National Park Number: 12 of 59
We ended up in Hawaii sooner than we thought—David's family planned a vacation there and we wanted to join them, especially because we discovered that flights from Anchorage to Hawaii are super reasonable compared to flying there from the lower 48. We flew to Maui a week before the family arrived so we could check out—and check off—Haleakala National Park.
We arrived at the heinous hour of 6:30 a.m. and after running a few errands (notably, replacing a smashed phone that got run over by a car on our way out of Anchorage), headed for Kapalua Beach.
And oh, what a beach! There is nothing NOTHING better—nothing in the whole world—than the beach. This one was particularly ideal, with calm, shallow water perfect for the kids, clear blue as far as the eye could see. It was scrumptious and we had to tear ourselves away so we could get up to our campground in the national park before dark.
There are two sections of Haleakala NP, the summit area and the Kipahulu area on the coast. We spent our first few days in the summit area and camped at Hosmer Grove, a few miles below the summit on the park road. The camping is free here, first-come, first-served, and the stargazing was absolutely incredible. I got to see those stars many times our first night, because I had some kind of stomach bug and spent the night sprinting between our tent and the bathroom. The least pleasant part of this ordeal was that, sitting at almost 7000 ft., Hosmer Grove can get seriously cold after dark.
On the bright side, I was semi-acclimated (or at least braced) and wide awake for our pre-dawn drive to the summit to watch the sunrise over Haleakala’s crater, an experience so sought-after that the park was recently forced to start issuing permits because there were so many parking issues (though I don’t think the permits are particularly hard to nab yet.) The summit was freezing, but the view was incredible, and we thought the crowds actually made it more fun—we love a solitary nature experience as much as the next guys, but we also won’t say no to a little pre-dawn party on top of a volcano. We’re not monsters, after all.
After sunrise, we headed down the mountain a bit for a restorative brunch in Kula and some hard car naps. By noon, we were mostly recovered and drove back to the summit for a hike.
The main trail in this section of Haleakala is Sliding Sands, which runs 11 miles into the valley of the volcano, past cinder cones and silversword stands and packs of scurrying nenes (the elusive Hawaiian goose!). We descended 3 miles, crunching over chunks of ancient lava, then climbed back out—slowly, both because we have two babies and because David and I are babies when it comes to serious elevation gain. But also because the views on this trail are seriously unbeatable; hiking around inside a volcano is one of the coolest things I’ve ever done.
These silverswords aren't at their peak, but they were actually the reason for the park's formation! This is the only place on earth they exist. Incredible.
We ended our hike right before sunset, and having seen both sunrise and sunset from the summit, I’ve got to say that you really can’t go wrong with either one. If you’re planning a visit here and can’t get a permit or can’t get out of bed, console yourself with some evening views—the sun doesn't set over the crater, but it’s still a stunning sight.
After another night of glorious stargazing (and no more throwing up! Hurrah!) and another sunrise, we headed toward Kihei, where we’d found a last-minute deal on a hotel room (HotelTonight app for the win!). I don’t mean to be a weanie, but camping with kids can be tough—after several nights in a tent, breaking things up with a hotel is clutch. This one had the added bonus of being near Ululani’s Shave Ice, a purveyor of such ridiculously delectable cones that there is a constant line of people waiting to order, from opening to closing. They really were the best shave ice I’ve ever had; they make their syrups from fresh local fruit and the ice cream they put on the bottom (Roselani’s) is mouth-boggling. After shave ice, we played at the beach and then at the pool, where Graham flagged down a poolside waitress and ordered himself a salad for dinner. I like that kid so much.
The next day we drove the road to Hana, the much-storied, hairpin-turn-filled road that has repeatedly been named the most scenic drive in the world. It wasn't our Favorite Drive Ever, maybe because the kids were not having it, maybe because the already narrow road was lined with parked cars and people blocking traffic to get photos. No shade on Hana—the switchbacking drive is fun and the views are gorgeous. It could very well be that we just need to tune into the spirit of aloha more fully.
Which we got a chance to do at our campsite for the night, Wai’anapanapa State Park. The campground here lies a flight of stairs up from a beautiful black sand beach, and because intermittent rainstorms kept driving people away, we had this place to ourselves most times we visited while staying here. The camping was good and the views were bonkers, plus David got some shots of the moon rising over the ocean from right outside our tent that look like a still from a Disney movie.
A few miles down the road from Hana is the coastal part of Haleakala, the Kipahulu area. We spent a day here hiking through bamboo forest to Waimoku Falls, checking out the descending stone basins of Oheo Gulch (normally the cascading waters of Oheo Gulch, but it was mostly dry during our visit), and chatting with the top-notch park ranger who spends his days constructing crowns and birds from coconut leaves and handing them out to children. The whole thing was fantastic.
Our hike to the falls took us past this enormous banyan tree; when we arrived, we found a guy blatantly carving his name in one of the branches. We're not normally into confronting strangers about their behavior, but walking up to this tree and hearing a pocketknife hacking at it was just shocking enough that we couldn't hold our tongues—David and I just went bananas on him. Or maybe bananas conveys too strong a confrontation; it was civil, but we were super peeved. A bunch of other hikers chimed in some "amens" and the guy was driven away, tail between his legs (I think, I hope). At the risk of sounding self-righteous, how is it that people can see something ancient and breathtaking and wonderful like this and their main response is to put their name on it? What is that impulse? Hubris? Lack of imagination? I really don't get it.
The best part of hiking through this bamboo forest was the sounds; when we held still, we could hear the creaking and clacking of thousands of trunks swaying, rocking, knocking into each other. Graham was very disappointed that we didn't see any pandas.
On our way back, we stopped at Koki beach, a gorgeous red-sand cove with steady crumbling waves. The eastern side of Maui is cooler and wetter than the west, and we found the beaches to be incredibly low-key and relaxing.
I think I need to live in Hawaii. I am wild about the laid-back island culture, probably because I'm awful at actually being laid-back. I have zero cool about almost everything (barring my kids; I'll give myself some credit there because I can handle a lot of shenanigans from those critters without batting an eye). I had visions of road-life shaping me into a carefree creature, of putting the kids to bed in the bus and spending the evening sitting by a fire outside with David, looking at the stars and singing Kumbaya. The reality is that our trip has been super fast-paced as we try to see as many parks as possible in-season, and this blogging/social media thing takes up an embarrassing amount of time for us, so that we're rarely in bed before 2 or 3 a.m. We are very happy, but very, very busy, much busier than we ever were in New York, and while we're working on defining a more humane schedule for ourselves, I'm also realizing that a venture like this might just be more work in the end than I had envisioned. So maybe the only thing I can change is my own approach—and I'm pretty sure if someone would donate to us a little house in Hawaii, I could make a devoted study of the locals until I, too, was practiced in the art of aloha and could live my life and get my work done without stressing so much over every dang thing.
So if you have a house you'd like to donate, give us a shout. My blood pressure and I will love you forever.