illuminating excursion top Maui Haleakala

It’s a rare shore excursion that starts at 2:45 a.m., and for a while, I wasn’t at all sure the early reveille was worth it.

About 50 of us gathered bleary-eyed on a pier in Kahului, on the Hawaiian island of Maui, where the Norwegian Cruise Line ship Pride of America was docked. At that hour, the majority of our fellow passengers were peacefully dozing.

We were the fools who had signed up for a sunrise visit to the dominant geological feature on Maui, the 10,000-foot peak of the Haleakala volcano.

The $119 excursion seemed like a good idea at the time I signed up, and there were plenty of rave reviews online. 

But from the pier it is a 36-mile slog of uphill switchbacks in the dark to ascend to the Haleakala Visitors Center on the precipice of the dormant volcano’s crater. A chatty tour guide torpedoed any thought of slumber on the way.

Our bus was one of the first to arrive in the parking lot. That gave us the pick of prime viewing spots, but it also meant we were in place by 4:30, a good hour and a half before sunrise.

A half-moon shone, and the stars overhead were vivid, but there was nothing to do but wait for the sun to come up. There’s no cellphone service, no board games, no place to go but the restroom.

The other thing to know about coming to the rim of Haleakala is that despite being in Hawaii, it is cold up there. The tour briefing warns that it can get as low as 20 degrees. Although it was not that cold on my visit, it was not bathing suit weather.

I had worn a polo shirt and two medium-weight jackets, and I was still cold within minutes of arrival. So my advice would be to err on the side of warmth. There’s no shame in bringing a hat, gloves and a scarf. You will likely be glad you did.

Slowly, slowly, the predawn light emerged along the horizon. Light leaked across the night sky, until the glow took on a distinct pink, and the inky color of the sky started to turn aqua.

That was what was worth getting up for. To see the abject darkness yield to the light of day was to see a pointed demonstration of the hope that dawn brings and the gift that each new day represents.

By 6:08, we could see the burning orange orb of the sun poking through the layer of clouds below us. Shortly after official sunrise, it emerged above the clouds, and we had our reward for standing in the dark for so long.

After a last round of photos, we headed back to the bus to scarf down warm coffee and Danish and congratulate ourselves on having seen the sunrise from the top of Maui.

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