Is Waking Up At 4:30am Ever Worth It? It Is to Catch The Sunrise On Haleakala

Share This Post
Pin It

Bundle up it’s cold up there.

High up on the summit of Haleakala you can witness an event that happens every single day yet never ceases to amaze, the sunrise. It’s just for this event that I’m staying in the town of Makawao in upcountry Maui at Hale Hookipa. It’s bad enough that to catch the sunrise I have to be up at 4:30am so why not be as close as possible. If I’d stayed anywhere else on Maui I’d probably have had to get up at 3am, no thanks. I’ve heard nothing but spectacular reviews of the sunrise from this vantage point and well I’m nothing if not willing to give a 4:30am wake up call a try so for 30 Days In Hawaii let’s go watch the sun rise.

Haleakala National Park

Under The Covers by Dawn Chubai

It sounds easy to get up early and go watch the sunrise but Haleakala (means house of the sun) is not just any sunrise. First thing is nothing is open at 4:30 in the morning so like I did I recommend you stock up on whatever you need for breakkie. The night before I dropped into the general store in Makawao and loaded up on banana bread and some fresh fruit. Another thing to prep for warm clothes. Everyone from Facebook friends to my hostess Cherie all said how cold it will be and that I should bundle up. Best I could do is wear my jacket from Vancouver, pants (ugh) and my running shoes. That should be plenty fine.

General Store in Makawao

bundled up at the summit of Haleakala

So all bundled up I begin my trek. Normally I would stop along the way to take pictures of the journey but not this time and for 2 very good reasons. First up it is pitch black, enough said I think. The second reason is the real reason. Driving up Haleakala in the dark is an exercise in battling vertigo. A trip that takes only 40 minutes from Hale Hookipa is the longest 40 minutes of my life.  It actually reminds me of Lombard Street in San Francisco except it goes on for miles. Perhaps because it was my first time doing this drive I was affected so strongly but bloody hell I gripped my steering wheel tight. It’s only 2 lanes, one going in each direction, and it twists and turns back on itself 10’s of times. I’m not an aggressive driver (well just a tad maybe) but here I stuck to the legal limit on every inch of road.

route to Haleakala

Lombard Street San Francisco

Once at the top I could relax and breathe. Apparently others had gotten up early than me as the very top summit parking lot was already packed. I was directed to one just below by a park ranger. With the car parked and camera equipment at the ready I am ready to catch some fire in the sky. Wham! Seconds out of the car I’m hit by a freezing blast of cold air that doesn’t let up for my entire time on the summit. It is freezing up here. Some people even came prepared with comforters.

Folks are all bundled up on Haleakala

Aside from the blasting wind it is truly spectacular up here. The views and vistas and breathtaking. I took a walk along the crumbling lava rocks to get to a space that was a bit less crowded with onlookers. Even though the sky was heavy with clouds as it brightened there was plenty to see, both towards the rising sun and back towards the extinct volcano.

people all lined up to see the sunrise

people waiting for teh sunrise

looking out on the slopes of Haleakala

It always amazes me that even up here life is growing. Amongst the cracks shrubs are growing and doing their part to turn the lava rock into soil.

life in bloom at the top of Haleakala

But the real reason I’m here is for the sunrise. Unfortunately there was one particularly heavy cloud directly between us and the sun so I didn’t get the iconic view/shot I was hoping for but even so I did capture some pink in the morning glory.

the sun starts to spread it's light on us at Haleakala

Sunrise begins at Haleakala

the sun rises

I was hoping for something a little more like this photo taken by Hawaii Tourism Authority(HTA) / Max Wanger.

Man poses with Sun above clouds

As it turns out the following morning as I was driving toward my next Maui adventure I did capture the sunrise from the side of the highway.

Sunrise on the way to Kaanapili Maui

Was the cold and getting up at 4:30am worth it considering I didn’t get “the shot” I was hoping for? ABSOLUTELY. Next time though I might try for the reverse and go up for Sunset instead. Apparently it is just as popular. What I also learned on my return to Hale Hookipa is that some of the tours that people take to catch the sunrise include biking down the mountain. I may be adventurous but I’m not crazy. I saw lots of people doing it and I’m sure it’s a rush but I’ll stick to 4 wheels and a steel roof over my head thank you. If you do it then you have to tell me what it was like.

Thank you to my friends at the Hawaii Visitor’s Bureau for helping make this adventure possible. If you want to have your own Hawaiian adventure there is no better place to start than Go Hawaii, after you read this blog series though first.

the sun starting to peak through on Haleakala

Dining Out For Life

Pin It
Share This Post

About Author

Marc Smith is a former event planner turned vagabond adventurer. He loves strong Americano's, great wine, cold beer and zip lining over tree tops. Formerly of Vancouver, most of Marc's time when not travelling is in Canada's largest city, Toronto. Follow along on his nomad adventures and discover places to stay, things to do and where to eat & drink as he explores the world one city and region at a time.


  1. The sunset at the summit is spectacular! And also very cold; like you, next time I’ll be even better prepared! Driving down in the dark was a bit tense too, and Mark white-knuckled it all the way down. So very worth it though.

  2. Really beautiful shots. Looks like it was worth it to get out of bed. Curious to know what your all-time favourite thing to do in Maui was….

Leave A Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.