Day 2: Haleakalā Sunrise & Mama’s Fish House
When I started researching Maui, one of the top attractions/things to do is to see the sunrise at the top of Haleakalā. It’s located within Haleakalā National Park. When you look at photos of the sunrise, let me just say they do not do the real experience justice! I knew that I wanted to make this happen, so planning in advance helped here!
Haleakalā means “House of the Sun” in Hawaiian, and it’s one of Maui’s most prominent features that can be seen most places on the island. The legend is that the demi-god Maui lassoed the sun from its journey across the sky as he stood on the volcano’s summit, slowing its descent to make the day last longer.
This giant dormant volcano sits at 10,023 feet above sea level, which provides an excellent platform for viewing the surroundings. Due to the geology, there is almost always a layer of clouds that the sun rises over each morning. The view is breathtaking and unique.
Making Reservations for the Sunrise
My coworker told me a couple months ahead of time that I should get my passes to see the sunrise and in that moment, I looked at her with a very curious expression. I thought, “a reservation to get up at 3am? How many people are really that dedicated?”… As it turns out, a lot!
To see the sunrise, you have a couple options:
- Driving up in your personal(rental) car and making reservations on recreation.gov on your own
- Taking a tour with a commercial company – Since I went with option 1, I didn’t look too far into these. They were much more expensive ($1 vs. $179+) and I wanted the flexibility on running on our own schedule.
After some research, I discovered that since February 1, 2017, visitors in personal or rental vehicles coming up to view sunrise at Haleakalā National Park have been required to make sunrise viewing reservations in advance at recreation.gov.
A couple things NPS wants you to know about making reservations (as of June 2020):
• Reservations are available online 7 days in advance of your sunrise visit on recreation.gov.
• A visitor may only purchase one sunrise reservation per three-day period.
• Reservations are released 7:00 AM HST.Please see step-by-step instructions below for help with booking.
• Please note that calling the park directly, or visiting in-person, will not result in a reservation since staff at Haleakalā National Park are unable to make reservations for you.
• For questions, call the recreation.gov hotline at 1-877-444-6777.
I was able to get on 2 months in advance (because I’m a planner) to the recreation.gov site and reserve our spot for $1 (as of 2019, though it looks like that time frame has changed in 2020). It’s simply a way for them to prevent overcrowding of the area, and trust me, they do check! I had it screenshotted on my phone (in case of bad service) and printed out from home just in case.
Note: They will also ask you for normal entry fees. We have the America the Beautiful Parks Pass, so we just flash that little baby and they wave us through! You feel like national-park royalty 😉
Alternatively, you can book a tour through a company. While it might’ve been nice to have the guide’s knowledge for further enhancement, I am glad we went with making our own path for this one.
Viewing the Sunrise
Get up early and be there early!
As I mentioned earlier, we woke up at 3am to get going early. We stayed in Wailea, and the concierge suggested leaving no later than 3:30-4am to get up there in time. I am glad we had the time that we did. I didn’t feel too rushed to get the car from the valet or driving up there. Speaking of which, it was a long drive… in the dark… with lots of curves. I never get carsick but even I was queasy a couple times in the passenger seat. All in all, it took us 1.5-2 hours to get up there and parked.
The other perk of being early was that we had plenty of parking options when we got up there. There are a few different lots to view the sunrise from, and we chose the uppermost with the Haleakalā Observatory.
Another awesome reason to be early? The stars and night sky! Brighton mentioned this was one of his favorite parts of the whole experience. We got to stargaze and get some really cool shots of the transition between nighttime and sunrise. The whole transition took a while, but it was so worth it. We were up there from 5:30am until about 10:30am.
Bring your pass(es) (for parking at sunrise and national parks pass, if you have one)
After all that work of getting the parking pass/reservation, it would be a shame to forget it! I set everything out/saved it onto my phone the night before when I was clear-headed so that I wouldn’t forget anything. I also keep the National Parks pass in my wallet so I couldn’t forget that either. Being prepared makes the line to get in (and therefore everything else) go smoothly in the morning for a stress-free experience.
When I was packing for the trip, I started shoving jackets and layers into my bag and Brighton gave me the strangest look. I always overpack for trips, but layers were very important for this very occasion. I wore a t-shirt, a hoodie (with the hood on), and my puffy jacket to start the morning. As the sun came up and I warmed up, I slowly peeled off the layers. The combination of the elevation (10,000+ above sea level, plus the winds and moisture in the air makes for a cold combination at first! Even though it was around 30 degrees, all the factors makes it feel even colder. Brighton was content in a hoodie, but he’s Utah-bred so maybe he’s got thicker skin!
Be prepared to stay a while
We were there for about 5 hours total. At times it felt like we were waiting around for a while, but most of the experience was watching the sky gradually change and shift in front of our eyes. It was crazy how quick the sun came up once it was at the horizon. It may have been nice to have some camping chairs with us, but we were content sitting on the ledge too. We borrowed some towels from the hotel to pad the seat for ourselves too.
Snag a spot in the front
We were at an angle to where the actual horizon was, which made it a little difficult to get photos without people of the full sunrise. The unfortunate part was that we were there early enough, but didn’t have our bearings of where the sun would rise. This ended up being a little annoying as the sun rose since we were leaning over the barrier to get the shots we wanted. If we had been a little more east, it would’ve perfect.
After the sun was done rising, the sky changed into more mundane blue revealing all the darkness had hid. It was magical and in a way, the waking up early, the freezing cold, and the waiting only enhanced the experience. It felt like we had earned seeing the magic of Mother Nature!
Breakfast at Kula Bistro
After we gathered up all our belongings and took plenty of photos including asking strangers to take our photo together, much to Brighton’s chagrin, we headed down the mountain. At this point, it was mid-morning and we were both starving and ready to find some brunch! Someone had mentioned eating at Kula Bistro… or was it Lodge? We couldn’t remember! We ended up at Kula Bistro. I got the loco moco and it was delicious and just what I needed. Brighton got a more standard mix of breakfast items. Afterwards, we returned to the resort for a much-needed nap & chill session.
Lunch at Mama’s Fish House
Later that day, when we worked up more appetite, I decided to check out if there was any availability at Mama’s Fish House. I was told that’s a must-try on the island if you like fish (which I do!) but unfortunately all the dinner/sunset reservations are taken in advance. But they had availability for lunch, so I jumped on it!
The fish was delicious and something local and the view was spectacular, even if it wasn’t sunset. 🙂
Dinner at Molokini Bistro @ Grand Wailea
After lunch, we relaxed around the resort for the rest of the day and wandered down to the beach for sunset. It felt like a complete day watching sunrise and sunset. We had dinner at the Bistro on site since we didn’t want to drive anymore and then crashed early since it had been a very long day!