Do you enjoy stargazing? In case you haven’t noticed, it’s pretty dark on Maui. Street lighting is dim and lights are far apart. Why is this? I’m not sure what the official answer is, but it is probably a combination of economy (power is very expensive at 40c/kwh) and a desire to avoid light pollution. It does make stargazing easier and on most nights we can see a decent amount of stars in our residential neighborhood.
However, on Maui we have this volcano with a good road handy….
Yesterday around 4pm we looked from Kihei up Haleakala and could see the summit (at 10,023 ft) through the clouds. So we took the one hour scenic upcountry drive from Kihei to Kula Lodge (3200 ft elevation). Kula Lodge is known for its great views and pizza oven. We were in the middle of a shifting band of clouds, so the view down to Kihei/Maalaea was a bit hazy, but beautiful nonetheless.
We ate our pizzas as we watched sunset, then ordered some deserts as we needed to wait some more for darkness.
The sun had set and it was slowly getting dark, so we bundled up in our sweaters and jackets and headed up the mountain. It is pretty straightforward (follow the Haleakala Crater sign). Every now and then there were ‘watch for cows on road’ signs – at one point there was a grouping of cows silhouetted just next to the road, another time a red bull was half on the road, watching the light fade over the horizon himself! Good thing I was going slow (to avoid car-sickness with the many turns).
At about 5000 ft elevation we left the cloud cover behind but kept driving until the park gates (7000 ft) – approximately 30 minutes of driving. There we could safely turn around and backtrack through the small forest. Just after the forest clears there is a mid-sized gravel turn-out where you can safely pull over (at about 6500 ft). You will want to gauge the clouds to determine where to pull over, you can of course continue into Haleakala National Park, they are open 24 hours a day except in severe weather conditions.
Then we waited for complete darkness. At first there wasn’t much to see. We were surprised at just how many cars were coming down the mountain, maybe from sunset or from work at the research station at the top of Haleakala. Nonetheless, make sure you are in a proper pull-out and keep close tabs on the kids.
Once the light completely faded the stars were amazing, large, small and milky patches! We had an ipad with a free stargazing app along and enjoyed identifying different stars and constellations. The app even told us how many light years away certain stars were! That helped hold the kids attention. There is good cell phone reception at 6500 ft (I have Verizon), but the app seemed to work without internet connection – I’m not sure how exactly.
Sadly neither my phone, the camera nor the ipad were able to capture a picture of the amazing night sky.
Caution: it is very dark up there, so keep close track of your kids that they don’t wander off the mountain or into the road (there is some traffic). Also, it is cold – at 6500 ft it was 48F (9C), so dress appropriately. We were lucky and there was little wind, but on previous occasions it’s been very windy which makes it quite miserable. We packed a thermos of hot chocolate and insulated mugs to help keep warm, blankets and a large lantern in case we ran into trouble. There are no stores and no gas stations either, so come prepared. I wish we had brought some collapsible chairs along, they would have been handy.
The research station at the top of Haleakala has the world’s second largest telescope. Unfortunately there is no public access to this facility.