As you are making your sight-seeing plans for Maui, I do hope you are planning in a visit to the summit of Haleakala. Did you know that the name Haleakala means “house of the sun” in Hawaiian? Given the meaning of Haleakala, I think it’s fitting to visit the summit for sunrise or sunset.
Which is the better time to visit Haleakala – sunset or sunrise? That’s a good question! Let’s just say that they’re both excellent choices. We’ve experienced and enjoyed both. Personally, I tend to lean towards sunrise being my favorite.
Here are my thoughts on Haleakala for sunrise versus sunset…
Practically speaking, you’re going to be jet lagged anyway so make good use of the time and see sunrise. To some extent you will be jet lagged, particularly if you are flying from the East. From my experience, I tend to be an early riser when I visit Hawaii. The first couple of days, I tend to wake up in the wee hours of the morning. Take advantage of your jet lag on the first or second day and drive up to Haleakala for sunrise.
On the flip side of the jet lag issue, if you want to watch sunset, you may want to wait to go to Haleakala towards the end of your stay. On the first few days I’m in Hawaii, I get sleepy early in the evening – I’m talking around 7:30 or 8:00pm. So, if sunset is around 6:30pm and I’ve got to drive two hours back to my accommodation, I’m going to be fighting to stay awake while driving in the dark down a steep and winding road. That’s not a good combination.
A bonus of getting to the summit early is that you get to stargaze before watching the sky and clouds slowly light up with vivid sunrise colors. It’s hard to put into words how amazing this experience is. I’d encourage you to be observant as you watch this natural show and you will be rewarded. Now I know you can watch this sequence in reverse if you go for sunset, however, if you are fighting jet lag and you’re getting colder by the minute as the sun’s warmth goes away, you’re less likely to persevere to a nice dark sky for stargazing.
Sunrise is more dramatic, in my opinion. Not only are you there early watching the sky change from dark to colorful lights, but the surreal, moon-like landscape of Haleakala summit emerges from darkness at sunrise.
I have always found that it’s easer to drive uphill than driving downhill in the dark. Has anyone else noticed that, too? I grew up in the mountains of North Carolina, so I feel like I know a thing or two about driving on steep, curvy roads. The road to the summit of Haleakala is very steep and abundantly filled with hairpin turns. I prefer to navigate up this tricky road in the dark before sunrise rather than down the road after sunset. Driving the road in the daytime is challenging enough. There are no street lights along the road, so it is very, very dark at night.
We created this video of the drive down Haleakala summit from a mid-day visit. Take notice that there aren’t many/any guard rails.
With Haleakala meaning house of the sun, I think it’s more fitting to greet the sun on its house. Maybe I’m too much of a romantic, but I feel like watching sunrise on Haleakala has a cultural significance because of its name.
Now that I’ve gone all goo goo gah gah over Haleakala sunrise, you may be wondering if there are any plus sides to watching sunset. Yes, there are upsides to watching sunset! For starters, you’ll find less crowds at sunset. You’ll also find that the temperature is warmer for sunset. At 10,000 feet above sea level, it does get chilly especially without the warmth of the sun.
If you’ve been trying to decide between Haleakala sunrise or sunset, I hope this article has helped you make your decision. Be sure to see all my tips for watching Haleakala sunrise.Have you seen Haleakala sunrise or sunset? What did you think of it?