A view from heaven at Haleakala

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I’m on another spontaneous road trip, the only kind worth having by the way, with my sister Bree visiting from Chicago and my boyfriend Jon. He’s a good travel partner because we go wherever the wind blows us. This time we’re heading all the way up to the 10,023 foot volcano summit of Haleakala on Maui.

We’re toward upcountry Maui from the center of town. We’ve already visited a bird sanctuary that was less than spectacular and a huge African tortoise named Freddie at the Maui humane society. Our original plan was to head toward Paia, but one wrong turn starts us on an incredible adventure.

Bree and I sit like dogs, our heads hanging out the window, smelling the woodsy air as the climate cools and outside is so reminiscent of fall, it’s hard to believe an hour ago we were sweating at the beach. I think the most surprising thing about Maui and the Hawaiian islands in general is the diversity of landscapes. You can from sea level to 10,000 odd feet in an hour. People who scuba dive aren’t allowed to do in the same day. You’re head might explore, or something.

Our minds are being blown as Jon drives up the mountain, twisting and turning, going up and up. The drive becomes nerve wracking and surreal:  I can’t believe we’re driving this close to the edge of a mountain with no barriers or guard rails. Another thing to love about Hawaii is that you can do just about anything at your own risk. Want to hike to the lava flow in the middle of the night on Big Island? Go for it. There’s no gates holding you back. Want to scale a cliff? It’s all you. Climb a triple-tiered slippery-as-hell waterfall? If you can hack it, why not?

Going up!

This time Hawaii beckons us up toward Haleakala’s summit, part of a national park. Just when I think we can’t possibly go any further up, since, jeez, we’re already in the clouds, we pull up to the booth to pay the ranger our $10 admission fee.

“Welcome folks. The visitor center is just ahead and it’s about another 40 minutes to the summit up the mountain,” the ranger says nonchalantly.

I’m usually not a nervous traveler. I’ve gone ’round the world solo, but somehow driving on the edge of the world, and on the edge of reason, along this 2 way road full of dangerous, sometimes blind switchbacks, above the clouds is enough to make me sit on my hands and sweat.

What is this place?

Jon takes the opportunity to pretend at each curve that he’s going to go straight off the mountain. I’d hit him except I’m afraid one false move will send us plummeting off the cliff to our imminent deaths.

I envy the cars coming down. No one looks as scared or nervous as I feel. I calm down remembering that the views will be worth it. We see some hiking trails and a few nene (Hawaiian goose) crossing the road.

Soon we are truly above the clouds. We’ve traveled 1/3 of a commercial airline’s cruising altitude…by car. A little short of breath and freezing (since impromptu road trips to different climates rarely means being prepared with hoodies or fleeces), we get out of the car and observe Mars.

The crater

Haleakala hasn’t erupted since 1790 and technically lies dormant. The mountain itself comprises 75 percent of Maui’s total landmass. The past few years there have been earthquakes and there’s rumors that the sleeping “House of the Sun” (Halekala’s translation) may rouse and flow once more.

We traveled there around sunset which was a fantastic view, the clouds painted the beautiful colors of twilight. Sunrise is a very popular time, and some heighten watching the sun rise from behind the clouds to a religious experience.

The descent

Either way, sunrise, sunset, to see some nene, roaming cows, feasting your eyes on a veritable alien landscape, or just to say you survived the drive, Haleakala is one of the must-dos on Maui.

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