We vacation quite a bit, and over time have figured out that while we love the hustle and bustle of theme parks, museums, historic landmarks, and big cities, we also all really love the chill vacations when we head out into nature.
Our annual Thanksgiving week vacation, this time to Maui, delivered the best of both worlds — activity packed days of adventuring and relaxing days by the beach and pool.
We had already gone on a Molokini snorkeling adventure, we had hiked through La Pérouse Bay, and spent a day playing in the Grand Wailea water slides and pools, and were looking for one more family adventure to round out the trip.
Rather than tackle the Road to Hana on our first family trip to Hawaii, we opted to explore the Haleakalā volcano because it would still leave us time to hit the beach. Plus, Brian and I wanted to pit stop at the Maui Wine tasting room on the way back down the volcano and try some of their famous pineapple wine that my friend Chris Lema had recommended.
Luckily Haleakalā National Park is open year-round, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and it only costs $10/car to enter the park, so we could go anytime we wanted.
Haleakalā National Park
East Maui is made of one volcano — Haleakalā, which means house of the sun in Hawaiian.
The name Haleakalā comes from a Hawaiian legend. According to Maui Guidebook, the goddess Hina complained to her son Maui that the sun moved across the sky too fast for her tapa cloth to dry. The next morning before sunrise, Maui went to the top of Haleakalā and waited in hiding. When the Sun awoke, Maui lassoed him, and beat him into submission. He then made the Sun an offer he couldn’t refuse: he would let the Sun go, but in return the Sun would have to cross the sky more slowly from that day forward. The Sun agreed, Maui released him, and we’re now blessed with long sunny days!
While in Hawaii, we stayed at the stunning, and newly renovated Grand Wailea on the southern shore of Maui, and while the hotel is at the base of Haleakalā, there is no direct way to get to it, without going almost all the way around it!
The drive just to the bottom of Haleakalā was going to be about an hour long, and the 37 mile drive to the summit was going to take at least as long, so we got up early, grabbed some snacks, made a quick pit stop at The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf (I love their little ice cubes), and were on our way.
The Drive Up Haleakalā Is Stunning
I tend to get car-sick easily, so I was a bit nervous about the twisty, Haleakalā Crater Road. According to Frommer’s, it is one of the fastest-ascending roads in the world with at least 33 switchbacks.
Luckily we were driving so slow that I barely even noticed the twists and turns. There are also several of scenic turnouts to stop and check out the beautiful views and bright rainbows — and of course, take photos as you climb higher and higher up to the summit.
Checking out Haleakalā National Park was a last minute adventure we didn’t prepare well for.
We had snacks and water, and we each grabbed a sweatshirt, but we didn’t have super warm clothes. To be honest, it was hot and sunny at the hotel and we just didn’t think about it. We had heard that it gets really cold at the top — mostly from people who drive to the top to see the sunrise or sunset — and because we were going in the middle of the day, we didn’t worry too much about it.
Ouch. Literally. It’s a good idea to make sure everyone in your family wears pants and has sweatshirts or jackets, hats, and even gloves.
As we climbed higher in elevation, not only did the terrain drastically change from a lush tropical valley to a barren red desert, it also slowly got colder and colder. Each time we pulled over and got out of the car to check out the sights, our pit stops got shorter and shorter.
We were driving in and out of clouds. If you get out of the car inside a big, puffy cloud, you can feel tiny drops of moisture hit your face, the misty air all around you feels wet, and your clothes begin to feel damp. The kids were amazed, and we had lots of science talk on the ride to the summit.
The Haleakalā Summit
Once we got to the summit area of Haleakalā National Park — which has over 30 miles of trails, ranging from quick 10 minute hikes to long, multi-day, backpacking and camping trips — we went straight to the Puu Ulaula Overlook — the highest point on the island of Maui.
At 10,023 feet above sea level, the Haleakalā summit is the third-highest point in the state of Hawaii. It is freezing at the summit, even in the middle of the day, in the sun. My hands were so cold that they began to hurt. I could barely hold my phone for a photo!
While at the Puu Ulaula Overlook, we also got to see the Haleakalā Observatory, also referred to as “Science City.” This was a highlight of the drive, as both of my kids love science, especially Natalie who loves everything about space and has her own telescope for star gazing. With a bit of Googling, we learned that the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy has managed this site for over 4 decades as a location for conducting dedicated astrophysical experiments.
Before the clouds rolled in, we were also able to see other Hawaiian islands, including the big island of Hawaii and it’s volcanic peaks, Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. I was surprised to learn that with more than 4,000 square miles, Hawaii is almost twice the size of all other Hawaiian islands combined!
Haleakalā Visitor Center
Next, we headed over to the Haleakalā Visitor Center. Open daily from sunrise to 3:00pm, it provides a panoramic view of the red, desert-like, volcanic landscape, as well as exhibits showcasing the history, ecology, geology, and volcanology of the Haleakalā National Park. Rangers are on hand to answer questions and to give science-focused talks and lessons, and there are clean restrooms. (Hooray!)
In the planters, you can see the rare Haleakalā Silversword, which only lives at the summit of Haleakalā. The Silversword lives 15-50 years and blooms only once before dying, with a stalk of flowers that can get as tall as a person.
At the Visitor Center, we did the 0.4 mile Pa Ka’oao hike (White Hill Trail), which climbs to the top of a volcanic cinder cone for views of the Haleakalā Wilderness Area. Even though it was cold, the clouds came in and completed surrounded us, and we couldn’t see much, the hike was still fun. I had never been inside such thick clouds before.
Tips For Visiting Haleakalā National Park
After visiting this National Park on a whim, I know this isn’t going to be the only time we visit the park. I definitely want to go back again to see a sunrise or sunset, to do some more light hiking, and to see the crater area when it’s not completely covered with clouds.
If you’re planning on visiting Haleakalā National Park, here are some tips to help you and your family have the best day possible:
- If you have kids, don’t plan on doing long hikes. The air is thinner at the high elevation, so it is harder to breathe. This means your kids will tired faster, and we all know that when they are tired, they start complaining.
- Make sure everyone in the family wears warm pants, shoes and socks, and brings plenty of layers, including a warm jacket, a hat, and even gloves. It’s better to have it and not need it, than practically freeze to death.
- There are no restaurants of any kind, other than the ranger stations and Visitor Center, so be sure to bring your own food and water.
- Fill up your gas tank in advance. The closest gas station to the National Park is 27 miles below the summit at Pukalani.
- Make everyone wear sunscreen. There is less atmosphere at the summit, so the UV rays are stronger and harsher than at the beach.
- Check the weather in advance and bring rain gear if necessary.
- Stop at all of the look outs and vista points. Not only are the views are simply spectacular, but it gives the kids a chance to get out and wiggle around.
Oh, and if you really want to make the drive to the Haleakalā summit even more fun for the whole family, get each of your kids a bag of chips — but tell them they can’t open the bags and eat them until the drive back down.
Your kids will have a blast, just like mine did, watching the bags of chips fill up with air and expand as we drove higher and higher in elevation, until eventually one of them popped open!
The anticipation of the final pop kept them busy for the whole ride.
Maui Wine Tasting
On the way down Haleakalā back to the Grand Wailea, we took a short detour to check out Maui’s Winery, Maui Wine (formerly Tedeschi Vineyards). We had heard about the winery from some friends who highly recommended we stop in and try their pineapple wines.
The drive out to the winery was gorgeous. There really aren’t any signs along the road though, so we had no idea just how far we had to go! At an elevation of about 2,000 feet above sea level, the drive was worth it though for the views and the glimpse into Maui’s upcountry.
It was pretty late in the afternoon, and we had already missed the guided tours of the historic estate, production area, and wine cellar, so we first walked around the manicured grounds by ourselves. The kids loved the carved tree trunks and the benches under the enormous 100 year old trees. They were pretty tired from our Haleakalā adventure and getting up early, so they found a comfy bench and relaxed while Brian and I headed inside King’s Cottage for some wine tasting — thank goodness we have such well behaved kiddos!
According to Maui Wine, King’s Cottage was built for the visits of King Kalākaua, the last reigning king of Hawai’i, who would come to the slopes of ‘Ulupalakua to relax, entertain, and enjoy a little royal vacation time. In the cottage we found the Maui Wine store, some historic memorabilia and artifacts, and the tasting room which features an 18 foot bar, crafted from a single piece of solid mango wood — it is gorgeous.
Maui Wine offers a complimentary wine tasting that includes a wide selection of locally made wines. We each got to choose three wines to taste and of course we both chose to sample the three pineapple wines:
- Crisp, dry Maui Blanc
- Sweet, fruity Maui Splash
- Hula O Maui, a pineapple sparkling wine with a hint of lemon
The Maui Splash was our favorite! Next time, I’d love to take a tour of the grounds!
Boom. Another family adventure in the bag!
What About You?
Have you visited Maui Wine? Have you been to Haleakalā National Park? What did you think? Did you get to see the crater or go for any hikes? Any tips for us for the the next time we go?
I’d love to hear from you!