Return to Maui | Hiking the Hanomanioa Lighthouse/King’s Highway Trail | Last Sunset of 2019 on Haleakala | December 31, 2019
For our 2019 holiday stand down, we contemplated going all out and taking a big international vacation. However, the financially responsible part of us reminded us that we’re likely moving and selling the house this year and that we should probably invest some time and money into improving it. We compromised by doing a quick island hop to celebrate the New Year. This way, we could continue to knock out some of our remaining Hawaii bucket list items. Out of all the Hawaiian islands that you’re allowed to visit, we’d been to Maui, Kauai, and Hawaii, and still wanted to see Lanai and Molokai. The trail we really want to hike on Molokai is currently closed, so that left Lanai. Looking at things to do on Lanai, it honestly seemed like everything could be knocked out in a day, and not many of those things appealed to our interests. We ultimately decided to do a multi-island vacation where we would divide our time between two islands. Fortunately this was made very easy and inexpensive to execute thanks to the one and only inter-island ferry between Maui and Lanai!
Once we had decided to return to Maui, it wasn’t hard to find things we wanted to do. When we visited at the beginning of 2018, our entire trip focused on backpacking the Haleakala Crater and then driving around the entire Eastern part of the island. I remember watching the sunset on our last night there, looking out to the mountains on the West side and realizing there was a whole side to the island that was still unfamiliar to me. Our goal of this trip would be to visit the parts of the island that we overlooked because the thrill of hiking Haleakala overshadowed them all. However, we also knew we had to return to the crater; after 2 years of exploring all over the islands, backpacking Haleakala still stands out as my favorite thing we’ve done.
We left early in the morning on December 31, with tickets we had found on Black Friday for only $35 per person. We watched the sun rise and had great views of Molokai, Lanai, and Maui from the air. After picking up our rental car, we first drove to Haleakala National Park to claim a spot to camp for that night in Hosmer’s Grove, because the first rule of camping in areas without reservations is to always make finding a campsite your first priority! Hosmer’s Grove is just inside the park entrance at around 7000 feet above sea level, and works the same way as the Kīpahulu campground on the Eastern side of the island. It’s free to camp, there are no reservations, there’s just a big green space with grills and picnic tables spread out and you can just walk in and find a spot. There were less parking spots and overall less space here than the Eastern side. One ‘downside’ was that it’s so far up the mountain that it takes a long drive to get anywhere else, but with the money saved on accommodations, it was worth it to us.
Once we had our campsite, we drove back down the mountain and began heading South. Another part of the island we had neglected to visit was Kihei and the Southern coast. There didn’t seem to be a lot of hiking there, but we wanted a more relaxed first day so it was a good place to start. Since it was now already late in the morning, there was a lot of traffic and the crowds were unavoidable. We drove past the resort town of Kihei and continued down Makena Road to the very end. There are lots of good snorkeling spots and beaches along the way, but the whole area was packed with cars and people. When we reached the end of the road and the “trailhead” for our intended hike, there were cars all over and it was difficult to find a place to squeeze in, but eventually we found a spot and we prepared for our walk.
Thankfully once we left the initial parking lot and beach area, the people were more dispersed and we were alone for our walk along the coast. The trail was flat and easy, but very exposed to the sun. We went from walking on sand, to dirt, to volcanic rock. The trail offered great views of Kaho’olawe island to the West, as well as the Southern slope of Haleakala. From here, we could see the lava flow pattern from the volcano’s last eruption, which is believed to be around 1790.
We followed the trail all the way to the Hanomanioa Lighthouse, and Curtis found a letterbox. There’s a fork in the trail along the way, and the other path goes for several more miles before ending at another beach which is supposedly good for snorkeling, but we opted to skip it today. That trail actually dates to the 1840’s and is known as the ‘King’s Road’ and has much history associated with it. The lava rock is challenging to walk on — definitely wear good hiking shoes for this, even though it’s just along the coast. You can check out our AllTrails recording here.
After the hike, we drove into Kihei to grab a late lunch. We had delicious tacos at Jawz Mexican Grill, then continued our drive back to Haleakala. We planned to stop at a lavender farm along the way, but it was closed due to the holiday. Instead, we drove up to the summit of Haleakala to enjoy the views and arrive early enough to get a parking spot for the sunset.
Once we reached the top of the crater, we bundled up and hiked the short Pa ka’oao Trail to a higher viewpoint. (We had neglected to do this last time we were here because we were so focused on the actual summit and then wanted to make sure we got a ride back down the mountain.) The winds blasted us at the summit and we found that we were vastly under prepared for the cold this time — last time we had our fleece jackets, gloves, and hats; this time all we brought were our rain jackets/windbreakers! After standing in the cold as long as we could bear, we went back to our car and read for the next hour while waiting for the sunset.
Currently, you need a reservation to be on the summit of Haleakala at sunrise, but there are no restrictions for sunset. I heard while we were there that they may start also requiring reservations for sunset soon, and we saw exactly why that’s necessary. By about 15 minutes before sunset, there were cars parked everywhere — the parking lot was completely filled and people were parking in any spot imaginable, even the middle of the road. But there was no denying it was worth being among the crowds to see the sunset from that high. We watched it drop behind the observatory, going from bright red, to orange, and finally fading as the dark set in. Western Maui was equally as gorgeous, reflecting pink and purple light. We couldn’t help but turn around and gaze upon Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea in the distance with a little pride, thinking back to conquering each of those peaks. But one part we hadn’t thought about before was the shadow cast behind us by the crater itself. The whole setting was glorious and brought tears to my eyes…or maybe that was the bone-chilling wind. Nonetheless, it was the perfect way to watch the last sunset of the decade. (However, we still stand by the fact that the best way to witness the sunrise and sunset on Haleakala is by backpacking to the opposite side and having the whole view to yourself, like we did last time!)
We drove back down the mountain in the dark and settled in to our tent, doing our best to stay warm throughout the chilly night. It took a while for the rest of the campground to quiet down, but in comparison to the noisiness of the constant fireworks going on back home on Oahu, this was the quietest New Year’s Eve we’ve had in a few years!