Haleakala Posted June 10, 2013

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The Hawaiian archipelago is the most isolated major island group on earth–2,400 miles from the nearest continent. The chain of islands reaches from the Big Island of Hawaii to the Kure Atoll 1,500 miles to the northwest. For at least 81 million years the islands have been forming as the Pacific Plate moves and magma rises from the ocean floor.

Maui was created millions of years ago as a group of five shield volcanoes rose from the ocean floor. When first created it was one island–called “Maui Nui”–and had active volcanoes until about 400,000 years ago. At that time East Maui was much higher than today’s 10,023-foot summit. By 150,000 years ago the forces of erosion left Haleakala dominating East Maui connected by lowlands to the West Maui Mountains at the other end of the island. This created the present day island of Maui. The other peaks became the separate islands of Molokai, Lanai and Kahoolawe off the coast of Maui. The volcano that created East Maui, Haleakala, last erupted about two centuries ago.

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The crater at the summit of Haleakala was eventually cut by valleys running to the sea. At the Road to Hana Cottages we look up at the northeast side of the crater. It was cut by water and wind creating a view with two peaks on either side of the main crater. Haleakala dominates the main body of Maui with rainforest on the eastern side and more arid land and dry forest on the western slopes. The mountain is a mosaic of habitats and ecosystems including alpine and subalpine areas near the peak, forests, lowlands and coastal zones.

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The surrounding ocean has rainfall averaging 25-30 inches annually but the east and northeast parts of the island are on the windward side. The trade winds bring as much as 400 inches annually to rainforest compared to 10 inches on the leeward side. The Road to Hana Cottages is near the western edge of the rainforest with gentle trade winds and only moderate amounts of rainfall — the best climate of the rainforest. This is just above the northeast shoreline of the island where hot lava from Haleakala long ago met the ocean amid clouds of steam.

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Temperature averages 75 degrees Fahrenheit in our part of the rainforest and averages 40 degrees Fahrenheit at the top of the mountain. When hiking the summit before dawn the temperatures can be 30-50 degrees Fahrenheit with winds of 10 to 40 mph. Light showers can occur anytime of the year.

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Haleakala National Park is a wonderful experience with something for everyone. The visitors’ center at 9,740 feet in the summit area can be reached by car and has ample parking. Ranger programs including talks and hikes are offered on a regular schedule. Serious hikers will find rugged and strenuous hiking trails which crisscross the upper part of the park through an amazing and varied landscape. The most popular event is always the sunrise–which on a clear day can be a breath taking, spiritual experience. This is accessed by car and a short walk. Call for information (808) 572-4400 or go to www.nps.gov/hale

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The Haleakala Bike Company in Haiku has several bike tours that bring riders to the park by motor coach, offer tours of the park and then allow riders to ride the 10 miles back–dropping 3,000 feet from the edge of the park to Haiku. It is only a short drive from the Road to Hana Cottages to Haiku to begin the adventure for either a before sunrise or a 9 a.m. departure by motor coach to the summit to return by bicycle. They also rent a wide range of bikes, helmets and racks for your stay in Maui. Call for information (808) 575-9575 or go to www.bikemaui.com

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To the east the park is designated as the Kipahulu Valley Biological Reserve which is closed to the public except for a section to the south with the Waimoku Falls. This area is accessed up a hiking trail and begins at the Kipahulu Visitor Center at the southeast tip of the park. This is best reached by driving around the island on the road to Hana and then further south on highway 31.

Set aside at least one day to experience Haleakala at the summit and add Waimoku Falls to your trip down the road to Hana and beyond.