Of all the things to see and do while in Maui, visiting the volcanic area that is Haleakala was in the top three on my list. I say “was” because as of right now, that’s done and in the rearview.
Today we got an earlier start that any day thus far and were on the road in the 9AM hour. We discovered about a day after arriving that to see the sunrise, like one would normally try to do, you now have to reserve a parking pass because the summit is just too crowded at that time of day. At the time we were informed of this, it was already too late and all the reservations for the duration of our stay on the island were sold out. So we opted for sunset instead. This meant we didn’t have to hurry, which, as it turns out, is almost a necessity because my children seem very incapable of moving with any speed at all.
The drive to the mountain was mostly highway and nothing special. Navigating the road up was cake compared to what I drove yesterday. There was only one time I was a little freaked out and that had nothing to do with switchbacks, cliff drops, or sheer elevation. It had to do with potential breaks overheating.
Due to the fact we had plenty of time between 10AM and sunset at 6PM, I elected to take a side road, Waipoli, which was noteworthy in the guidebook Ken left on his coffee table. It is reported to have spectacular views, a stretch of road that goes through a redwood forest, and at the end, Polipoli state park. We got about 3/4 the way up and having driven through the “redwoods” already and enjoyed the view, I decided to not go the distance to the state park and just turn around and drive back down. As we neared the bottom of the road, I pulled off to the side of the road so I could put our next map destination into my phone, but when I did, I smelled something burning and smoke was coming from the car on the drivers side. Cue my mini freak out.
Back up a minute and let me describe our car situation. We are driving a 1995 Honda Accord (Ken’s “other” car) and it has over 200,000 miles on it. It looks and sounds pretty rough and when we first got in at the airport I sort of wondered whether this car would hold up with all the driving I knew I was going to be doing (plus the intensity of elevation climb and drop that comes with going up the side of a mountain). But Ken knows his car and didn’t seem worried, so I sort of shrugged it off as well. Right up until the moment I saw and smelled the smoke.
I didn’t let the kids see my anxiety because I want them to learn to stay calm in these situations and use their heads. Instead, I took a deep breath, popped the hood, and got out to take a look like I knew what I was looking for. Thankfully, the small bit of smoke I saw and the burning smell was coming up from under the wheel well and when I opened the hood, there was no sign of anything awry there. That was a huge relief.
Just about that time, a big SUV that had passed us going down the hill came back by and stopped to ask if we needed help. I explained the situation and they immediately concurred with me that the brakes had overheated. They asked if I had the parking break on slightly (which I didn’t) but had been riding the regular brakes pretty hard. They suggested letting it cool down a bit and then employing engine braking the rest of the way down. I know about this, but have never had to do it before. First time for everything.
I didn’t have patience to wait a half an hour like they suggested, so in another five minutes we were on our way again.. in second gear. It was not long before we were on the main highway and making our way back up another set of twisting and turning roads to get to Haleakala National Park.
We got to the park with hours to spare before sunset and were able to get to all the coolest scenic overlooks and mini hikes up and around the “carter” area. We even hiked for a bit on the “sliding sands” trail which extended miles into the valley of the mountain. When it got close to sunset we turned back and were able to get back up to the summit in time to find a nice spot to sit, huddled together with all our winter gear on (it’s super cold at 10,000 feet), waiting for that magic moment.
There were hundreds of other people waiting with us and it was not as peaceful as I would have liked, but I still had the same sense of joy and happiness wash over me as yesterday when we went to Nakalele. At one point Z looked up at me and said “Momma what’s wrong?”.
Tears streaming down my face, I could hardly verbalize how I felt. “I’m just so happy to be here with you, sharing this moment”. The sunset was amazing, but sharing it with my two beautiful children was priceless.
After the sun had sunk below the cloud line, we waited as lots of other people started to depart. There was another half an hour of colors changing in the sky on what was a horizon of clouds. We actually waited until it was quite dark before leaving because we wanted to see the stars. If it had not been for the full moon, I think the stargazing would have been spectacular. We were one of the last cars to drive back down the mountain.
As I was driving, I was thinking it was quite lucky that I learned my lesson about being in low gear on the way down to save the brakes. If I had not known to do that, we would have surely burned them up on the descent off the mountain and that could have ended very badly. It’s funny how life sometimes works out like that and you may not even realize it. All the decisions that we made lead us to learn things and potentially could have saved us from suffering some terrible tragedy.
This day was the earliest we were up in the morning and the latest we out at night. A long, yet satisfying day. Tomorrow.. The Road to Hana!