Yesterday afternoon we drove up Haleakala to enjoy a post New Years sunset. It sure was beautiful. And there were a lot more people than I had anticipated.
Last time we went for sunset was just over a year ago at Thanksgiving. My bad, I assumed with less people on the island, there would be fewer people at the summit of Haleakala. Don’t get me wrong, there was plenty of parking in the crater valley parking lot, but the top lot (with the best sunset view) was overflowing with double parked cars.
A couple of observations
Arrive early rather than just on time. You want to make sure you get parking. While we arrived on time, the upper lot was full and we ended up having to walk to the summit. Not usually a problem, but at 10,000 ft altitude it’s a bit harder to breathe and you can develop a headache.
It’s cold up there. Yesterday afternoon the temperature at the summit was at about 50F. It dipped after the sun set. We were prepared, dressed in our long pants, winter jackets, mittens, hats, scarfs and hiking boots. Yes, we still have these things left over from 10+ years ago when we moved to Maui. We saw a number of people in shorts and t-shirts with beach towels wrapped around them for warmth. Fail.
Yes, per Hawaii State mandate, even here you have to wear a mask. The bonus is that it keeps your face protected from the wind!
The crater valley, though always amazing, doesn’t have the stunning colors before sunset that you see in morning pictures. Closing in on sunset the valley just looks dark. If you want to enjoy it with all its colors, come earlier in the afternoon.
Stay on actual paths – don’t just wander among the dirt and plants. The amazing and protected silversword plants grow here. Stepping on their fragile root system will kill them.
While to the summit is beautifully paved, there are no guardrails once you enter the national park. Yesterday my new-driver son (just weeks away from taking his road test) chauffeured me. There is only a small ‘lip’ at the edge of the road, so pay attention!
There really are cows on the road between the lower forest and the park gate (before you reach the national park). Watch for them. Especially at night they like to hang out on the road. The asphalt holds the heat.
Sunset is soooo romantic. Last night we were standing next to a couple. Next thing we knew, he had a little box with an engagement ring and was proposing to his now-fiancee. It was so romantic!
Last weekend my neighbor and I headed upcountry to a pop-up Christmas market at Kula Farms. In days of Covid we weren’t sure what to expect, but we both had some shopping to do, wanted to support local and needed some girl-time. We had a great day!
Kula Country Farms and the pop-up Christmas Market
We started off at Kula Country Farms. There is some road parking, but you could also park in the pumpkin patch field if you trust your vehicle’s off-roading capabilities. There were 25+ vendors on property. Everyone (business owners and customers) wore masks, hand sanitizers everywhere, everyone making the best of the new normal. I picked up some hand-made soaps, locally made masks, some veggies at the farm stand and the best coffee – one with honey and coconut syrup. I’m normally a ‘black coffee gal’, but this was a worth-while exception!
Kula Botanical Gardens
We headed back to our car, sanitized, and headed to our second stop – the Kula Botanical Gardens. Originally the plan had been to buy freshly cut Maui Christmas trees, however we knew they had completely sold out the weekend before (their first weekend open).
We checked out their gift shop and I picked up a pack of their home grown/roasted coffee. A few years ago the owner of Kula Botanical Gardens told me their coffee was grown at the highest elevation within the US. I remember from last time, it is great coffee!
We will save a walk through the 10 acre gardens for another day.
Kula Market Place
Next on the agenda, we drove up to Kula Market Place (located at the Kula Lodge). This is a neat gift shop featuring local artisans. Art, crafts, clothing, jewelry, quilts, food etc. If you’re upcountry, do check it out! My neighbor found the missing items on her Christmas shopping list and then it was time for lunch…
We headed back down Haleakala and back-tracked a bit to Kula Bistro. They are known especially for their desert case. The restaurant had indoor and outdoor seating, all subject to the social distancing guidelines. Maui County has new restaurant rules. Even when seated you have to keep your mask on until you eat or drink, replacing it when finished.
On a side note, bars are currently closed through December 26 to help contain the increase in positive case numbers on Maui.
My favorite easy upcountry walk is Thompson Road. It’s a picturesque one lane road above Grandma’s coffee house in Kula.
School is starting again here on Maui (we will see how that goes), so I forced the kids to go on a family walk. Yes, they would have preferred to stay home with on their devices, but such is life. Family is a benevolent dictatorship, not a democracy, or at least that’s what I tell them.
How to get to this upcountry walk
From Kihei, you drive direction Kahului, then turn left on Hansen Road by the old Sugar Cane Factory. I don’t know about you, but I like to look at it while passing by, to see what’s going on. This past year the big pile of coal (for power production) has finally been hauled off. I wonder where it went.
You turn right onto Hana Hwy, then immediately onto Haleakala Hwy. Haleakala Hwy becomes Kula Hwy which you follow ‘forever’. You drive through Kula, past the Waldorf School, the Kula Farms stand – sadly they were closed this Sunday. You continue past the second Haleakala Hwy turnoff, past St John’s Episcopal Church and eventually end up at Grandma’s Coffee House. They were sadly also closed this Sunday.
Just before Grandma’s the road forks off to the left. Turn up there, take your very first right (it’s nearly immediate). This is Thompson Road. There are three pull-outs on the left. Park in one, get out and walk.
The upcountry walk
The road itself is patchy asphalt. Our youngest brought his new skateboard along which helped curb the complaining. I love looking at the huge plants, the insanely large bush of bird of paradise (it’s got to be 8 feet tall or more). There are lava rock walls, horse pastures, rolling hills.
Please be respectful of local residents who live here. Residents passing through always smile and wave, so do the same. It took us about an hour to the end and back. Well, that’s not entirely true. Thompson Road curves left and heads up the mountain – we’ve never gone up there.
But the best part about this upcountry walk – it was a full 15 degrees (Fahrenheit) cooler than in Kihei. Loved that!
Our family has lived on Maui for ten years now, and believe it or not, I had never been to see sunrise on Haleakala. There have been a few reasons – but mainly having young children and my general dislike of crowds.
winter clothes, wind breaker… you mainland folk may be used to standing in near freezing temperatures for an hour or two (don’t forget about wind), but apparently my blood has thinned from living on Maui. I was so cold – but loving every minute of it!
your wallet (credit card and ID, credit card only $30 for park admission, cash for Komoda’s donuts – they have a $10 minimum for credit card purchases)
a print out of your Haleakala sunrise reservation
enough gas to get there and back
Note: the last place to purchase anything on the way up would be a 24/7 gas station or perhaps McDonald’s in Kahului
Our journey to Sunrise on Haleakala
This morning we left our home in Kihei at around 2:20AM. Right off the bat, we saw a deer right next to the Piilani Hwy by the Kihei police station. I’m sure glad it stayed off the road as we passed. There was little traffic besides a black SUV also headed to sunrise.
We saw someone walking along the Veterans Hwy (formerly known as Mokulele, taking us towards Kahului). He also thankfully stayed on the bike path.
We hit our only red light at the turnoff onto Haleakala Hwy by King Kekaulike school in Pukalani. At this point the highway becomes a two lane road (with exception of a one lane bridge you come upon pretty quickly). It’s a gorgeous drive by day. As we passed through a grove of trees just before Kula Lodge area, we saw a large bird (I think an owl) flying in front of us. For a moment I worried he’d fly right into my windshield, but he changed direction, picked up speed and took off into the trees.
A little past Kula Lodge you follow the signs and turn left and at this point the roads get pretty wind-y as you really go up in elevation. Just past the tree line and past the second cattle gate, we came across a beef cow and her calf. Yes, we have in the past encountered them even laying down on the road. Definitely watch for them.
We reached the National Park gate which is just above the 6500 ft elevation mark when you come to a forested area). I picked up an annual park pass ($55 vs the $30 for a 3 day vehicle pass). We will certainly come up at least once more this year making it worth it. Note, if you have a US national park pass, bring it along as you can use it for admission. The park employee cross-referenced my name with her sunrise reservation list. Then we drove another half hour to reach the summit, passing crater valley parking lot on the way. Guess what – we were the only car there!
The sunrise experience
We bundled up in our winter jackets, hats and gloves, in our excitement completely forgetting to don our face masks. We were about an hour early for the show to begin but enjoyed some stargazing, though the moon was about half full, which didn’t allow us to see the Milky Way. On the plus side, we didn’t have to use our phones as flashlights as we walked around the in part cracked sidewalks. No tripping at the top of the world! Any medical care is a good hour’s drive away at the Kula fire station or perhaps tiny Kula hospital.
We could see Kihei and Kahului’s lights, as well as the faint flashing red lights along the windmills in Maalaea. We could also faintly see a few lights in the distance – I am pretty sure they would have been from Hawi, Big Island.
The skies started lightening around 5:10AM today, in the mean time another five cars had joined us. We walked back up to the lookout area (due to Covid-19 the shelter area was closed). It was a balmy 46F (7.8C) and thankfully no wind. We sure enjoyed the view, the sky changing colors above the cloud cover until finally the sun rose just before 6AM.
By sunrise another 20 cars arrived – a number of them ended up completely missing the show. We stopped briefly at crater valley and headed back down the mountain for our rewards of Komoda’s donuts in Makawao.
Would I do it again?
I’m thrilled we were able to experience a Haleakala Sunrise, even more so that we didn’t have to face the crowds so many are used to seeing at sunrise. However, I think I prefer sunset on Haleakala. Sunset doesn’t require reservations, there are fewer people, you can see if the mountain is cloud-covered prior to leaving Kihei (because it’s daytime). You aren’t exhausted from getting up super early. On that note – I would plan Haleakala Sunrise when you are still undergoing jetlag (at the beginning of your Maui trip).
Another day, another hike with the kids, this time the Waiakoa Loop Trail in upcountry Maui.
I’ve been wanting to go explore the hikes at Poli Poli for a while now. Last fall my cross-country running kid had a team practice up there. It turns out, I had a completely mistaken idea of where the hikes were.
The car adventure
Of course, to preface this – you drive all the way from Kihei past the Kula Farm stand along the Kula Hwy, then turn up the mountain and, just next to Kula Botanical Gardens, turn right up Waiopuli Road which takes you what my teenager had told me was Poli Poli. It’s the bottom of a large meadow with signs featuring hang-gliding. That portion alone is about a one hour drive from Kihei.
To get to the hikes, you traverse a large meadow with a newly paved one lane road featuring many hair pin turns, then continue up through forested areas (with more hair pin turns) until you get to the first of a series of trails. The hairpin turns aren’t so bad, and there are occasional pull-outs to allow for oncoming traffic. The sketchy part is – the newly paved road has steep dropoffs on either side of the asphalt (4-8 inches for sure which is great for the car). However, this balances out with the spectacular bicoastal views.
After our car adventure, we chose to go with the first trail we came upon – the Waiakoa Loop Trail.
Waiakoa Loop Trail
The Waiakoa Loop Trail has a very small parking lot (fitting maybe 3-4 cars) next to an ominous-sounding ‘hunter check-in station’. Consider yourself warned. The road continues up the hill promising further adventurous driving, but instead you head down a dirt access road (as of today this road has some deep ruts in it, my van would not have done well on it had it been open for driving – it’s not). The trail starts off with a steep downhill section, followed by a steep uphill section (not quite as bad as the beginning steep uphill section at the Waihee Ridge Trail). After that it levels out with alternating uphill/downhill parts, but not bad at all. This coming from an inexperienced hiker.
After 0.7 miles you get to the beginning of the loop trail. Close the gate behind you and brush your shoes to prevent carrying non-endemic plant seeds onto the trail. This hike is completely in the forest (no views beside forest). We were partly in the clouds. It was however absolutely beautiful. We heard so many birds (my dad would have had a field day with his bird watching app). We saw absolutely no wildlife on the trail (though we had seen a nene bird near the trail head).
Disclaimer, we did not walk the entire trail. The entire trail is 3.8 miles (from the parking lot). We walked about 0.7 miles past the gate and then turned around, so a respectable 2.8 miles total.
It’s been oddly stormy weather here over Christmas, with Kihei even getting rain showers. So we yesterda opted to go for an upcountry drive.
Here are a few pictures for your enjoyment.
Sun Yat Sen Memorial Park
This is a small upcountry memorial park dedicated to a Maui resident who was interestingly involved in the 1911 Chinese revolution, overthrowing the monarchy. The fish taking a bite out of the roof cracked me up. And this well fed rooster definitely stole the show. I know I just turkey for Christmas dinner but…. I couldn’t stop admiring the size of his thighs.
Ulupalakua General Store and Maui Wine
Next up we stopped at Ulupalakua General Store for some homemade burgers from their own meat. I tried the elk, the rest of the family enjoyed the beef burger. There’s just something about an outdoor grill and eating burgers upcountry at a picnic table.
The restroom is across the way past Maui Wine. We stopped in the Maui Wine building where they have an interesting history display of the ranch. The story on this plaque struck my funny bone. I love history – it’s full of interesting stories.
Maui Wine has changed the way it runs the tasting room. You can still go for complimentary tours (we have yet to go on one, our timing is always off), but tastings run $12-$16 for a flight of wines and they have pupus (cheese and charcuterie boards are available for purchase too). They have expanded the seating area and the gift shop, it is quite lovely. Old Jail tastings are $40. Do check the website for more information.
Grandma’s Coffee House
Next we stopped in at Grandma’s Coffee House for take-out coffee and desert. They grow their own coffee and have a nice display case of homemade treats. Their lunches are also excellent.
Finally, we headed back towards Kihei, driving through rain showers and sunny patches and past this amazing poinsettia hedge right along Kula Hwy.
I love watching sunset, watching the colors change. But there’s nothing quite like watching it at the beach. Except perhaps from atop the highest mountain.
Yesterday we dropped our turkeys off at an upcountry imu (here’s a link to last year’s imu roast for lots more info!) and then continued up the mountain. We got there just before sunset which was great as it allowed us to see the crater valley which is spectacular in itself. I almost think it’s better in the morning though, when the sun really shows off all the different colors in the valley.
We had passed through some clouds on our way up to the summit (10,023 feet elevation), but it cleared up just past the National Park gates (yes, this is a national park – 3 day entrance fee starting in 2020 is $30, an annual pass is $50).
Sunrise viewing is hugely popular on Haleakala, so much so that a few years ago the park instituted a reservation system. If you want to go see sunrise, make sure two months prior you go online and buy a ticket. Tickets are cheap – only $1.50/car (however, you ALSO need to purchase or have along your national park pass to enter the park). But they are day-specific, so you do need to go on that day (this limits the total number of cars to 150, which is the number of parking stalls up there). They do release a few additional tickets two days prior, so that’s always an option also. Note, park wardens will not allow you into the park between 3-7AM without this special ticket.
I’ve never driven up for sunrise. I would prefer to see if it’s cloudy or clear before I drive all that way (rather than taking my chances leaving at 3AM to get to the summit in time for a possible sunrise).
Yesterday the top parking lot was full, but there were plenty of parking spaces in the crater parking lot.
Stargazing with cows
We stayed at the summit until it was quite dark and then drove back down the mountain. Just past the national park gate and forest, we encountered cows on the road. Yes, there are signs warning of cows, do watch for them as they like to munch grass right next to the road. In fact, I’ve come across cows lying on the road in the evening (which is nice and warm from the sun).
We parked in a pull-out near some cows, turned off the car and stood next to it, gazing up at the stars. It was so dark, we couldn’t see the cows, just hear them snorting and munching their grass. As you know, we used to own a dairy farm, so we loved that. It was a beautiful evening.
I had an errand to run today near Kula Lodge. Kula Lodge is at the 3200 ft elevation. As you drive up our volcano (Haleakala), you will find that the roads get narrower, the speed limits drop and the views become increasingly spectacular.
The Kula Lodge is the highest sit-down restaurant on Maui with an outdoor pizza oven and stunning bi-coastal views. This is also home to the Curtis Cost Gallery – his Maui scenery paintings are just spectacular. You can also stay at the Kula Lodge, though we’ve never done it.
One of my favorite things to do (though I haven’t done it for a while), is to kick off an evening of stargazing with pizza at the Kula Lodge. It’s time we did that again.
The poinsettia hedge in the parking lot is starting to bloom. It is mid-November. Where did the year go?
As I was a bit early, I stopped at the Kula Marketplace gift shop to look around. Always on the look out for new Made in Maui products and goodies. Today I found a few: a new to me hotsauce by Volcano Spice using Maui grown scorpion peppers. I love the HI Spice Smoke Scorpion sauce, so I’ll have to taste-test these two. I love the color.
I also found these coasters which I thought would make fun Christmas presents.
I may have mentioned a time or two how much I love upcountry Maui. I don’t know what I love more – the scenery and the views, or cooling off from Kihei’s heat!
Yesterday my son had another cross country race. This one was at an upcountry high school. As we drove up Haleakala Hwy, he asked – Mom, can you pick up Komoda’s for the team?
Komoda’s is a family run bakery in Makawao that celebrated its 100th anniversary a few years ago. Yes, it’s a hole in the wall. But it is one of our family’s favorite treat places. In particular the kids like the stick donuts. Five sugar glazed mini donuts on a stick. What’s not to love?
The thing with Komoda’s is – they open at 7AM. For best selection, you have to be there at 7AM or even earlier to get a parking spot and get in line. Mornings there is a line out the door and if you arrive much later, they won’t have much left. Komoda’s closes once they’re sold out (sometimes by 2pm). And they are closed Wednesdays and Sundays and sometimes in September when the family takes time off.
They are best known for their cream puffs and cocoa puffs. I however prefer their Coconut Danish.
Yes, I caved, I picked up 20 stick donuts for the team, a bag of dinner rolls for company we had last night. And a Coconut Danish for me.
The best part was surprising my son with a shopping bag of stick donuts when he was only expecting a few for him and his friends. They ran 3 miles (plus their warm up miles). They worked for it.