Haleakala’s Red Hill – Pu’u ‘Ula’ula

Haleakala Red Hill
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The parking lot at the summit of Haleakala Crater in Haleakala National Park on Maui sits at the bottom of Pu’u ‘Ula’ula. It is known as “Haleakala’s Red Hill”, the translation of the name it was given by Hawaii’s ancients many hundreds of years ago. Haleakala’s Red Hill is the actual pinnacle of the mountain, with its highest point of 10,023 feet. Only Mauna Kea on Hawaii Island climbs higher into the sky.

The eastern flank of Pu’u ‘Ula’ula is where people gather every morning to witness the sunrise. Entry to Haleakala National Park before 7:00 a.m. requires a reservation (easily made online). The parking lot at the summit fills with rental vehicles and tour buses each morning before dawn. The two-lane road to get there is a long, winding series of hairpin turns and precipitous vertical drop-offs. We here at the HAT Blog recommend a cup of good Maui-grown and roasted coffee before making the drive.

Haleakala Sunrise
Haleakala Sunrise from Pu’u ‘Ula’ula, or “Red Hill”

Spectacular views at Haleakala’s Red Hill

The summit parking lot starts every morning in the actual shadow of Haleakala’s Red Hill, Pu’u ‘Ula’ula. A short, moderate hike takes you around its base and into the rays of the rising sun in the “House of the Sun”, the literal translation of Halekala. There are also many other hiking trails and several cabins throughout the national park and in the massive crater at the summit.

As the sun climbs in the sky, it’s easy to understand why Pu’u ‘Ula’ula is known as Haleakala’s Red Hill. Rock cinders from eruptions long ago dominate the landscape at the summit, a rich red sea of spectacular, dramatic views in every direction. At sunrise on a clear day, you can see the giant shadow of Haleakala and Pu’u ‘Ula’ula stretching into the distance to the west. It is a singular and humbling experience of a lifetime. On most days, the peaks of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa on Hawaii Island are visible to the southeast.

Ancient native Hawaiian legend holds that the demigod Maui lasso-ed the sun from the summit of Haleakala. He convinced the sun to slow its journey across the sky to allow more time for his mother, the goddess Hina, more time to dry her special kapa cloth in the sun. What a good son!

Halealaka Sunrise 2
Halealaka Sunrise, in the shadow of the mountain.

Tips for visitors

There are a couple of important things to know about a trip to Haleakala’s Red Hill at the mountain’s summit. First, it can get dangerously chilly in winter. Occasional dustings of snow are not uncommon. At the same time, the ultraviolet light index can also get dangerously high. Bundle up (kids especially) in the morning and be prepared to stay covered as the sun beats down throughout the day. You’re a lot closer to it at 10,023 feet! The air up there is thin and dry up there, too, so be sure to bring along plenty of water.

Haleakala is home to a variety of rare native plant and animal species, many of which are endangered. Be on the lookout for them and keep your distance.

Also, Haleakala is a sacred ground. Native Hawaiian practitioners worship and conduct ancient ceremonies at multiple sites there. Demonstrate respect for the sanctity of the place and the dignity of the people there for whom Haleakala is more than just a pretty view. National Park Service rangers are not shy about calling out obnoxious or dangerous behavior. Neither are the locals.

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