Haleakala is known for its sunrise. People come from all over the world to see it. At the visitor's center they recommend that you try and get there quite early so that parking doesn’t fill up.
We thought that waking up at 5:45am and leaving our campsite at 6:00am would position us for a good spot. As we groggily hopped into the car, our weary and bleary eyes looked up the mountain to see a trail of taillights. As we pulled out of the campground we looked back towards the park entrance, what?! Yes, a massive line of 30-40 cars waiting to pay and get into the park for sunrise. It’s a good thing we didn’t wait longer.
We began our ride up the road for the rock concert-esque sunrise. We got to the top and there were rangers acting like events management parking attendants. They were waving you in specific directions and funneling you into parking spots with surprising efficiency…. it’s like they do this every morning.
By the time that we arrived the overlook near the visitor's center was nearly packed. It was inconceivable there were nearly 100 people milling around. At 10,000 feet it was not warm. People were wearing jackets or using fleece blankets that looked like capes to warm themselves. We, thankfully, had been provided the tip of going up the 0.3-mile trail to avoid the crowds. While not entirely secluded it was not like being in the front row of a rock concert with bodies mashed in front, behind and on every side. We had space to walk around.
The lead up to the sunrise is exactly what you expect, cold and boring. You make mundane jokes about it taking forever and it being cold. You comment about the weird things people are wearing. Occasionally, I would look back down at the to see the growing horde of sheep. There were so many! They just piled in behind each other without a clear view.
The sunrise is also exactly what you expect. It consisted of the sun coming up over the clouds. The main difference is that everyone cheered and clapped when it happened. I really don’t mean to sound cynical, but compared to some of the sunrises we have seen it just didn’t inspire me to the degree that I was expecting.
This often happens when things are over-hyped. With all of the cars, the parking attendants, the rock concert feel, I was expecting smoke and explosions and U2 to sing Sunday Bloody Sunday. Instead, you get a really good cover band. Don’t get me wrong, the cover band is really good and in retrospect you appreciate their talent and everything that they performed, you just kind of wish that you knew it was a cover band and not Bono. Maybe that’s not fair. The Sun is still the Sun. Maybe it’s like expecting a young Mick Jagger and Keith Richards and getting them in their current state. It’s still the Rolling Stones; it’s just, different, less oomph than you were hoping.
Don’t take this post to mean that you shouldn’t go. Take it to mean that you should temper your expectations. Is it beautiful, yes. Is it the best thing you will ever see in your life? No. Get up early, be prepared for lines and take the 0.3-mile trail.