And you can rent (in advance of going up) a bike and do a ~22mile downhill decent from the peak to the water's edge. What a blast!
Cruise down the some 10,000 ft vertical, over ~22 miles of road and some ~33 switchbacks. All of the road is down hill except for a 2 mile stretch.
You'll want a specialized bike for this. Standard rubber brakes will melt and go soft from the constant braking. The local retail shops will have bikes with scooter brakes or heavy disk brakes.
UPDATE - On my most recent return I have learned that no more outfitters are offering this due to increases in car traffic and liability issues. If you are still interested, you can ride your own bike provided you have disk brakes.
Up at the top, we went to the visitor's center and there were models of the volcano so I could see the road that we just were on (and which we would have to go back down). I took pictures of the volcano models. Then outside the ranger had a clipboard with various kinds of volcanic rock for us to identify (photo2)
Almost every national park has a really informative Visitor's Center. It pays to visit the center to find out about the park.
Actually this park has three visitor's centers. All are open daily year round, subject to staff availability. I have only been to the two at the top of the mountain
7:00 am to 4:00 pm
One mile from the park entrance at 7,000' elevation. Driving time from the resort areas of Kihei and Ka'anapali is about two hours. Restrooms, public telephone, picnic area, Hawaii Natural History Assoc sales area. Backcountry camping/ cabin permit station. NO FOOD or GAS available.
Haleakala Visitor Center
Sunrise to 3:00 pm
Near the summit of Haleakala, 9,700' elevation. Ten miles from the park entrance off the Park Road. Interpretive exhibits on the natural, geologic and cultural heritage of Haleakala. Restrooms, Hawaii Natural History Assoc sales area. NO Public phones, NO Food or Gas available.
The Kipahula Visitor Center is not connected to the other two locations by road. To get to this one take Hwy 36 to 360 (the Hana Hwy) to 31. Open 9:00 am to 5:00 pm
It is on the Kipahulu coast near the pools of 'Ohe'o (sea level). Restrooms, public telephone, picnic tables. Hawaii Natural History Assoc sales area. Backcountry camping permit station. Exhibits on the Cultural and Natural Heritage of Kipahulu. Front country camping available. NO Drinking water, Food or Gas Available
The ship offered a sunrise visit to the volcano crater at Pu'u Ula Ula (Red Hill), the pinnacle of Haleakala, at 10,023 feet. Continental breakfast is served, prior to sunrise. The pick-up time is at 3:30 am.
There is an observatory up here (not open to visitors) because the air is very clear up here so another activity that is possible is to come up here to see the stars. The visual horizon in many places in the Summit area is up to 115 miles out to sea which means you can look over to the volcanoes on the Big Island.
The National Park website says:
With world-class night sky conditions, Haleakala also offers one of the most easily accessible places to watch planets, stars and moons after dark. Rent a pair of 10x50 or 7x50 binoculars at one of the island dive shops, pick up a star map at the Park Headquarters Visitor Center or the Haleakala Visitor Center, and see if you can find the moons of Jupiter.
Endemic means the plant grows nowhere else in the world. The bus driver reminded us that even walking on the area around the plant might kill it. They have wide shallow root systems which can be damaged by walking on them. Silverswords were being destroyed by non-native goats, sheep cattle and pigs, so the park is fenced and has cattle guards to keep them out. The plant lives from five to 50 years before it flowers and after flowering, the plant dies. So it takes them a long time to reproduce themselves and that means that once they are gone at this site they are gone forever.
This plant grows nowhere else in the world. The Hawaiian name is `ahinahina. The English name is Haleakala Silversword.
They survive remarkably well is this hostile environment where high elevation sunlight, wind, and lack of rain make it difficult at best. They have a strong tap root to anchor itself against the wind and little hairs on its leaves (see inset of photo) to protect itself from the sun. Their shallow roots absorb what little moisture they can find in the porous volcanic rock.
They live anywhere from 15 to 50 years before flowering. During their lifetime, they remain in a small, rounded, flower-like state. However, when it flowers, it produces a central stalk that drives skyward anywhere from 1.5 feet to 6 feet in heighth. It flowers. It spreads its seeds in the wind. Then it dies.
For more information on this unique plant, please visit the U.S. Department of the Interior
National Biological Service website.
'Ohe'o Gulch is located in the Kipahulu part of Haleakala National Park. For many years this place was called "The Seven Sacred Pools" a name that was actually a marketing gimmick intended to attract tourists to the area (the pools are not sacred and there aren't seven of them). It a series of lovely waterfalls and swimmable pools that cascade until reaching the ocean at the volcano's base. The flow of water made its way through volcanic rock and the rainforest engulfs the place with lush vegetation. It's a very lovely spot. When we visited the pools were close to swimming due to floods. The 'Ohe'o Gulch is located at the end of the highway to Hana, a narrow, twisting, full of hairpin turns and one lane bridges road. There is also a campground just on the other side of the 'Ohe'o Gulch parking lot.
The Kipahulu area of Haleakala National Park is lush and green and full of waterfalls in total contrast to the red and gray bare lands of the Haleakala crater. To get there you'll have to drive the highway to Hana, a narrow, twisting, full of hairpin turns and one lane bridges road. At Kipahulu you can hike and swim in the pools (when the streams are low). From the Kipahulu Ranger Station, trails lead upstream through the rainforest to larger waterfalls and spectacular overlooks of the coastline. Kipahulu has a long history of human habitation. Many historic and archeological sites are visible from the trails in Kipahulu.
Haleakala is a worldwide destination for bird enthusiasts, being noted for its unique birdlife. Due to its relative isolation for a long period of time, Hawaii was an ideal ground for the development of unique native life. Very famous is the nene, the only remaining species of Hawaiian goose. However, most of the birds you'll see in the park are introduced species like pheasants, chukars, skylarks, mockingbirds. For example we've seen many chukars on the park roads.
The Haleakala silversword is endemic to Haleakala National Park growing at high elevation inside the crater and along the slopes of the volcano. It is the most famous member of the endemic Hawaiian silversword. It's considered a first class example of adaptation, having managed to live in such a harsh environment as Haleakala. Their silver hairs allow them to retain water and protect themselves from the intense sun at this altitude. The silversword flowers only once during its life and then it dies. Their Hawaiian name is `ahinahina which means "gray gray". The silverwords were near extinction in the 1920's because of human vandalism and due to the introduced wild goats. Today they are protected and with the wild goats being eliminated from Haleakala, the silverswords have rebounded. There are several trails that highlight silverswords and there's a few of them located near the summit's shelter.
The Sliding Sands trail begins at the visitor center near the summit of Haleakala. It's the main trail into the crater descending 2400 feet over a distance of approximately 5 miles. The trail offers a closer view of the cinder cones and the lava flows and you don't need to go its entire distance to find some of the most amazing views. We didn't go the entire distance, because of lack of time, but we still enjoyed it. The colours are out of this world. The trail is in good condition, sandy, but good to walk. Remember that a good rule is that it will take you twice the time to hike back than it took you to descend and that hiking at this high altitude might slow you down even more. The return ascent is steep and hard going. The trail joins the Halemau'u Trail a mile west of Paliku Cabin. You can exit via Halemau'u Trail or loop around by way of other connecting trails and exit the way you came.
Southeast of the summit of Haleakala is the Magnetic Peak, Maui's second highest point with an elevation of 10,008 ft (3,050 m). This is a peak that can play tricks on people who try to get oriented :) The iron-rich cinder cone that is Magnetic Peak had a magnetic field strong enough to mess with your compass.
This must be one of world's most amazing views. The view of the crater will take you breath away. Streaks of red, yellow, gray and black trace the courses of recent and ancient lava, ash, and cinder flows. I imagine this is how Mars looks like. I took about 100 pictures of the crater, I just couldn't stop. Haleakala's summit elevation is 10,023 feet (3055 meters), but it's believed that once it was much higher than this. Hawaiian volcanoes gradually sink into the ocean because their weight slowly bends down the Earth's crust beneath them.
This outlook accesible on the way down from the summit, provides another spectacular view of the crater floor dotted with cinder cones painted in red, brown and gray. From this distance the cinder cones seem small but can be as tall as 600 feet. The cinder cones are considered to be geologically young, having formed in the last 2500 years. Downslope from the overlook's parking lot is an area covered with many silverswords. Beware, there's lots of bees in this area.
On the way to the summit of Haleakala there is an overlook that should not be, well, overlooked :) Here you'll get a different view of the crater than the one from the summit. A short trail starts from the parking lot just beyond mile marker 17 on Highway 378. The crater has different colors here, or that was my impression. In fact the sunlight and swirling clouds keep changing the hues and patterns. Now, if you're lucky (we weren't that lucky) you might encounter a strange phenomenon. Sometimes in late afternoon when the clouds are low inside the crater and the sun is right behind you, usually around sunset, you'll be able to see the reflection of your own shadow on the clouds, ringed with a rainbow. The native Hawaiians have likened the experience to seeing one’s soul.