Believe it or not, I am finally — FINALLY!! — closing in on the end of my family’s Summer adventure in the fairytale land of Maui. And it has only taken me … what? A month? Two months? Yep. Blogger fail! I should have been blogging this trip in real time, but I was too busy living the memories. And that’s okay.
Day 5 was, by far, our busiest day. It was so busy that I think I am going to split it into two posts. Because one post can not contain all the fun. Actually, it’s because I have too many photographs I want to share. I’m selfish that way.
Going into it, I was excited about Day 5. This was the day we had scheduled to go to Haleakala to see the sunrise. Do you know what the worst thing is about wanting to see the sunrise? I bet you can guess. I’ll give you a moment to consider …
Yep! You’ve got it. The worst thing about wanting to see the sunrise is that you have to get up way before the sun. Otherwise, you miss the whole thing, right?
We were going with my brother-in-law’s family, including two adorable babies. Packing up for babies, with all the things you might need along the way, like bottles and diapers and pacifiers and toys and snacks and more diapers, is not an easy task. Our destination was at least 2 hours from our hotel. That’s two hours if you know exactly where you are going and you are familiar with the twisting and turning roads. We didn’t have either of those things working in our favor, and we wanted my brother-in-law and his wife to have plenty of time to get those sweet babies ready for the road. We knew we would need some extra time.
We had a 2AM wakeup call on the morning of Day 5. Just let that sink in for a moment and think about how I am a night owl, all the way. And, after five days in Hawaii, I still hadn’t recovered from the 6-hour time difference. Let’s just say 2AM was painful, and leave it at that. The night before, I had briefly considered not going to bed at all. I am a night owl, after all. And I’ve been up past 2AM lots of times, with no ill effects.
In the end, I decided I would try to get some sleep, because I knew we had a busy day ahead of us. We were quickly coming to the end of our trip, and we all wanted to fit in the last couple of extremely time-consuming tourist things we had planned from the beginning. I went to bed around 8PM the night before. I ended up not falling asleep until around 10 or 11PM, which meant I hit our 2AM wake-up with about 3-4 hours of sleep. It was not pretty. And I was not in a good mood. But I managed to get up. And I stayed awake to keep my husband company during the entire 2 hour drive. That’s what counts!!
I don’t really have much to share about the drive from our hotel to Haleakala. It was a long drive, and, of course, it was dark. There is something kind of mysterious and a little creepy about taking a long drive in the dark. The view outside your window takes on an unearthly, eerie kind of appearance. Things you would recognize during the day look strange and unexpected in the dark. We passed a lot of the drive in silence. I think everyone in the car was feeling the pain of our early departure time.
Haleakala is a massive shield volcano. It forms about 75% of the island of Maui, which is pretty incredible, when you think about it. The highest part is 10,023 feet above sea level, and you can see it from pretty much anywhere on the island. Being a know-nothing tourist, I had been looking at Haleakala all along, from Day 1 of our trip. But I didn’t realize it!
The name “Haleakala” means “house of the sun” in Hawaiian. There is a legend that says the demigod Maui stood on Haleakala’s summit to lasso the sun from its journey across the sky. He slowed its descent and made the days longer for all of us. Sound familiar? If you’ve watched Moana about a hundred times like I have, it will definitely sound familiar. And you probably hear Maui singing, “You’re welcome!” in the back of your mind.
Luckily for us, Haleakala is now a National Park. It is such a treasure, and I am so grateful to the people of Hawaii for sharing it with all of us. Some initial research before our trip told us that the Haleakala Visitor Center was one of the best places to view the sunrise. The Visitor Center is at around 9,740 feet above sea level, and I believe there is another place to view the sunrise that is somewhat higher. I am not sure of the elevation for the second viewing area, because it was closed off by the time we arrived. We found parking at the lower level, near the Visitor Center, and that is where we stayed to watch the sun make its appearance for the day.
This is a popular destination. On any given morning, the parking area at the Visitor’s Center is full to bursting. So you need a reservation to reserve parking. For our purposes, this meant we needed a reservation to see the sunrise, because we were not already in the park. We were going there specifically for the sunrise. Let me tell ‘ya: We had to fight for our reservation. You can reserve a spot ahead of time, but you have to do it months and months before your trip. Things have been crazy (and not in a good way) in our lives for a while now, and my husband and I didn’t plan far enough out from our travel dates. It just kind of slipped through the cracks.
But we had a fall-back plan. Each day the Park Service releases a certain number of reservations for the following day. These reservations get snapped up in milliseconds after they go live on the website, which means you have to be there — locked, loaded, and ready to go! — at the second the spaces for the next day go live. This led to quite an adventure of me trying to log into the website, grabbing a parking reservation, and paying for it before the transaction timed out … all on my phone … all while we were traipsing around various places on the island. Guys, this was stressful! Mobile service is spotty at best. You might have service in one spot but then travel a mile down the road and have no service at all. I did this dance several days in a row, and it wasn’t pretty. Inevitably, my husband ended up mad at me because I couldn’t type fast enough or I couldn’t make the mobile service last. But, I finally managed to reserve a spot. Huzzah!! I don’t mind telling you I did a victory dance, right there on the side of the highway. (I had made my husband pull over at a turn-out overlooking the ocean. Not for the view, but because it had mobile service. Three whole bars!!!)
Luckily, my husband’s brother was able to get a spot on the same day, which is why we got to go together. Otherwise, we would have had to try cramming everyone into one car, and I am not sure that would have worked. I don’t think there’s a car in the universe big enough to hold all of us, plus two car seats.
I did not know what to expect once we arrived. Not really. I went into this experience thinking I knew exactly what to expect and exactly what was going to happen. It’s a sunrise. I’ve seen this before. We’ve all seen it before, right? I’m older than I want to type out loud, and I have seen the sun come up on many, many occasions so far throughout my life. If I am lucky, I will get to see it come up on many more.
As I got out of the car and carefully made my way over the dark ground toward the edge of the viewing area, I quickly realized I had to ditch all my preconceived expectations. Because anything I had experienced up to this point in life … any sunrise I could point to in my memory, no matter how spectacular … was going to fall far short.
The excitement and expectation started building right away, from the moment my feet touched the ground. It was dark in the parking area, although we were a little bit late arriving. And there was a faint glimmer of light far in the distance. Like lemmings, we shuffled our way over the parking lot toward the edge of the viewing area. And when I say “edge”, I mean EDGE. Keep in mind it is still dark. I couldn’t see anything in front of me, but I could sense the edge of the crater or cliff ahead. I could sense how the earth would suddenly drop off beneath my feet if I took a wrong step. There wasn’t any real danger of this, as the edge is fenced off, making it impossible for anyone to go right to the brink by accident. And yet, the feeling was there, equal parts exhilaration and terror.
As I stood there, facing in the direction of the faint glimmer of light, I could see shapes in front of me and in the distance. They were big and kind of lumpy. They seemed to be moving ever so slowly, swaying with the wind. My brain could not make sense of what I was seeing. Trees? Bamboo? Something else? It was eerie but also beautiful.
There were people all around. And yet, it was silent — not the kind of quiet where you can tell people are trying hard not to talk, but the kind of quiet that is filled with awe and an air of tense expectation. I could hear people shuffling their feet across the ground, shifting their weight from foot to foot in an effort to stay warm. Here and there, I could hear patches of conversation. Voices were low and hushed, so words remained just out of the range of hearing. Smaller children and shorter adults moved and jostled a little bit for a better position. Mostly, we all waited. I have never felt more alone and at peace in a large group of people. I’m not sure how else to explain it.
Slowly, the light in the distance started to grow. It began to spread across the sky in lazy, creeping sweeps of golden-red, pink, and orange. As the pinks touched their edges, I realized for the first time what the ominous-looking shapes in front of me were: Clouds. I was standing at the edge of this crater, just behind the low barrier, and I was looking out on a world of clouds. No wonder my mind couldn’t make sense of it in the dark. I had no frame of reference in my memory. I’ve never been inside the clouds before, so close that it seems I could walk out onto them. It was so many things: amazing, breathtaking, terrifying. Even now, months removed from the experience, I can’t separate my feelings from each other.
The light grew and grew. It continued to spread across the sky before us. The clouds became more distinct, colored with syrupy golds and oranges. The sky beyond started to turn blue. I held my breath as the world seemed to pause, just for a moment …
And then, the guest of honor arrived. The sun, in all her glory, peering over the farthest clouds right in front of us.
I stood there and watched as the colors faded and the sun solidified her presence in the day. I’m not sure exactly why I waited. The show was over, and people around me had started to move off toward their cars, already eager to get out of the parking lot and traverse the winding road down the mountain. And yet, I stayed a little bit longer. I guess I didn’t want it all to end. I knew it couldn’t last forever. Soon, I would have to go back to my car, too. I would have to get in and buckle my seatbelt and travel back down to the world below. But part of me wanted to stay in the clouds.
In a way, I got my wish. Because the clouds chased us all the way back down the mountain. I have seldom seen such beautiful shapes. I loved seeing them rolling over each other, forming and re-forming as they went along. We drove with the windows down, and the air was crisp, cool, and fresh. It felt good on my face and on the hand I trailed out of the window.
Getting back down the mountain took a while. Remember, there were a LOT of people up there to see the sunrise. And we had to wind our way back down single file. The road was narrow, and everyone seemed okay with taking their time. Really, they had to be. There wasn’t another choice. I was absolutely okay with it, because it gave me more time to see the clouds and look at the amazing scenery. I hope I can go back to Maui some day and explore Haleakala National Park a little more. Of course, I would like to see that amazing sunrise again. But I would also like to hike the trails and see some of the scenery that beckoned to me outside my car window.
Once we were out of Haleakala National Park, breakfast became our next order of business. At this point, it felt more like: BREAKFAST!!!! Because I was starving. We had grabbed food on the way to the park, but that had been hours earlier. Having said good-bye to the clouds and the sun, I had pancakes on my mind. Or maybe waffles. Or french toast. Or regular toast. And maybe some eggs.
We had reservations at Kula Lodge & Restaurant, which is about thirty minutes away from the park. The lodge and restaurant are about 3200 feet above sea level, and they are located in the small agricultural town of Kula. This lovely little town is on the western slope of Haleakala Crater, and some quick internet research told me it has a population of about 7,000. I think these must be 7,000 of the luckiest people on Earth. Because they live in a true natural wonderland. I can’t even describe the beauty that surrounded us, other than to say it was Paradise.
Kula Lodge & Restaurant was built in the 1940s. It is a sprawling property, where one building seems to tumble right into the next. And all of it clings to the slopes of the mountain. The lodge is surrounded by gardens, and it seemed everything was in full bloom when we visited. As you sit in the restaurant, you can look out across acres and acres of farmland. I can’t remember the last time I saw so many shades of green. You can see distant towns and, even farther away, the ocean glimmers in the sunlight of a new day.
I found Kula Lodge enchanting. It is a magical place sitting smack-dab in the middle of another magical place. I almost felt like I had stepped out of my own life and into a fairytale. Everything was perfect: the gardens, the views, the way the buildings blended seamlessly into their surroundings. Just … everything.
Breakfast was delicious, too! My daughter and I still talk about how these were some of the best pancakes we have ever had. We ate with my brother-in-law’s family, of course. And we took our time. We lingered over our meal and over second and third cups of coffee. We told stories and laughed at silly jokes. For me, it was peaceful and enjoyable just being with everyone. I think some nice memories were made. I know I carry many within me!
Once we had stuffed ourselves sufficiently, we paid our check and headed back to our cars. I think we were all a little bit reluctant to return to the real world. And yet, more adventure beckoned. Because the day was just beginning.
And by the way, that 2AM wake-up call? Yeah. Totally worth it.