So you are planning a trip to Maui and you want to capture some great photos of the stars and sunrise on Haleakala. What should you bring?
-A camera capable of taking long exposures. Any DSLR, GoPro, point and shoot with a manual mode, and even an iPhone (with the right app) will suffice. This trip I used an Olympus Tough TG-4 and a GoPro. Photo above taken with the Olympus Tough TG-4, Live Capture mode. Exposure was only about 8-10 minutes since the sky was becoming lighter close to sunrise. Arrive 2-4 hours before scheduled sunrise for dark skies and light trail photos.
-A tripod & camera mount. There are tons of options out there, from tiny Gorillapods to traditional Manfrotto tripods. Just be sure you have the mount you need for the camera.
-A cable/remote release. You don’t want to ruin your stable photo on the tripod by stopping the photo with an unsteady hand. Newer point and shoot cameras (including the TG-4 Tough) can be controlled with your smartphone. DSLRs typically have associated cable releases that cost $15.
-A headlamp, preferably with a red light option, to preserve your night vision and everyone else around you!
-Any time lapse tools. GoPro Hero 3 and newer have a Time Lapse Photo mode, which takes sequential timed photos, which you can import in the GoPro software to make a time lapse video. The newer GoPro Hero 4 models also have a nice Time Lapse Video feature, which will stitch all your photos together in camera and make an MP4 file in GoPro Studio. If you want all of the individual photos and a higher res video, you should use Time Lapse Photo mode.
-A snack and water. There are no restaurants in the park, so you must pack food in and out. You can grab pre-packaged food at local grocery stores the day before your trip, or stop at the 24-hr Zippy’s in Kahului before you head up the mountain. Also, at 10,000 ft elevation, you will become dehydrated much faster so be sure you have plenty of water, especially if you are sticking around a while.
-Something soft to sit on. The lava rocks are pretty sharp and if you get tired of standing you will be grateful for something to sit/lay on.
-A hat, gloves, jacket, long pants, closed toe shoes and hand warmers. It is very cold at 10,000 ft every night. Even colder if it’s windy. You likely won’t want to leave your camera, so you will be glad you have something to help keep you warm.
-Patience, an extra camera and something to keep you occupied! Time lapse shots take a long time for nice star trails – 30 minutes minimum. You will want a second camera for taking other shorter shots as the light improves.
I just returned from a family trip to Maui. We arrived Saturday evening and the rest of our party arrived on Sunday afternoon, so on our first morning there, Sam and I made the trek to the summit of Haleakala National Park to watch the sunrise at the top of the world. It is a breathtaking, magical experience, and below are some tips for your trip!
Plan your visit at the beginning or end of your trip. It will give you something to do when you are jet lagged, or can help you adjust back to your time zone. Depending on where you stay (see next tip), you could be leaving your hotel at 3am or 4am!
Plan to stay closer to the park. The drive times to the summit are: 60 minutes from Kula and Makawao, 75 minutes from Paia, 90 minutes from Kahului, 100 minutes from Kihei, 2 hours from Wailea, 2 hours 15 minutes from Lahaina, and 2 hours 30 minutes minutes from Ka’anapali. We stayed at a comfortable but cheap hotel in Kahului, but you could also find an Airbnb in Kula, Makawao or Paia.
Plan to arrive a minimum of 1 hour before scheduled sunrise. This is a popular trip, so the two parking lots (summit at 10000ft and visitor center at 9700ft) will be full close to sunrise. We arrived about 40 minutes before sunrise and we were the last car allowed up to the summit lot. If you arrive 2 hours beforehand on a night with little or no moon, you can stargaze under some of the darkest skies in the country (hence the presence of the University of Hawaii’s Institute for Astronomy observatories – also at the summit, but unfortunately closed to the public. Easy to admire from afar!). Be sure to check the local sunrise and moon phase before you go!
Plan to be freezing. It is cold (30s) and windy at night at 10,000 ft, every month of the year. A warm under layer, a wind proof top layer, a warm beanie, warm gloves, socks and closed shoes are key! You will be happy you packed those hand warmers and jacket. I like to wear yoga pants under my wind proof hiking pants, a tank/hiking tee under my hoodie and insulated jacket, along with my hiking sneakers. My face and my hands are always the coldest. Many people will wear shorts and wrap up in a beach towel – this is not enough to keep you warm! At the summit lot is a glass-enclosed hut that will protect you from the wind, but it gets crowded fast, so if you don’t have the proper clothes, try arrive early to grab a spot in front.
Plan to bring enough food and water with you. There are no restaurants in the park, so you must pack food/trash in and out. You can grab pre-packaged food at local grocery stores the day before your trip, or stop at the 24-hr Zippy’s in Kahului before you head up the mountain. Also, at 10,000 ft elevation, you will become dehydrated much faster so be sure you have plenty of water, especially if you are sticking around a while.
Plan other activities from the summit. You can hike into the crater along the sliding sands trail, take a bike tour down crater road starting at the park entrance, or rent a mountain bike and ride down the spine of the crater along the Skyline trail. On a previous trip after the sun came up, I hiked into the crater to Ka Lu’u o ka ‘O’o cinder cone. It was lovely until I had to hike out. They call it the sliding sands trail for a reason – I was envious of the people on horseback (which they no longer operate inside the crater). Be aware it will get very warm as the sun comes up, so dress in layers. Also remember to pack sunscreen! Lower down the mountain you can zip line, take a horseback ride, visit lavender farms, and shop in upcountry towns.
Plan to pay the park entrance fee of $15. It is good for 3 days, so if you want to visit the coastal area of the park near Hana, plan that day close to your Haleakala trip.
You can also visit the park for sunset, but be aware you will have to drive down the mountain switchbacks in the dark.
Quick facts and overview: Haleakala National Park
Year established: 1916
Size: 34,294 acres
Annual visitors: 1.2 million in 2015
Best activities: Sunrise/sunset viewing, stargazing, hiking
Where to find the passport stamp: The Haleakala visitor center at the summit (9740 ft.) has a passport station in the far back corner. The posted hours are sunrise-3pm. The headquarters visitor center down the mountain at 7000 ft. also has passport stamps, open 8am-3:45p daily.