Making your way up the long, twisting road to the summit parking lot, you might think that you’ve left Maui and been transported to Mars. Chunks of lava litter the ground, a massive 2,600-foot-deep crater slowly appears, and Science City and the observatories come into view (these are unfortunately off-limits to visitors). You’ll also be privy to a sweeping vista of most of the 24,719 acres of wilderness contained within Haleakalā National Park.
The rare climate up here is a cold-summer subtype of mediterranean climate — relatively common in the temperate rainforests of the Pacific Northwest (think high in the Olympic, Cascade, Kalamath and Sierra Nevada ranges) — but extremely rare in the tropics. This odd climate is characterized by cool summers and mild winters. Here, fewer than four months a year see an average temperature above 50 degrees, and no winter month has an average temperature below 32 degrees.
As rare as this climate is, the plants found here are equally as exotic — this is the only place in the world that you can see Haleakalā silversword for yourself. The fleshy, silvery leaves and low-growing form help it to survive. The plant can live to be 90 years old, but once it flowers, shooting up a spectacular stalk dotted with deep purple flowers, it scatters its seeds to the wind and dies. Even amid coveting tourists, munching herbavores and invasive species, the plant has endured. One threat the hardworking park service will not be able to combat, though, is climate change. Hotter temperatures and lower rainfall may threaten even the hardy silversword — researchers are working tirelessly to devise a solution.
You may have heard that this is a fabulous place to catch a sunset. And you’re right! The towering Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea volcanoes on the Big Island poking their summits through the sherbet clouds is a sight to behold. Something else you might be feeling: chilly. Come prepared to withstand temperatures that did below freezing.
As the legend goes, Maui once snared La, the sun god, with twine only to set him free after they made a deal. The agreement stated that he would walk more slowly across the sky so that Maui's mother, Hina, would have more time each day to dry her tapa cloth in the sunlight. And still, all this time later, La diligently holds up his end of the bargain to the chagrin of early morning summit-goers.