Head Up To Enjoy The Sunset And Night Sky At The Haleakala Summit
We enjoyed the sunset and night sky at the Haleakala Summit high above Maui. We debated sunrise or sunset but in the end got the most amazing views from the top. It was definitely one of the highlights on our visit to Maui in Hawai’i.
Planning Our Visit To Haleakala
Haleakala National Park is known as the “house of the sun”. It was an amazing spot to visit for the views at sunrise or sunset. We spent lots of time researching the views and watching the web cams at different times of day. There were many things to consider before we chose a sunrise or sunset visit.
When we visited Maui, reservations were still needed for sunrise. And sunrise meant a very, very early wake-up call. The big downside for the sunset and night sky at the Haleakala Summit was the drive down the twisty road after dark. After driving all the twisty roads in Maui, we were not scared off by the night drive. So sunset was our choice for this trip.
Haleakala (or the “East Maui Volcano”) was a vast shield volcano that covered more than 75% of Maui. The Haleakala Crater on this dormant volcano sat at 10,023 feet above sea level. Many hiking paths went to the crater. But hike in the park meant a much longer visit to Haleakala. We learned that a visit for just sunrise or sunset required a National Park pass. And the pass was valid for 3 days. So if we planned our visit to the summit early enough on our visit, it was possible to return to hike.
For our visit to Hawaii, we packed for the hot weather. But we knew in advance we wanted to go to the summit at Haleakala. And we knew that it got very cold very fast at the top. So we made sure we took several layers to keep us warm.
It was about an hour to drive to the base of Haleakala from our hotel and another hour to reach the summit on the twisty roads. Since we wanted to be at the summit well in advance of sunrise, we left our hotel more than 4 hours before the sun started to descend. We wanted to get one of the limited parking spots.
The Drive Up To The Haleakala Summit Was An Experience
It was an easy drive from our hotel in Maui to the start of the road up to the Haleakala Summit. We passed by the juncture point where we turned on another day trip and drove the Road to Hana. The early part of the drive along Route 377 went steadily up but was quite tame.
We did many crazy drives on the twisty roads in Maui. After we turned and continued the climb up Route 378 to the summit, we were glad we had some practice on the Maui roads.
It was a slow but steady drive up. The hairpin turns slowed us down regularly. And the narrow roads were also shared with bicycles!
As we climbed we watched the altitude signs increasing. We got great views out over the coast and it was clear we would soon be above the clouds. So when we hit the cloud layer we were not surprised.
We pulled up at the gate to the Haleakala National Park in the mist and purchased our 3 day National Park Pass. But we passed the Park Headquarters Visitor Centre. It would have been a good idea to stop for a bathroom break!
As we drove up towards the summit, we were above the clouds and the skies were clear. We went past the turnoff for Hosmer Grove. This picnic spot would be great on a longer visit and was the beginning of the Supply Trail hike path. We passed the Halemau’u Trailhead for another hiking access point.
We did not stop at the lookout points on the drive up (Leleiwi Overlook and Kalahaku Overlook). These viewpoints might be ok for sunset views but we wanted to enjoy the sunset and night sky at the Haleakala Summit.
Reaching The Summit At Haleakala
As we kept driving higher, the green land turned to lava fields. And we got our first view of the Haleakala Observatories high on the point. We passed the Haleakala Visitor Centre and the large parking lot. We knew there were also a few coveted parking spots there that faced the sunset. But we were still going higher.
When we arrived about 2 hours before sunset we found lots of open parking spots. As sunset approached, the lot became full and a park ranger marshalled traffic. We added a few layers of clothes and headed out to explore the summit before the sunset began. Before 4pm the temperature was already at about 63F (or 17C).
We started at the small covered shelter – thinking there might be a bathroom! We found no facilities but learned more about Haleakala.
The Haleakala Observatories stood on the point overlooking the coast. While paths went up to the buildings, they were not open to the public when we visited.
While the views over the coast were great, we found that the most stunning views looked over the Haleakala Crater. The sun had just started to sink and the rocks seemed to warm in that photographer’s golden hour.
We were happy we arrived early and got good parking spots to enjoy the sunset and night sky at the Haleakala Summit.
Walk Down To Visitor Center
From the summit, we got a view down to the Visitor Centre. When we learned there were no bathroom facilities at the summit, it meant a trip down to the Visitor Centre. Since we did not want to lose our parking spot, it meant a 0.5 mile walk down and back up.
The walk down was pretty easy. We got more views of the caldera as the shadows lengthened and the clouds continued to move in. Hikers walked along the paths to the caldera.
We found bathrooms at the Visitor Centre. Signs provided more information about the Haleakala National Park. Different hiking paths started from this parking lot. The view on one side was over the caldera. And when we looked the other way we saw lava fields that led to the East and the coming sunset.
Parking spaces were still available in the big lot. But the prime parking spaces at the front with the direct view East to the sunset were full.
We felt the altitude a bit more on the walk back up for the sunset and night sky at the Haleakala Summit. When we paused to catch our breath we saw the Big Island of Hawaii off in the distance. It was a good reminder of the view we got on our helicopter tour over the Big Island.
Watching The Sun Set And The Colours In The Sky
By the time we returned to the summit, it was time to get ready for the coming show. We ate the picnic lunch we packed and then put on another layer of clothes. As the sun got lower in the sky, the temperatures continued to drop. People settled in on the lava rock with a view to the East. Some were better prepared with chairs and blankets.
Once the sun got close to the horizon, we knew it would sink fast and we were prepared. We got a great view up the coast and straight out with the observatories in the foreground. There was a little cloud on the horizon which hid the sun when it sank.
Once the sun was down, many people headed for their cars. But we knew the show continued. The horizon lit with bright colours as the sky darkened above us. It was the perfect time to catch silhouettes with the sharp colours in the background.
A Great Finish For Sunset And Night Sky At The Haleakala Summit
But we were not yet ready to leave. We carefully walked on the paths to find a spot with few people. And tried to avoid people using their phones as flashlights. We were rewarded as the night turned dark and the stars popped in the sky.
By this time we were pretty cold despite our layers of clothes. We carefully found our way back to the car and put the car heat on. We marvelled at the amazing day we had to enjoy the sunset and night sky at the Haleakala Summit.
Our drive up presented us with yet another of the twisty mountain drives on Maui. But the drive down in the dark was far more challenging. Luckily we hit no fog and the view from the headlights kept us well within the road lines.
We drove down at the speed limit but often pulled over when aggressive drivers wanted to go much faster. When we reached the bottom and the road straightened out, we were happy to head back to our hotel.
An Amazing Night To Enjoy The Sunset And Night Sky At The Haleakala Summit
The sunset and night sky at the Haleakala Summit was simply stunning. Our planning put us at the summit well in advance of sunset and guaranteed us a spot where we wanted to be. There were many other good spots on the drive up for views to the East. But we were happy we got to the summit.
We loved chasing sunsets and we knew to be patient after the sun set. Some of the best coloured skies happen with the reflected light after the sunset. And the dark sky as night settled in was amazing.
We were sure that planning for a sunrise on Haleakala Summit would have been great. But we could not have had a better experience at sunset. This was one of the great experiences on our visit to Maui.
Did you enjoy the sunset and night sky at the Haleakala Summit? Should we plan a sunrise visit on a return trip?
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