The morning we watched the sunrise on Haleakalā, Maui’s highest peak, the temperature was about 40 degrees and the wind was blowing about 20 mph.
It was a typical morning, but wow, it felt much colder than that in the darkness on top of a volcano.
Everyone gathering for the epic sunrise was bundled in fleece jackets, mittens and hats. Some wrapped themselves in blankets and beach towels. But one guy was wearing shorts, a t-shirt and flip-flops.
Dude, what were you thinking?
What to Expect when Watching Sunrise at Haleakalā National Park
Haleakalā is such a massive force in the Pacific that it creates its own weather. Clouds form around its summit adding moisture to the cooler temperatures.The summit is at 10,023 feet above sea level. Naturally it’s going to be colder here than the tropical beaches that bring so many people to Maui.
The sunrise here is like no other place on the planet. As the earth turns exposing the Pacific Ocean to the sun’s rays, those watching cannot help but experience the presence of the All Mighty, no matter how you identify that force in your life.
Indeed Haleakalā is a spiritual place for Native Hawaiians (kānaka maoli) who call the crater the House of the Sun. For more than 1,000 years, they have come here for meditation and to seek spiritual wisdom. As the sun’s orb appears on the horizon each morning, a Native Hawaiian offers an “oli” or a chant that basically asks for a fresh start and blessings for the day.
Within a few minutes, the crowds disperse and Haleakalā continues her day in relative solitude.
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Before your visit to Haleakalā…
Getting to Haleakalā for Sunrise
Because watching the sunrise on Haleakalā is such a popular event with visitors to Maui, it can get very crowded on top. The parking lot has space for about 150 vehicles. People had begun parking along the side of the road and walking in the dark. When you drive that winding, narrow road prior to sunrise, you’ll immediately realize why people parking and walking on the side of the road in the dark is not a good idea.
So in 2017, the National Park Service put a limit on the number of vehicles that could enter the park at sunrise. Visitors must call ahead (877-444-6777) or go online and reserve a slot at a cost of $1 per vehicle.
It’s a minor inconvenience, but certainly a necessary one to keep everyone safe and the park in its best condition.
Obviously the time the sun rises changes every day, so your call to the NPS hotline will tell you what time to be in place.
Depending on where you stay on Maui, the drive to the summit of Haleakala is going to be about two hours. We stayed in Kahalui, and it took us about 1:45. Here’s a tip: Stop and use the restroom at the visitors center at 7,000 ft. level. The headquarters will be closed before sunrise, but the bathrooms are open and the toilets flush. At the summit, you are limited to porta-potties. At least it’s cool enough to keep odors to a minimum.
Here are our suggestions for six places to eat between sunrise/sunset on Maui.
Where to Go for Sunset on Maui
Sunset on Maui is equally magnificent, but you don’t have to get up at 3:30 a.m. to enjoy it and there are a multitude of places to watch.
We had two favorite places for sunset: First is a family-friendly city park in the community of Kihei on Maui’s west coast. There’s plenty of parking, public toilets and a large grassy area to throw a blanket and chill as the sun says good-night.
McKena Beach is another fabulous destination. There’s a bit of walk from the parking lot and porta-potties are your only option, but it’s a beautiful sandy beach, actually our favorite beach on Maui.
A momma and baby humpback whale spouted a few hundred yards away.
However, for a sunset celebration that puts Key West and Mallory Square to shame, find your way on a Sunday evening to Little Beach.
Sunday Sunset Celebration At Little Beach, Maui
I gotta hand it to my husband. He had done his research and knew this was the place to be.
Find Little Beach by walking north as far as you can on McKena Beach. You’ll hit a steep hill covered in volcanic rock. But look closely and you’ll see a path up over the rocks. Important tip: don’t wear flip flops and don’t go barefoot. Wear some sort of water shoes because those rocks are killers.
When you descend on the other side, you’ll find a delightfully secluded “little beach” with a sunset celebration like no other I’ve witnessed in the Hawaiian Islands. I call it “Woodstock meets Bali Hai.”
I’m not good at estimating crowds, but it’s possible there were 500 people or so there. Perhaps 100 or more opted out of wearing anything that kept that sun’s warmth from touching their bodies.
The party had been going on long before we arrived. A bongo drum provided the sound track. Beach balls and hula hoops contributed to the energy. One vendor sold braided flower head bands, which added that Woodstock vibe. A few other vendors sold an aromatic product approved for medical purposes in Hawaii but not recreational purposes.
All five senses engage on Little Beach, inspiring a little creativity.
Bruce found his spot to capture the sunset and we waited. As the sun began to touch the Pacific, those lounging around on blankets stood at the water’s edge, all but holding their collective breaths. We all faced west, experiencing this glorious setting together.
And when the last tip of the orb had dipped below the horizon, we all cheered and applauded Mother Nature’s glory and our gift of another day to enjoy it.