The Softer Side of Haleakalā


Coastal campsite at Kīpahulu in Haleakalā National Park.

Burning sunrises. Barren landscapes. Massive basins. These are the images that come to mind for most people, who see Haleakalā from near its summit. But I had not thought about those things in some time. At my campsite at Kīpahulu, each and every rock was smothered in bright, green vegetation, very much alive and well and welcoming.

The road to Hāna has been well-traveled for a long time, and more recently, tourists have taken to driving the complete circle, continuing south on Highway 360 until it turns into 31 – the Pi‘ilani Highway – to get back to the middle of Maui. This has made the backside of Haleakalā National Park and the Kīpahulu Reserve a hot spot of sorts, heavily visited considering its remoteness.

I myself have driven this route several times, and I won’t knock it – it’s a spectacular drive. Yet on this most recent adventure, I craved more. With all the drive-by tourism happening, what was it like to stay out there, to wake up there? I found this typically busy area to be a whole new world at off hours. Almost eerie, like visiting a school when class is not in session, but in a good way.


Many of the hikes out there, like the bamboo forest at the beginning of the Pīpīwai Trail – can get crowded. But wake up at sunrise, put on your shoes, and wander to the trailhead? I was in and out and back at my tent for coffee before I saw another person hit the trail. To stand amongst the tall trees, observing the way the individual bamboo stalks stood together to form one unit, with not another soul in sight, was a special thing. No one taking pictures. No one talking. No one to share the energy with – the ultimate conversation between man and nature. I would return again for that opportunity alone.

As for the campground itself, it’s a fantastic combination of lush, green wilderness, craggy sea walls, and rhythmic ocean. Find a spot on the cliffs. Enjoy the stars. Hit the trail first thing, and absorb what it was like hundreds of years ago, before tourism.

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