Haleakala (House of the Sun) National Park is the island of Maui's main natural attraction. More than 1.3 million people a year ascend the 10,023-foot-high mountain to peer down into the crater of the world’s largest dormant volcano (Haleakala is officially considered active, even though it has not rumbled since 1790). That hole is 3,000 feet deep, 7 and 1/2 miles long by 2 and 1/2 miles wide while totally encompassing 19 square miles. The National Park extends from the summit of Mount Haleakala into the crater, down the volcano’s southeast flank to Maui’s eastern coast, beyond Hana. There are actually two separate and distinct destinations within the park: the Haleakala Summit and the Kipahulu coast. The Kipahulu draws crowds by its lush, green, and tropical environment. It is home to Oheo Gulch (also known as Seven Sacred Pools). No road links the summit and the coast.

There is a legend that tells the source of Haleakala’s spectacular sunrise and Hawaiians continue to recognize the mountain as a sacred site. The demi-god Maui and his mother Hina, lived near Rainbow Falls in Hilo on the big island. Hina would make kapa from the bark of the wauke and mamaki tree. These strips would be dyed with magnificent designs to form cloth. But the kapa, would still be damp when night fell. Hina would weep and complain about how the sun moved too quickly across the sky to dry the cloth. Upon hearing his mother’s distress, her son traveled to the island of Maui and climbed to the 10,000-foot summit of Haleakala. Here the sun was asleep in the giant crater.

Maui hid until morning and watched the sun begin his daily journey. As the first ray of sunshine appeared, Maui snared it with his lasso of twisted coconut fiber. When the sun demanded to be released, Maui would not let go. He essentially told the sun, “Promise me that you will move more slowly across the sky.” Left with no choice, the sun struck an agreement. He would move slowly for six months of the year, and then move at his preferred pace for the other six months. Agreeing to the bargain, Maui hurried home and told his mother. As a reward, Hina made her son a new cape that dried in one afternoon.

The Haleakala Highway was completed in 1935. This main road has switchbacks with many blind turns and very steep drop-offs but leads to the peak of Haleakala. Although parts of the road are restricted, it is open to the public as a well-maintained two-lane highway. Be aware that cattle and other local animals are often encountered on the roadway. Check out Hawaii Discount (#hawaiidiscount) for the best offers and prices on tours such as one up to Haleakala.