishnet. The only way Maui would release the sun, was if it agreed to slow its pace across the sky and provide ample warmth for his people below. In the Hawaiian language, Haleakala is translated as “House of the Sun,” and given the legend, it only makes sense that the mountain is named after the sun it so famously holds.

Today, viewing the sunrise from Haleakala is one of the most iconic activities on the island of Maui, although there are definitely some tricks for making the experience more enjoyable. To maximize the magic of the sun cresting the horizon, here are some tips for viewing the sunrise at Haleakala Crater.

Plan the sunrise for early in your trip


Due to the time change, most visitors who travel to Maui are naturally waking up early during the first few days of their vacation. If you’re waking up at 4am naturally, you might as well jump in the car and make the long, winding journey to the summit.

Remember to pack warm clothing


Even though this Maui, the temperature up at 10,000 feet can often dip below freezing, and since you’ll be standing outside for at least 30 minutes you want to ensure that you’re warm. Long pants, gloves, beanies, and windbreakers should all be a part of your packing list, or, if you forgot the warm clothes at home, bring the hotel blankets to wrap yourself in a cocoon.

Check the exact time of the sunrise

Sunrise times vary greatly over the course of the year, so be sure to check with the National Park or your hotel concierge about the exact time of the sunrise during your visit. On January 1, the sun doesn’t rise until 6:56 am, whereas the sun will rise on June 15 at 5:38 am. Once you determine the time of the sunrise, plan to arrive 30 minutes early to ensure you find a parking spot and find a good vantage point. From the Kihei/Wailea area, allow for two hours to reach the summit. The same goes for Lahaina and Ka’anapali, and those staying in Napili and Kapalua should count on a drive time of 2.5 hours.

Pack some snacks

There aren’t any restaurants at the top of Haleakala, and it’s an hour drive back down the mountain until you’ll find anywhere serving food. At the very least, pack a few granola bars or something easy that will tide you over if you want to spend longer exploring the summit. For those who need their morning caffeine, there is often a coffee stand that opens at 3:30 am just past the entrance to the Kula Lodge.

Make sure your camera battery is fully charged

As the first rays of orange start appearing on the horizon, you’ll naturally be inclined to start snapping photos. As the sky gets brighter and begins to illuminate the crater, the photo opportunities get better by the minute. Nothing is worse than using the last part of your battery before the sun has even crested the horizon, so either make sure you have a completely full charge, or wait until the sun is nearly above the clouds.

Consider riding a bike


For those who want to add some excitement to their sunrise journey up the mountain, there are numerous companies offer bike rides down the volcano where you are driven to the top and then coast down on two wheels. Since park regulations have recently changed, you will be driven to the summit to watch the sunrise and then driven back down to the 6,500 ft. level where you will begin the bike ride outside of the National Park.

Don’t schedule a luau for the same evening


While it logistically might seem like a good idea to plan something for the same afternoon, often times you’ll be completely exhausted by the time that evening rolls around. Given the excitement of seeing a luau in Maui, you want to make sure you have energy for the experience instead of being groggy from waking up at 3 am.
 
Don’t drive straight back to your hotel

The area of Maui known as “Upcountry” is one of the best-kept secrets of anywhere on the island, and too many visitors pass it by while on a one-way beeline back down the mountain. A better plan is to spend the morning exploring the areas of Kula and Makawao, and then drive Baldwin Avenue down to Pa’ia to grab some lunch within steps of the beach.

Watch the sunrise from a lower overlook

Finally, while it only seems natural to watch the sunrise from the top of a mountain, there are two overlooks on the way up the peak which offer nearly the same view but without the crowds. These also make great alternatives for watching the sunrise if you’re running late and can’t make it all the way to the top. Of the two lookouts, Leleiwi Overlook is the lowest point which gazes into the crater from 8,800 feet. A bit further up, Kalahaku Overlook is at 9,324 feet and offers views stretching east towards the fiery horizon.

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Spectacular Haleakala Maui Sunrise Tour

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