Most cruise ships that call at Hawaiian ports stop on the island of Maui in Kahului or Lahaina. Like each of the other Hawaiian Islands, it has its own magic. If your time on Maui is limited, one of the best shore excursions is to travel to the top of Haleakala. It is the giant volcano that peaks at over 10,000 feet and looms over Maui.
Making the Trip
Haleakala is the world's largest dormant volcano, having last erupted in the 1790s. This National Park is 33 miles wide and 24 miles long, and the main crater is 7.5 miles long and 2.5 miles wide. It is big enough to hold a city! You will need to allow at least a half day to make the trip. You can either book a shore excursion or get a rental car to make your way to the summit. If you decide to drive, be prepared for a long and winding road up to the top (and back down).
It is best to get an early start because the sunrise is often spectacular and clouds usually roll in as the day lengthens. Don't forget to take a jacket—it gets cold almost 2 miles up! You'll have to get up very early (2:30 am or so) to make the sunrise, but it's worth it. If you have come from the east coast of the United States, this is equivalent to 7:30 or 8:30 am, depending on the time of year. That sounds a lot better, doesn't it?
What to See on Your Way There
The drive to the summit of the Haleakala volcano is special in itself. The 37-mile long road snakes from sea level to the summit, passing through all types of climate and flora until you reach the tundra-like conditions at the top. This road is the only one in the world that rises over 10,000 feet in such a short distance. Driving to the crater's rim is like going through a botanist's dream. As you start upward, you'll pass forests of flowers, cactus, and eucalyptus. Protea, a major commercial crop for Hawaii, grows well in the mountain soil, and you'll see protea farms along the way.
Next come the pasture lands of the Maui ranches filled with horses and cattle. Finally, you'll reach the entrance to the Haleakala National Park at 6,700 feet above sea level. From there, you will want to stop at the park headquarters for maps and other useful information before going on up to the Haleakala Observatory Visitors Center on the edge of the crater.
Why it's Worth it
The view from the crater rim is otherworldly, and the browns, reds, grays, and other colors are magnificent. As the day progresses, the color of the rust-colored cinder cones is constantly changing as the sun moves across it. Many people feel that sunrise over Haleakala is a unique, soul-lifting experience. If the day stays cloudless, the afternoon crater takes on a muted color as the sun begins to set. Even if you can't drag yourself up there at dawn or if the clouds roll in, the volcano is well worth the effort, no matter what time of day.
The scene is definitely moon-like in appearance. On a clear day, you can almost see forever as you look over the vast Pacific spread beneath the majesty of the volcano. The day we were there, you could easily see the magnificent Mauna Kea volcano on the big island of Hawaii over 100 miles to the southeast.
When you leave the crater's edge and start back down the volcano, be sure to stop at the Kalahaku lookout. There you will get a great view of the crater on one side and of western Maui on the other. You might also see the wonderful silversword plant. This botanical rarity can only grow on lava rock at high altitudes. Therefore, its range is limited to Haleakala and the high volcanic areas on the big island of Hawaii. These low, porcupine-looking cousins of the sunflower often grow for 20 years before shooting up tall stalks when they are ready to bloom.
If you are lucky enough to be on Haleakala between June and October, you may see the tower of pink and lavender flowers perched precariously atop the sword-like leaves. After this one-time blooming spectacular, the plants die and then scatter their seeds into the volcanic cinders.
Another rarity you might see in the park is a NeNe bird. This is the state bird of Hawaii and is a cousin to the Canadian goose. The NeNes are an endangered species and protected.
There are several cruise options for those wanting to visit Hawaii. Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) has ships sailing roundtrip from Honolulu on seven-day voyages year round. NCL is the only cruise line that sails Hawaii without having to add a foreign port. Several other cruise lines include Hawaii on trips from California/Mexico to Alaska or vice versa. These spring or fall cruises are featured on Celebrity, Princess, Holland America, Carnival, and Royal Caribbean.