5 years later, I’m still dreaming about the volcanic crater I saw 4 times on my first trip to Hawaii

5 years later, I’m still dreaming about the volcanic crater I saw 4 times on my first trip to Hawaii

In 2016, my partner and our friends visited the Haleakala crater four times in the span of 5 days during our short stay in Maui, Hawaii. We had originally only allocated Haleakala for half a day.

The crazy thing is, five years later, I’m STILL thinking about the place. I feel like I’m pining after a grade-school unrequited love YEARS after moving countries and cutting off all social ties with said unrequited love.

I’ll see a sale banner with flights to Hawaii, and my mind immediately goes “oh, perhaps I can visit Haleakala again!”

I see my friends tag Hawaii on their vacation photos and I immediately catch myself typing “Hey! Did you visit Haleakala Crater? You’ve GOT to visit that place!”

My partner’s friend was going to have a destination wedding in Maui (didn’t pan out thanks to COVID) and I immediately went “YES! Let’s BOOK EXTRA DAYS AND GO BACK TO HALEAKALA”

Haleakala Crater, I can’t get you out of my head.

If you were to interview someone with rose-tinted glasses on, it would probably sound exactly like how I’d sing praises about Haleakala.

Today’s post style is slightly different (I needed a break from writing thorough itineraries and this was such a fun piece to write) Please enjoy my interview-style love story / travel story of how we visited Halekala four times in five days!


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Q: How’d you and Haleakala Crater meet?

A: I needed to kill time, and our eyes kind of just.. met

The very first day I landed in Hawaii, I was with my partner, Angelo, and my friend, Kent. We were waiting for our other friends to arrive at the airport – but they weren’t arriving for another few hours. So we had a lot of time to kill.

Haleakala was already pencilled into our itinerary in the upcoming days as a ‘hiking day’. But as the first group to arrive, we decided that the best thing to do with our time was to scout the park and pre-plan our upcoming hiking day.

To be honest – I was just expecting us to figure out logistical details like:

  • the route from our home to the place
  • the parking costs, and maybe
  • figure out initial trail heads for our upcoming hike

I honestly didn’t think it would end up the way it did.

You know that moment when you first realize that you mayyyyybeee have a crush on someone? Something about them happens to catch your eye? Then wham bam! Your heart skips a beat!? And before you know it, it’s become a full blown love? That was us on that fateful day as drove up to the crater.

We made it exactly halfway up the crater before I fell under the crater’s love spell.

Greenery on your way up to Halekala
About to enter the clouds on our drive up to Haleakala

As we drove to the summit, we came across an abundance of ‘winding road’ signs. Within the first 1.5 hours, we had seen so many signs that we started dubbing every upcoming winding road and sign on our path as the ‘sexy roads’. We even created a sexy road chant too. But I’ll save you and I the cringe embarrassment and not recite it out loud.

As we continued our climb, we passed through a plethora of flora and fauna that kept changing as we climbed higher and higher. Each winding bend transformed into a bend of anticipation and admiration. What’s going to come up next? Cows? New trees? New plants? The ‘sexy roads’ had transformed into ‘stimulating roads’ with all the changes we experienced.

Eventually, we drove so high up that we started driving within the clouds. For 10-15 minutes, we drove in foggy silence and at the moment we broke free of the cloud cover past 8,800 ft, I fell in love with the crater hard.

It was my first time breaking through the cloud cover on land. And let me tell you, it is NOT the same as breaking through the clouds on a plane.

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How can I accurately describe my initial overwhelming feeling of shock, awe, utter, speechless joy? How do I translate the admiration and gratitude I felt to have had the opportunity to experience this in Hawaii into comprehensible words? I really can’t. Even if you gave me another 5 years to think about it, I don’t think I could.

We didn’t even make it to the rest area before we were compelled to pull off the side of the road. Like a moth drawn to a flame, we were driven to stop the car and stand in rapture on the crater’s slope and just… stare.

Everything beyond the slope was white. Fluffy, soft, billowing clouds stretching on to eternity. My legs turned wobbly. No, not from the fear of heights (8,800 ft above the ground), but from the humbling awesomeness and almost alien experience of literally standing above the clouds.

Haleakala’s peak still towered high above us, clothed in an ever-shifting skirt of clouds stretching infinitely far.

Eventually, we had to physically take turns dragging each other to the car to continue our ascent

“How would it look if we went even higher?” was my next thought after the excitement and awe finally ebbed away. To satisfy our curiosity, we continued our ascent up to the peak. Another 45 minutes later and we were there.

via GIPHY

“Oh my. You’re just so beautiful.” Bright. Glistening. Everything was just so sunny. There were no clouds blocking the sun’s rays, no building blocking the vast swaths of clouds.

Simply put. Positive energy.

There was no angle, not even upside down and between your legs, where the view at Haleakala’s summit was subpar. Everything was just… GORGEOUS.

What started as a simple logistical scouting session turned into a full blow half-day stay at the crater.

We ended up staying at the peak to watch the sunset. To say the sunset experience was out of this world is an understatement. Here we are at the peak of a volcanic crater, thousands of feet above the clouds, watching the sun sink down into the clouds. The sun’s rays spread out like water-colored tendrils on an empty canvas that was the clouds.

Sunset atop Haleakala's summit

The best part? Realizing that if we drove down the crater, we could follow the sunset down.

Let’s re-read that again. You can follow the sunset down. We could literally follow the sunset by driving down the mountain, head to a beach somewhere on Maui and continue watching it dip below the horizon. I cannot stress this enough – how cool is that?

Q: Sounds like you had a really good first impression of Haleakala! However, I heard that the crater can be pretty cold[hearted] and can literally take your breath away. How’d you feel on your subsequent dates?

A: Who doesn’t want their breath taken away? Besides, the cold never bothered me anyway (that is a blatant lie).

When you’re in love. You’re simply in love. Everything ‘bad’ about the person or thing you’re in love with, just becomes a challenge to overcome. (See the rose-colored tinted glasses?) No matter how tough things get, there is simply no bad date when you’re in the honeymoon phase. Anything and everything is simply an ✨opportunity✨ to bond together.

On our second date, it rained, yet Haleakala’s peak still shone brilliantly.

For my second visit to Haleakala, we headed up the peak as a full 5-person group. When we picked up our remaining friends we literally could not stop hyping up our experience. We chatted incessantly about the crater. How the roads curved, how we saw cows on our way up, how we drove and broke free of the clouds, and how the sun set below the clouds.

We drove up the same sexy road, snaking up to the peak. This time though, it rained on our way up. The roads were more slippery and parts of the gravel road turned to mud. But again, it was just another ✨opportunity✨ to bond and fall in love with the crater.

As it rained, we continued to drive up and up. I have never driven through a cloud of rain before so I was so excited to see what it’d be like. Flown through a rain cloud? Yes? But it happened so fast and I’m normally asleep on planes as soon as I sit down… so I wouldn’t even know what would happen!

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Would it hail? Would it just be a fog? I just *had* to find out. As we reached the cloud cover, the rain disappeared and made way to a thick fog.

I was visibly delighted with the results. No rain in the rain clouds? But fog? Excellent discovery!! Another reason to love Haleakala – it’s never raining once you pass through the clouds! At this point there’s literally nothing bad to say about the volcanic crater – just nothing at all.

I held my breath in giddy excitement as crossed through the cloud cover. I heard the sharp intake of breaths in the car and did a mental victory dance. My other friends had also fallen under Haleakala’s spell.

When a landmark takes your breath away – it can mean multiple things

Woman holding arms outstretched the fight the wind atop Haleakala

After enjoying the view of the peak, we descended into the crater for a short hike and exploration. The hike brought another facet of the crater to life.

The drive and the summit might make you fall in love with the view, but the hike? It makes you fall in love with the place.

Charismatic Haleakala silverswords peppers the otherwise rocky and secluded landscape. There was not another soul in sight but our group walking down the slopes. It’s a silent landscape and all you can hear is the gravel and rocks shifting under your feet. No mosquitos, no humidity. Just dry and sunny trails and the brisk wind through your hair.

Oh Haleakala, how can you take my breath away so many times in such a short amount of time? I’m dizzy with excitement. My breathing’s labored. I’m all hot and bothered. My heart’s pounding so hard for you too – oh wait did someone say it’s because of the high elevation? No way. It’s all just symptoms of a girl in love with a mountain. I’m totally not struggling to breathe 10,000 ft above the ground. That’s definitely not it. (yes it was. My sedentary body was getting the best of me)

5 years later, I'm still dreaming about the volcanic crater I saw 4 times on my first trip to Hawaii How do you accidentally visit a volcanic crater FOUR times in 5 days on your first trip to Hawaii? An interview-style love story to the ever beautiful Haleakala crater.
Not pictured – how much I’m struggling to climb out of the crater

Then of course, after we caught our breath, we watched the sun set again like the poor infatuated souls that we were.

Q: So was it actually… cold on the summit?

A: Well yes, but you’ll forget it about – Haleakala’s great like that.

5 years later, I'm still dreaming about the volcanic crater I saw 4 times on my first trip to Hawaii How do you accidentally visit a volcanic crater FOUR times in 5 days on your first trip to Hawaii? An interview-style love story to the ever beautiful Haleakala crater.
The cold 100% bothered us

Was it cold at the peak? Sure! Does the wind try to blow the clothes off your body? Well yes!

But just throw on all the clothes you brought with you and you’ll be fine! You’ll hardly notice the cold seeping into your butt as you admire the views anyway. (that’s a lie – you will feel it but if your passion burns as brilliantly as mine does, it’ll push you to find creative ways to manage the cold)

Besides if you’re just coming to the crater on a sunny day, or even during the sunset, – with the sun out you won’t even notice the chill. (again that’s a lie the wind chill is very real here)

What’s even more worth it? Enduring the cold for the Perseid Meteor shower in the middle of the night or watching the sunrise! By then you’ll think the cold is a worthy price to pay for a once in a lifetime experience.

Q: Oh you watched the sun rise AND watched the Perseid Meteor shower too? Tell us all about it!

A: Honestly words really don’t do this part justice. You really need to see it to believe it.

Regarding the sunrise – I think Mark Twain summarizes it best.

It is the sublimest spectacle I ever witnessed.

Mark Twain – Sunrises at Haleakala Crater

At this point I think we can thoroughly admit that we were truly beyond infatuated with Halakeala. We were so besotted with the crater that viewing it in the afternoon and watching the sunset was simply not enough. We were greedy and wanted to see MORE.

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On our third date, I met Haleakala in the middle of the night

What other angles did the crater have? How many more facets have we yet to admire? Was the sunrise or the sunset better? What about the night sky? So again, we summited the volcano for a third time – this time at 1:30 AM. That’s it a third time was enough to satisfy our cravings.

Night sky taken from Haleakala

But yet again, the crater bestowed upon us with another great and unexpected gift. The clearest, darkest sky I had ever laid eyes on. The dark depths are illuminated by a million, trillion stars twinkling in the night sky. In one swift motion, Haleakala slayed my heart again. A secret night show just for us. Meteors showered the sky left, right, and center. Two or three at time. Every second it showered light streaks across the sky.

5 years later, I'm still dreaming about the volcanic crater I saw 4 times on my first trip to Hawaii How do you accidentally visit a volcanic crater FOUR times in 5 days on your first trip to Hawaii? An interview-style love story to the ever beautiful Haleakala crater.
Our best attempt to capture the meteor shower

That night we didn’t even make it to the summit. Parked at the closest rest area just past the cloud covers, we stood in triple-layered t-shirts under the house blanket we took from the AirBnbnb – huddled together with our necks craned up. Like owls, our eyes wide and necks whipping back and forth to catch each shower as it passed by. We didn’t know it at the time, but we fortuitously happened to book our Hawaii trip during the Perseid’s Meteor shower in August and we had the best view in the world.

Our fourth – the most beautiful moment happened

We stood huddled and rooted together like that until dawn. By then it was too late to drive to the summit to view the sunrise. So again, we made the decision to visit Halakeala again the very next night.

By then our bodies were screaming at us for sleep. Our sleep-deprived bodies stretched our physical limits. Surf by day, hike in the afternoon, sightsee in the evening and drive to the summit at night. No one ever told us how fatigued we would be. But our quest to answer which was better – sunrise or sunset? would have no mercy on our sleep-deprived bodies.

5 years later, I'm still dreaming about the volcanic crater I saw 4 times on my first trip to Hawaii How do you accidentally visit a volcanic crater FOUR times in 5 days on your first trip to Hawaii? An interview-style love story to the ever beautiful Haleakala crater.
A bit frozen but all smiles seeing the sun rise

Nobody told us how difficult it would be to drive up and down a crater after hours of being awake. With less than 2 hours of sleep in a 48 hour window, we pushed to see the sunrise. Sitting huddled on the barren rock, mostly asleep and partially frozen we finally. FINALLY saw the sunrise above the clouds atop Haleakala’s summit. It only took four visits to satisfy our cravings, to drink our fill.

We had finally answered all our questions and saw as much of the crater as our physical bodies could. After we made it home that morning, I think the 5 us collapsed and slept the rest of the day away, foregoing parts of our vacation itinerary for much needed sleep.

The sunrise was indeed better than the sunset. But alas! We didn’t bother taking a picture of its beauty 🙁

Parting words to my first volcanic crater love.

Halakeala, I’m coming back for you. You might have moved on from me, enamoring the thousands others who have summited your peak. I’ve gone on to watch sunrises on other volcanic craters, but you’re my first and most treasured love. No other place has compelled me to visit them so many times in one trip.

You inspire me with your multi-faceted offerings. I want to see more of you in the future. Five years later and I still can’t get enough of those silverswords on your vast plains, your splendid sunrises, and your vast open night sky. I can’t help but think about you still. Sometimes, I’ll just flip through photos of us together, and sigh. We really should see each other again sometime soon.


Have you ever visited somewhere that moved and inspired you? Do you also have a place that you can’t get out of your head after visiting it? What about it was so magical? Let me know in the comments below!

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Maria is the founder of SYDE Road, a blog about adventure and often-times dog-friendly traveling. She loves researching and planning for trips and is the 'project manager' for many of the small group adventures documented on this blog. She believes that while it is always best to go into a trip with a plan, the best planned trips are always the ones that have time built-in to explore and get a bit lost. Her itineraries are detailed with safety hints and tips, but are also peppered with unique travel stories and experiences that are the result of free time, getting lost, or stepping off the main trails. She aims to inspire others and give people the confidence to travel the world and get a bit sidetracked!

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