MAU’I, HAWAIʻI — The sun worshipers start arriving on Haleakalā in darkness, well before the golden sphere peeks up from behind the massive volcano’s highest peak, Puʻu ʻUlaʻula.
They arrive in campers, cars, busses and on foot at a place christened Haleakalā (house of the sun) by Hawaiʻi’s earliest settlers.
Excited chatter, in many languages, fills the thin, cold (5C) air as daybreak slowly approaches.
People clutching expensive cameras with ultra-long lenses jockey for position with smartphone users hoping for a selfie on a rocky ledge opposite the visitor’s centre.
As the upper limb of the sun appears on the horizon, Puʻu ʻUlaʻula — at 3,055m high — juts through some low-lying clouds and stands silhouetted against the dramatic dawn.
Gasps erupt as hues of red, gold and orange suddenly flash across the black canvas sky like strokes from a painter’s brush. This is the same scene that inspired Mark Twain to say “it’s the sublimest spectacle” he’d ever seen.
Above: People arrive on foot and in campers to see the sun rise over Haleakalā’s moon-like landscape.
Applause breaks out as the star of the show makes its full appearance and hangs high over Haleakalā’s moon-like landscape.
Wow! What a show.
Oh, and for those who are not early risers, Haleakalā’s sunsets are equally jaw dropping.
The morning crowd begins to disperse. Some head to their vehicles for the long trek back to sea level. Others stay to explore the natural wonders gathered in Haleakalā National Park, which spreads across 30,000 acres and is home to more endangered species than any other national park in the U.S.
Haleakalā is actually a massive shield volcano that forms more than 75 per cent of Mau’i’s land mass. It features a huge crater that spreads 11.25km across and 3.2km wide and is 800m deep.
According to Hawai’ian folklore, Haleakalā was home to the grandmother of the demigod Māui, who, legend has it, captured the sun and forced it to slow its journey across the sky in order to lengthen the day.
Above: Beach goers enjoy the sunrise from the comfort of soft sand while surfers are up early to ride the waves under the rising sun.
While Haleakalā’s sunrises are reputed to be the best in Mau’i, it’s certainly not the only place on this sublime island where you can witness the morning spectacle.
In fact, many visitors prefer to grab an early morning coffee and watch the sun rise from the comfort of one of Mau’i’s sugary beaches.
There’s plenty of beach spots to choose from but our favourites are:
1- ‘Alau, off the coast of Koki Beach Park.
2- Makena Cove, where you are required to walk along a path and climb a rock wall to reach its secluded beach.
3- Oneloa Beach, also known as Ironwoods Beach, which stretches for almost one kilometre near the famed Kapalua Resort.
4- Hana Beach Park, whose black volcanic sand beach is world famous.
5- Kamaole Beach Park, which is located on the east shore and is well known as a surfer’s paradise.
There’s no doubt the sun always shines brighter in Hawai’i.
JUST THE FACTS
• The National Parks Service requires a reservation for visitors in personal or rental vehicles to enter the Summit District of Haleakalā. Entrance is between 3 a.m. and 7 a.m. but visitors are urged to arrive early to get a good viewing spot. The reservation costs just $1.50 U.S. Many people make arrangements through local travel companies. Park entrance fee is separate.