Cycling Hawaii’s Haleakala Volcano At Dawn

11 October 2016
Read Time: 2.3 mins

There is a bit of adventure around every turn in Hawaii, and cycling Maui’s biggest mountain is no exception. Haleakala, which means The House Of The Sun, is an active shield volcano that last erupted in the 18th century. At 3,055 metres, it is the larger of two mountains that make up the island of Maui.

Local legend has it that the sun god used to travel too quickly across the sky, racing to and from its home, Haleakala. The mother of the demi-god Maui complained to her son that there wasn’t enough time in the day for her kapa cloth to dry.

Sunrise at Haleakala, Hawaii. Catch the rays at Haleakala's crater. Picture: Chelsea Wallis

So Maui marched up Haleakala and snared the sun by its rays, holding it hostage until it agreed to slow its daily path along the heavens. Unlike Maui, you don’t have to be superhuman to enjoy the epic sunrise from the house of the sun, or to navigate a pushbike across this 130,000-year-old volcano.

Two-Wheeled Tours

Dozens of operators host cycling tours of the mountain and the area considered Maui Upcountry. The journey itself is 37 kilometres downhill, which takes between one and two hours without stopping, so the minimum fitness required is a hand or two on the break.

Some groups host tours in the late morning, and others travel in groups that make assigned stops between the summit and their headquarters below. But the best tours of the bunch take you up for sunrise in Haleakala National Park, then let you cycle and stop at your leisure for photos and brunch on your way through the picturesque countryside. There’s a reason the island’s nickname is the Magic Isle.

Cyclists ride down Haleakala in Hawaii. Cycling down the volcano needs little fitness. Picture: Haleakala Bike Co

Your day starts at 3am. Yes, you read that correctly. Sunrise over Haleakala crater is popular for a good reason, and tour operators know that getting to the summit early helps you get in position for the best view when the sun rises between 5.30am in the summer and 7am in the winter.

Cyclers can schedule a bus from their hotel or park in the tour operator’s lot. You’re then fitted for rain gear, helmets and a bike before loading into the vans for a ride to the top.


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Sunrise & Cycling

Although it is Hawaii, it’s smart to pack a jumper, as year-round summit temperatures hover between 10C and 18C, and can feel even colder if the weather is damp or windy. But it’s all worth it when you grab a spot at the crater’s edge and witness one of the world’s most famous sunrises.

Sunrise at Haleakala, Hawaii. Sunrise at Haleakala is worth the early start. Picture: Haleakala Bike Co

Once the sun is up, it’s time to jump back in the vans to the cycling drop point. Tours aren’t allowed to begin inside the national park, so you’ll disembark at 1,980 metres in elevation with your pushbike and a map with points of interest, photo opportunities and places to stop for breakfast or lunch.

The ride itself begins with sharp switchbacks and stunning views, warming up as you descend the mountainside. Enjoy the Upcountry ranch lands, local lavender fields and carnation farms. Modest cafes and shops along the way offer some of the island’s favourite fare, from banana pancakes and cream puff pastries to crab cakes and local organic salads.

Cyclists at a lookout on Haleakala, Hawaii. Lookout over Upcountry ranch lands. Picture: Haleakala Bike Co

By the time you reach your tour company back at the bottom, you may be energised by how much of the day is still ahead of you, or that 3am alarm may have you ready for a nap on the sand.

There aren’t many places in the world where you can go from mountain chills to sunny beaches in a matter of hours. Luckily, Maui has it all.

Words by: Chelsea Wallis


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Chelsea Wallis

Chelsea Wallis is a freelance writer based in Sydney, Australia.