Maui’s House of the Sun, and Then Some

Tuesday night after work, the husband and I drove out to LAX to hop on a plane and leave for Hawaii.  I clearly leave very little room for any form of “staycation.”  We were out.
By the time we landed in Maui and had checked into our hotel, it was about 11:30pm.  You know what we knew we had to do at this point?  Take a nap and wake up to catch the Haleakala sunrise.
Haleakala is Hawaiian for “House of the Sun” and is the name of the national park housing the world’s largest dormant volcano of the same name.  The volcano stands over 10,000 feet high, and it’s length and width covers 75% of the island of Maui.  Thousands come to Maui and visit the volcano’s crater during the wee hours to catch the breathtaking sunrise above the clouds.  It was definitely on our to-do list.
When I asked the front desk if he had any advice to catch the sunrise, he reminded us to leave the hotel at 3:30am and no later than 4:00am.  For some reason, even though we were definitely aware of this, it hit hard when we realized this would be us in a few short hours.
We grabbed a quick bite to eat at local fast food joints, then we went to sleep.  About 2 hours later, we woke up and got ready.  We headed over to the crater around 3:15am, noticing a big, bright and beautiful moon still out to greet us.  Keep in mind, it really is best to do this during one of your first mornings in Maui as you’re already jetlagged.  We may have been out and about at 3:15am, but our bodies were still telling us it was 6:15am.

We were staying in Kihei, so the drive was 1.5 hours to get to the top.  It looks like most people tend to stay in Lahaina, which means it would be about 2.5 hours of driving to get to the top.

It is fiercely cold on top of the crater as you’re 10,000 feet up.  There’s a small shop known as Crater Coffee that I would advise anyone to visit to grab a quick cup of hot coffee, cocoa or tea to help keep warm.  He’s at about the halfway point from the bottom to the top of the crater.  Incredibly cheerful guy for being up so early on a daily basis!  Such a nice pick-me-up to bump into morning people.  Keep in mind, this is the first and last chance to grab snacks and a hot drink during the drive up.

Once you get to the top, you’ll have to convince yourself you’re still on a tropical island as it looks almost other-worldly.  The grounds are still a rich brownish-red making you wonder if you are on the planet Mars.  You’re up as high as if you had just reached a safe elevation in an airplane to turn on your portable electronics… except, you’re actually standing outside on a dormant volcano.  It’s all surreal yet so beautiful.

Yes, it’s blurry.  Even if I had a tripod, the shivering wouldn’t have helped.
Once you get to the top, the first thing you’ll notice is that it’s friggin’ cold.  When you’re at the bottom of the crater, it’ll easily be over 70 degrees.  When you get to the top, you’re in the 30 degree range.  Bundling up is key.   Some people around us had on beanies, gloves, and hotel blankets.  We knew it would be cold, but we had no idea it could get so windy too.  The wind chill was so difficult to bear, but we knew we had to hang on tight.  We didn’t get this far just to miss out on the view.  Plus, it’s a lovely excuse to cuddle for warmth.
It also gets extremely crowded, so arriving early to find a prime spot for the sunrise and ensure a parking spot in the lot helps.

Although everyone is shivering and trying to keep warm, once the sun begins to peek above the clouds, you’ll hear excited calls of “There it is!” “The sun is rising!” “It’s so pretty!”  You’ll feel like you’re in a group of children excited to meet your childhood hero for the first time.  The feeling surrounding us was intense as the shivering stopped, and the cameras starting snapping.

As the sun begins sharing just a few more stray rays with us, there is someone who sings a chant, and from what I understand it is to welcome the sun.  It really is beautiful as the sky just begins to change colors and the clouds begin to show every fluff and curve in an array of blues, pinks, and oranges.

At some point, we couldn’t feel our fingers anymore but remained in awe of the view.  I could no longer snap a photo as my fingers were completely numb, and Tristan’s cell phone no longer registered his fingers on the touch screen.  Perhaps it was nature’s way of telling us to simply soak in this show of natural beauty.

After the sun rises, most of the crowds leave as a good chunk of them are with tour companies.  As we waited for them to leave, we sat in our car to warm up then drove up to the summit.  Once you reach the summit, make note to yourself that you’ve driven to the highest elevation in the shortest distance.  It’s amazing.

After this spectacular, beautiful, and enlightening event, we headed back down the winding road while taking in the phenomenal daytime views of the island.

By this point we were starving, so we headed to Kihei Caffe which easily became our favorite spot to grab breakfast in town.  We split the banana macadamia nut pancakes with a side of perfectly crisp spam which was more than enough to satisfy our hunger.  Phenomenal food and excellent customer service.  Loved the fun and happy vibes we got from the workers.

Kihei Caffe | 1945 South Kihei Road, Kihei, HI 96753

As tiredness began to settle in, we took a long nap at our hotel, then headed out to the beach to soak up some sun.  This time, the sun experience was in 80 degree weather which called for a taste of Hawaiian shaved ice at Ululani’s.

Ululani’s Shaved Ice | 61 S Kihei Rd, Kihei, HI 96753

I have no idea how people can go to Hawaiian shaved ice places and get flavors like blueberry and strawberry.  That’s no fun!  Here I got tamarind, lychee and li hing mui.  My husband got calamansi and lilikoi.  All delicious and exotic flavors.  On the bottom of our shaved ice was Roselani ice cream in their macadamia nut flavor which was sweet, smooth and perfectly nutty.  I would like some to be in my freezer 365 days out of the year if possible!

If you’re wondering what li hing mui is, it’s a salty dried plum that several Asian countries eat as a snack.  I grew up eating it, but it’s particularly popular on the Hawaiian islands.  You can eat the dried plum as is or find it as a powder which is sprinkled on candy, fruit, and well, shaved ice.  Here’s a few li hing mui snacks I grabbed for the road…

After spending some time at the beach and looking for sea critters, it was time to get ready for my friend’s sweet and beautiful wedding which I’ll recap in the next post 🙂
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