Become a Friend of Haleakala

If all you want to do on Maui is go to the beach and sip mai tais, then this post is not for you. On the other hand if you are interested in exploring the beautiful variety that Maui offers, then you have to leave the beach and the comforts of your lounge chair and adventure into the expanse that is Haleakala. Most visitors to Maui know about early morning car trips to the summit to see the fabulous sunrises from the top of the world, but Haleakala has much, much more to offer. To really experience this unique mountain, you must hike into the crater (technically an “erosional valley”). You can day hike many of Haleakala’s trails or you can backpack into the back country staying in tents or one of three wilderness cabins.

Backpacking into the Haleakala wilderness requires preparation and prior backcountry skills. You will experience extremes of temperature, weather, and rugged trails. But you will also experience incredible beauty and see things that you can only see on Haleakala, like the Silversword.

The Silversword, found only on the slopes of Haleakala.

You can certainly plan your own trip into the Haleakala wilderness, but another very good option is to volunteer some of your time and go on a service trip with a great non-profit called the Friends of Haleakala National Park.  Not only will you meet some great people (my recent trip had a combination of Maui locals who’ve been on Haleakala countless times as well as first timers from the mainland), but you’ll learn about the delicate ecosystem and other features of the wilderness from local experts, and spend some time helping preserve this unique place.

Getting oriented for field work…identifying and removing invasive weeds

Most service trips start on a Saturday and end on a Monday, so you get 2 nights in one of the wilderness cabins with the normal fee waived. The type of service performed will vary, ranging from cabin maintenance to native planting to invasive species removal. Participating in a service trip will typically allow you to see parts of the Haleakala wilderness not normally open to visitors, with travel on maintained, unmaintained, and service trails, as well as occasionally off-trail hiking to get to more isolated fields. If you aren’t able to commit anytime soon to a service trip, please consider making a donation to Friends of Haleakala to support the great work of this organization.

Beautiful flora can be found in the most unlikely of places…

Looking east to the ocean down the Ko’olau Gap from the Halemau’u trail.

Hiking through the cinder fields of Haleakala

Around Maui in a day

One thing I really love about Maui is the variety of scenery and climates as you travel around the island. I’ve posted previously about how to really enjoy the road to Hana, but if you don’t have time to spend a night or two there, you can do what thousands do every day and go there and back in your rental car for a day trip. But there is a third option to consider: a guided tour. My wife and I recently enjoyed a tour with Valley Isle Excursions and highly recommend it.*

Frankly, I was skeptical about a guided tour. And granted, there are pros and cons to it, most which you can easily guess for yourself. What I didn’t expect, however, was how much more of the scenery you can take in when you are not driving the road to Hana yourself. I was able to look all around, including behind, from the large windows and really take in the views without worrying about plunging my car into the ocean. But the biggest delight was “listening to story” from our tour guide/driver Joe. He not only was extremely knowledgeable about all of the plants and trees that we saw, but he knew the stories and meanings behind the names of the various places we passed (for example, do YOU know about the demi-god who came down as a rooster, or the “pork in the car” story?) Joe also knows where all of the good views are and the best places to stop (or not stop).

Red Sand Beach near Hana

Another benefit of the Valley Isle Excursions tour was that they actually continue on around the whole island. Past Hana and the Seven Sacred Pools (Oheo Gulch) the country opens up and changes from rainforest to arid “desert”. Some would say this south side of the island isn’t as picturesque as the rest of Maui, but I disagree. The views of this side of Haleakala are amazing. I also really enjoyed seeing the island change as we continued on throughout the day, ending up at Tedeschi Winery and then back down the road to our starting point.

Beautiful expansive views of Haleakala await those who venture to the south side of Maui

Long day? Yes. But well worth it, and a great way to sample the spectrum of delights on the island of Maui.

*Full disclosure: we were offered two complimentary tickets by the company to share our thoughts. However, the views in this post are 100% mine, and I received no compensation from Valley Isle Excursions beyond the two tickets.