MAUI, Hawaii — The "watch for ice on the road" sign on the drive up Haleakala was my first hint that this was going to be a chilly hike. Then Mike, our guide, showed up wearing mitts and toque and I knew my light fleece was not going to keep me warm while exploring this 3,055-metre [10,000-foot] volcano.
Along with some dozen other shivering sightseers, I trudged along a rocky ridge, stopping occasionally to listen to Mike and learn about this intriguing moonscape. Haleakala (Hawaiian for "house of the sun") is a shield volcano, which means it has gently sloping sides built up over long periods by smoothly flowing lava. This volcano that formed eastern Maui emerged from the sea some 900,000 years ago. Along with other eruptions over about 400,000 years, water, wind and perhaps even glaciers carved the vast valleys that today make up Haleakala National Park.
On this rim walk we are on the edge of a cinder cone that gives sweeping views of tropical Maui far below — a lush, verdant landscape, bordered by silvery sands that edge the startlingly blue Pacific Ocean. Of course, it is not all au natural, criss-crossed as it is by highways and sprawling with resorts and towns. But this tourism world is far below and, when you trek any of the well-marked hiking trails on Haleakala, it's easy to feel you're in a very different world.
You can take one of the guided hikes around the summit area or spend several hours on your own exploring the trails that begin near the Haleakala Visitor Center. I did both.
After my guided tour I followed the Leleiwi Overlook Trail and got excellent views of Haleakala's "caldera," a vast, natural amphitheatre that well fits the description of moonscape. However, this doesn't mean it lacks beauty. At first the porous landscape appears to be a dull brown, but the longer you look the more colours you see: rusty reds, soft golds and hints of dusty greens. To me the bowl-shaped valley, punctuated with mini-craters, actually showcases some of nature's artwork.
Of course plant life is rather scarce in this rocky terrain. But you do see silver sword (ahinahina) which has silvery, narrow leaves and, at a glance, looks like a plant that should be swaying in the sea rather than in the wind. The silver sword is endemic to the upper slopes of Haleakala. It may not flower for up to 50 years and once it blooms, it dies.
Another short trail, the Pa Kaoao, led to a high vantage point from where I could spot stone shelters used by the early Hawaiians who lived in this region.
Although these hikes only range from half a kilometre to four kilometres they are rugged trails and, thanks to the altitude, you will be winded at times. It is important to stay on the trails, take water, wear proper shoes and dress warmly as well as be plastered with sunscreen. Except for the sunscreen, it's a far cry from the beaches of Maui.
For more information about Haleakala visit the United States National Park Service website at www.nps.gov
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