One of the highlights of any trip to Maui and Haleakala National Park is the bicycle ride from the Summit of Mount Haleakala, which, at 10,023 feet, is the world’s largest dormant volcano. From the summit of Haleakala, which means “house of the sun,” it is 40 miles of winding, curving road to the bottom. The trip sounds more intimidating that it is, because it is almost exclusively downhill travel. The view from the top, especially at sunrise, is one of the most spectacular to be found anywhere.
There are several companies that offer bicycle packages, which include hotel pickup and drop off, and a meal. Or, you can get to the top and down again on your own. I took part in a sunrise trip down and can quite honestly say it is an experience that can never be matched or repeated. It all started at around 2 a.m. when the van made the rounds of the hotels to collect everyone taking part in the ride. We were then driven to the offices where we were fitted with bikes, helmets, jackets and pants. Everyone nervously laughed over coffee and danish as we wondered what was ahead.
Finally, we started the van ride up the side, listening to our instructions on how to manage the ride down as well as which sights to watch for along the road. In the early morning dark, however, most of this advice didn’t mean much. Arriving at the top, it was still dark, and the sunrise seemed to be quite a time off. The temperature at that height was very cool and the wind was howling. In addition to the tour riders, there were many others who had driven up to see the sunrise. With cameras ready, we waited, wrapped in blankets and sweaters, stamping our feet to keep the blood flowing. When the sun finally started to peek through the clouds, it seemed to take only a few short seconds to show itself in full. But those seconds were packed with some of the most beautiful images I’ve ever seen.
At over 10,000 feet and literally standing above clouds, the play of the sun and shadow on the horizon is incredible. One minute you’re standing with a group of people, and the next, you’re in a cloud and the people next to you aren’t visible. The vivid colors — oranges, reds, and purples — were beautiful. Seeing the sunrise here makes you feel more an active part of it than you might elsewhere. Once the sun burned off some of the mist and warmed up the coldest of the cold, hidden features of the volcano became apparent. At the vantage point we had, we stood over a large, deep crater. Looking down through the clouds, I could see actual crater holes and rock formations, the likes of which I had seen only in photographs of the moon. It was a truly wonderful feeling standing there, on top of the world, looking down into another world.
Finally it was time to mount the bikes and begin the 40-mile trip to the bottom. It is, perhaps, inaccurate to say you “pedal” the bikes, since the ride is downhill, and very little, if any, pedaling takes place. Coasting is a much more accurate description. Brakes on the bicycles are specially designed to handle the constant use, so bicyclists need not worry about gaining speed and losing control. We proceeded single file, our group leader in front, rescue van behind, to see the sights the volcano had to offer. The first stop we made was only a few minutes after starting, yet we had already lost several thousand feet and gained quite a few degrees. The panorama in front of us was breathtaking as we looked out over Maui to other islands in the distance.
Back on the bikes, we rode past fragrant trees and crops, workers in the field, houses and businesses. Our tour guide constantly pointed out items of interest to us, and we made frequent stops to examine them up close. We ate breakfast along the way in a building that housed an art gallery and flower shop. Our purchases were stashed in the van to be retrieved later. It was here that we had a chance to meet others on the tour, and catch the breath we had lost to the views. We also saw several Nene, also known as the Hawaiian Goose, which is Hawaii’s state bird. Then we climbed back on the bikes to complete the tour. When it was all over we once again loaded into the van for the trip back to the hotel, and an evening much more humdrum than the morning.