suppose when a volcano has been
dormant for more than 200 years, you can feel pretty confident it
won't erupt while you are peering into its maw.
I suppose. But the way the mist swirled around inside its
3,000-foot-deep crater, then dissipated, lent a certain spookiness
to my visit to the summit of Haleakala volcano, a 37-mile drive
above sea level on the eastern end of Maui.
Maui is the second-largest of the Hawaiian Islands; only the Big
Island is bigger. Maui is shaped like a large and a small circular
coin joined together by an isthmus of flat land with the center of
each "coin" being a volcano.
Many tourists who flock to Maui each year make straight for one
of the two beach resort areas: Kaanapali on the west coast of the
island or around Wailea, south of the airport and the main town of
I stayed at the very comfortable Royal Lahaina Resort, one of
many well-appointed complexes at Kaanapali that features excellent
beaches and some well-known and challenging golf courses. Other
activities, such as cruises to nearby islands and parasailing, are
popular activities, as well.
The Royal Lahaina Resort is known for its nightly luau, where
guests dine -- among a vast spread of food -- on the traditional
pig roasted in the ground and watch an excellent outdoor floor show
featuring singing and dancing to traditional Polynesian themes.
The nearby town of Lahaina was for many years the seat of power
of the kings who ruled the Hawaiian Islands before the center of
commerce and power shifted to Oahu.
Among the many shops and restaurants designed for the thriving
tourist trade are remnants of an earlier, quieter time: mission
houses and a huge banyan tree that spreads over a whole block.
There are two excursions that clients shouldn't miss if they
want to see the dramatic scenery that is found on the larger,
eastern part of the island.
One is climbing Haleakala. The other is a drive along the coast
Living on the edge
It was the size of the crater that overwhelmed me. Some 15 miles
in circumference and 3,000 feet deep, the views from several points
along the rim reveal a Mars-like landscape.
From the main center of Kahului the road begins a steep rise,
passing sugar cane and pineapple plantations, to a plateau at about
3,300 feet. From there it zigzags another 20 miles, or 6,600 feet,
to the Haleakala crater.
At one point on the rise, eucalyptus is everywhere, but
vegetation soon gives way to dry dirt formed from lava.
Approaching the summit, the clear skies viewed from below are
replaced by a cloud that hugs the sides of the mountain and spits
out a misty rain.
At the rim of the crater, there's a wind that in the early
morning lends a chill to the air, but on the walking trail inside
the crater it is quite warm and enervating.
A small, spiky shrub called silversword appears to be the only
vegetation, and that is having a struggle to survive the impact of
so many visitors.
I didn't make it, but going up the mountain to witness the
sunrise (you leave your hotel about 2:30 a.m.) is popular with
many, although there is no guarantee of viewing conditions.
A novel way to come back down the mountain is by bike; driving
up you often pass groups of brightly clad cyclists free-wheeling
downhill. The companies that run this activity, such as Maui
Downhill, claim that you only have to pedal 400 yards from the top
to the bottom.
Horseback riding on the trails to and from the rim is another
mode of transportation.
Tooling around the coast
Driving around the coast at the foot of the mountain is an
It is possible to drive yourself, although some car rental
companies are reluctant to let you drive one rough, unpaved
However, given that the road is winding (more than 600 bends in
one 12-mile part that our driver claimed was "the windiest road in
the world"), a sensible option is to take a bus tour, where you can
watch the passing scenery and not the road.
I signed up with Polynesian Adventure Tours, and the commentary
and variety of information provided by the guide added greatly to
the enjoyment of the trip.
Different church denominations have established a foothold in
many small villages, and you come across quite striking churches in
some very out-of-the-way places.
Hana is the main town on the east coast, once the center of a
large sugar-cane industry. Aviator Charles Lindbergh found solace
in the area, and he is buried in a simple grave at Palapala Hoomau
The south coast is quite dry. A couple of centuries ago the side
of Haleakala was covered with a forest of sandalwood trees, but
they were cut down during the early days of white settlement,
bringing about not only a denuding of the landscape but a change of
climate from wet to dry.
Lava from the crater still forms a dramatic fringe at the
water's edge -- the beaches along this coast are black sand.
Perhaps the most surprising find on the circuit was Tedeschi
Viineyards at Ulupalakua. Pineapple wine is not really to my taste,
but their sparkling wine was excellent.
For information on Polynesian Adventure Tours, call (800)
622-3011 or visit www.polyad.com.
To contact the reporter who wrote this story, send e-mail to
[email protected] .