Haleakala National Park – Maui’s Most Famous Attraction

Categorized as Maui Vacation Information

When I was staying in my Maui Vacation Rental the first place I wanted to visit was the summit of Halekala Volcano.

Haleakala dominates the east side of the island of Maui, and this is also the drier leeward side. Haleakala means “House of the shadow of the sun” (hale means “house,” aka means “shadow,” and la means “sun”), is it is an important location in ancient Hawaiian culture.

According to legend, Hina, who is the mother of the demigod Maui, did not have time to dry her kapa cloth, and so Hina asked her trickster son Maui to do something about the short days. Maui saw the sun appear at the top of Haleakala each morning before it raced across the sky, so he went there and waited for the sun to rise.

When the sun appeared, Maui lassoed its rays and made it agree to move more slowly across the sky.

Ancient astronomers of the Hawaiian Islands used the bowl of the summit crater somewhat like a giant sundial, and they observed the points of rising and setting of the sun that revealed to them the beginning and end of particular seasons.

According to legend, Maui went to Haleakala to seek the knowledge of ao hoku (astronomers) there, who used the movement of shadows passing over the bowl of the summit crater to study the transition of the sun.

Haleakala summit is said to have been an ancient school of astronomy, and the meaning of the traditional legend of Maui ensnaring the sun is, more literally, that he snared the knowledge of the sun, and then went on to become the most famous hookele (navigator) in all of ancient Polynesia.

Today locals consider the summit of Haleakala, which rises to 10,023 feet, the best place in the world to see the sunrise. Many visitors arrive before first light to stand in awe as the sun arrives.

The volcano is still potentially active, and in 1790 Haleakala released an estimated 22 square miles (57 sq. km) of lava. This lava totaled nearly one billion cubic feet (28,316,847 cu. m) of lava.

The lava flows reached the sea and formed the Cape Kiinau Peninsula, changing the shape of the southwest Maui coastline. An ancient proverb states, “Akaka wale o Haleakala,” (“Haleakala stands in full view.”), which was “…said of anything that is very obvious or clearly understood.”

Relatively recent lava, ash, and cinder flows have left black, gray, yellow, and red streaks across the summit crater of Haleakala. The 21-square-mile summit crater is 7 miles long and 3,000 feet deep.

Haleakala’s summit crater is a moonscape of brown, green, red, and black mineral deposits, as well as cinder cones, some of which are more than 600 feet tall. The summit area was even used by astronauts training for missions to the moon.

A unique phenomenon occurs near the peak when clouds or mist roll into the summit crater. A person standing at an overlook may find their shadow cast onto the clouds below and completely encircled by a rainbow. This phenomenon is known as akaku anuenue, which means rainbow apparition, and it is also known as the “Specter of the Brocken,” which referrs to a place in Germany where this phenomenon also occurs.

Science installations atop Haleakala include the Advanced Electro-Optical System 3.7-meter Telescope (1997); the Lunar Ranging Facility (1976/1984); the Mees Solar Observatory (1964); and the Maui Space Surveillance Site and Haleakala Observatories Projects.

After returning from the summit I checked into an awesome Maui Hotel where I relaxed and pondered my journey to the magical summit of the Maui volcano.

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