Maui’s Haleakala

**Humorous essay on our Hawaiian Island trek as a couple is now posted: On The First Day Of Backpacking My True Love Gave To Me.

***This article on backpacking Maui’s Haleakala will be joined in the next few weeks by articles on camping Molokai and Lanai and backpacking Kauai’s Na Pali Coast as well as a cost breakdown but here’s a quick piece of info re: expenses – Hawaii cannot really be accomplished on what most folks would consider on a dime, however, we enacted some aggressive money-saving techniques which we’ll happily share as well as our pitfalls in the hope that others can visit this magical place with a strategy to spend money exactly where you aim. To give an idea: between backpack/camp permit fees, a night in a cabin, a hostel stay of four nights, and one night in a motel – we averaged $52.90 per day on lodging. Our hostel was $75 for a private room while the resort next door was approx. $170 – yes the resort was luxurious and hostels aren’t for those expecting luxury but if you’re looking for heart and soul, our hostel had plenty. If you average even $120 a night in Hawaii for eighteen nights, you’ll spend $2160, if you spend $170 a night, you’re at $3,060. We spent $952.20 total for seventeen nights and were flush $1,207.80 or $2107.80, depending on the comparison. We’ll add an expenses link soon.

Hawaii’s island chain is made up of over a hundred islands with eight main islands and people from all over the world flock to six of the eight for a variety of reasons. Our impetus occurred when a friend mentioned hiking a piece of stunning trail known as the Napali Coast and her husband’s interest in returning to backpack it in the future. Upon hearing this, I was off and running, researching backpacking trips in Hawaii and after a short time, my guy (Scott) and I had settled on a plan to collectively camp twelve out of seventeen nights and visit four islands.

We approached this getaway with the idea that it would most likely be our only visit to Hawaii as we have many other locales across the globe still on our to-do list. Our aim in seeing Hawaii was to steer clear, for the most part, of heavily touristy areas and seek out unique terrain as well as connect with and learn from the local population. Kauai was chosen for the Napali Coast trek, Molokai for its reputation of having the largest Hawaiian population, Lanai for the fact that it is ninety-five percent privately owned and we wondered what that might look like especially as the new owner’s goal centers around protecting/enhancing an eco-friendly agenda on the island, and finally we put Maui on the list in order to backpack a crater that looked in photos to be a true land before time. None of the islands disappointed; all four offered beauty coupled with wisdom, a concept we came to understand when the true meaning of “Aloha” was not only explained but also offered up to us again and again. To Hawaii, we say – our thanks is big or Mahalo Nui Loa.


Maui was the first stop for us on the multi-island visit that was almost a year in the making and the thing we realized immediately upon landing was that during our well-made plans, we remembered to secure permits to backpack the famed Haleakala but forgot to inform the weather to play nice for our visit. We soon discovered that trekking this island’s superstar trail would turn out to be a test in tenacity when the rain came down and down and down…

Our first heads-up began when we woke at five am in our motel to a sobering downpour that matched the latest sobering forecast. Thankfully, my guy did not take the opportunity to remind me exactly who had suggested this “tropical paradise” trip to a rain forest but instead sagely inquired as to whether I wanted to explore a plan B on the less rainy side of the island. He went on to add that the forecast on his phone app called for “an eighty percent chance of rain in the rain forest and that really for one to encounter rain in a rain forest seemed reasonable”; I’m not sure how many times he used the words “rain forest” but it exceeded the use of the words “tropical paradise” and I’m fairly certain, in his sales pitch for anywhere sans rain, I could hear his inner voice singing I’ve Got A Lovely Bunch Of Coconuts as he dreamt of a swim up bar. To give him his due, he kept a poker face but I believe I detected a slight shaking of the head when I paraded out my false bravado and said “What’s a little sprinkle? We’ve planned this for ten months”.

An hour later we were headed up the scenic, winding road to the rain-laden, naughty tease, known as Haleakala (House Of The Sun, ha!). Mercifully, we were gifted with an amazing rainbow.

Haleakala Road rainbow
Road up to the crater trailhead

The sun, from House Of The Sun, remained hit and miss though we can attest that our twenty mile trek did pony up an actual house. Sort of. If you define “house” as a seventy-five dollar a night cabin, BYOP (bring your own power). Yes, we ponied up the greenbacks for a rough-hewn, Daniel Boone structure that proudly boasted twelve twin bunks (three-high) and I never did figure out how it was possible to clamber to the third level as there were no ladders (not being Girl Scouts, we combined two mattresses and slept on the floor). And while the only toilet was of the frightening pit variety, there was a kitchen with a gas jet, fueled with testosterone, that wasted no time in singeing one set of my eyelashes in a stenchy dragonesque start. If you’d have smelled it, the authenticity of the words “stenchy” and “dragonesque” would not be in question. The House Of The Sun became The House Of The Stink at the conclusion of the eyelash sacrifice when it was combined with whang of our mildewed hike clothes.

Paliku cabin

If I haven’t lost you yet, let me pass along that a flirty wink, sans eyelashes, was totally worth it every time I basked in the diverse scenery that unfolded on our multi-day, blister inducing journey. That’s right, the cabin was seventy-five but the price of admission to the park at fifteen dollars was just a precursor to the blister fee collected along the way as I trudged through the rain forest section in my squishy hike shoes. My guy and I were soaked to the bone but also peacefully silent (well, my guy was) and constantly in awe in what we came to consider a Jurassic Park for real.

Rain forest green
Section of the trail

The beginning of our journey at the trailhead was innocent enough, with a fog-bank lazily playing hide and seek, revealing Lord Of The Rings magic around every bend. We found ourselves becoming a bit reverent while walking the initial portion of the Sliding Sands trail, a mysterious section marked with gently sloping paths of scree and moonscape vistas interspersed with green valleys. At this virgin (as in – dry) stage of our sojourn, we were seduced into thinking our packs were comfy and manageable and that the terrain was not too arduous. Figuring the almost ten miles to our cabin (Paliku) for the first night would be a literal walk in the park, I sailed along and snapped photos while meditating inwardly and chattering outwardly. I’d decided that the only technology I would indulge in would be my camera and phone for photos and that sharing trip images would be reserved solely for texting my kids and family until we returned. The landscape, with its barren beauty, seemed to echo back my intent of “conscious uncoupling” (Gwyneth Paltrow wisdom…oxymoron?) with the modern world.

Trailhead start
The beginning
Mile count
Beginning mile marker, we were headed to Paliku for the first night

Backpacking Haleakala offers a couple of options as there are three cabins along the route we took which ended up being in the twenty mile range total. We booked one cabin at seventy-five dollars and opted to camp the second night at no charge. We parked at the end of our trek and hitched up to the trailhead start, scoring a ride with the very first car that came along as I put out my thumb. Our drivers, from San Francisco, were avid hikers on a relaxed excursion (the wife was five months pregnant) and more than happy to encourage us with a warm and friendly send-off.

Upon arrival at the summit, we quickly took a couple of photos and headed out along a pleasing trail with quite a few other day hikers. For the first several hours, the progress was relaxed and gentle and then as the day hikers faded back and the trail became pretty much ours alone, a light mist arrived on the scene. We stopped for lunch as the mist morphed into a sprinkling and then got back on the trail after covering our packs with rain shields. Still optimistic, we enjoyed the feeling that we’d stepped into another world, one that was silent and still, a literal land before time.

Scott resting in the rain

We’d been told of the Silversword plant that only blooms a short time every year and that we’d missed the window so stumbling across exactly one plant in bloom felt like lottery.

And as we trekked continuously though rain and mist, I found myself mesmerized by the plants (some growing directly out of the lava rock) and their ability to hold water.

Upon reaching the first cabin (that we’d not booked), we began to get a teeny bit wet and found ourselves staring enviously through the windows at the occupants while noting the smoke coming from the wood stove flue. At this stop, Scott introduced himself to a couple of hikers that we’d discovered would be camping where our cabin was located. Noting the eighty percent chance of more rain, he offered up our cabin to them for drying their clothes and cooking and they said they’d connect when we all arrived. This turned out to be a boon as both Carlo and Jessica were seasoned backpackers from Canada with extensive travel experience that they were happy to pass along. In addition they worked for a health food store and offered up great advice on nutritive trail food.

Carlo & Jessica
Carlo & Jessica morning after the rain

Our arrival at the Paliku cabin was a muddy affair as the final hour saw much rain though we refused to complain as the rain forest terrain was so incredibly beautiful that we found ourselves constantly left speechless. The last piece of trail traversed through a soppy, narrow ribbon that left no other choice but to puddle stomp. This wasn’t necessarily a bad idea but ignoring a hot spot on my pinkie toe was and upon arrival at the cabin, I sighted a hateful blister. In and of itself, the blister wouldn’t have been a tragedy if I’d have remembered a straight pin in our first aid kit but without the surgical device I was left to ignore said blister – note to self: never again.

After an hour of babying the cabin’s stove and its manufactured logs (these are provided), we finally had a roaring fire and sat around sipping a little whiskey until our new hike friends appeared; Jess with a compromised ankle and Carlo supporting her. The four of us resembled drowned rats but our spirits were high now that the rain was on the exterior while we were on the interior. Everyone ate dinner and swapped stories and we gained some great pointers on our upcoming Na Pali Coast trek as Carlo had completed much of the trail a week previous. We all stayed up until backpacker’s midnight, about nine pm, and then it was Zzzz time.

Morning arrived with some thrilling sun and glorious landscapes but I think we all cheered the most for the ability to completely dry out our clothing. Scott and I loaded our packs and bid Carlo and Jessica farewell, knowing we’d cross paths again throughout the trail as they were headed to the same camp spot we were for night number two.

Hike day 2

Our second full day of hiking was a relief as the weather stayed friendly and the mileage was less. The landscapes altered between valleys of lush emerald greenery and almost surreal lava rock that no longer spewed active lava but had left behind jewel tone hues that popped against hills of ebony and chocolate (“black” and “brown” don’t do it justice). We both were enthralled.

Teri jewel tone area
A jewel-like section of the terrain

Toward the last mile of this day’s trail, we trekked across a Mad Max world and were once again moved at the sense of visiting a mystical land.

Mad Max
Mad Max landscape

Luck was with us at our campsite as a light rain began just as we set up the tent so we quickly popped inside where I set up my backpacking chair, opened my book, and made tea for two – leaning out of the tent to tend the stove. The late afternoon passed lazily and after dinner we hit the sack with the feeling that sunrise should not be missed. We weren’t let down, it turned out to be a golden zen that was worth waking early for.


Our final daybreak was one of peace mixed with trepidation as we knew we faced a thousand foot climb out of the crater. After steel cut oatmeal with dried fruit and coffee, we broke camp, hugged Carlo and Jessica goodbye and hit the trail. On this last four mile ascent, we were loving the views (at first) but as the upward portion continued, a heavy fog rolled in and obscured any sightseeing. Onward we trudged and it was at this moment that my pinkie toe began a mean-spirited scream about every tenth step I took. Perplexed, I continued on and just chalked it up to a bad blister. In addition to the pinkie issue, we had been navigating a backpack fiasco that had Scott and me switch packs as his was driving him insane and it seemed to not affect me quite as badly…until the final mile at which point I began uttering every expletive known to man and threatened to throw the pack off the cliff. I should add here that Scott had purchased the pack from a high end retailer and it was fitted to him but inexplicably, upon examining it, it became obvious it was better suited to someone about four to six inches taller than the two of us. Hindsight: make certain the pack is perfect before taking  it on a big trek.

Climb out 2
Piece of the trail on the climb out

The last mile was one we all dread when backpacking – the hitting of the physical/emotional wall. The elevation climb on this trek isn’t easy even without a compromised toe and the uphill does seem to go on and on and on… When we finally made it to the end of the trail, we tried to cheer or cry but couldn’t even muster the energy for that. Our Haleakala journey had come to an end and we were shredded but we both knew that we’d accomplished something; we’d slogged through mud, ripped muscles, and battled our own frustration but we’d managed to remain a team. At times we’d been helpful to each other by cheering and encouraging and at other times we’d held back and allowed our mate to wade through the challenges solo and in their own manner but through it all we’d remained partners.

Grass fed burgers
Local grass fed burgers

We left Haleakala and gleefully made quick work of two amazing grass fed burgers at the Ulupalakua Ranch Store where we were also gifted with a straight pin for my blister. Thankfully, we thoroughly enjoyed our drive to our next campsite which was along the road to Hana – the section we were on was not frequented by many. We also lucked in to a couple of cans of coconut beer and some local flavor at the oldest family owned roadside store Hasegawa. Next, we headed to Kipahulu and unloaded our gear at our free campsite (it was still covered by our initial fifteen dollar entrance to Haleakala) as storm clouds snuck in. Just as the tent was ready to go, the rain began again but this time I was satisfied to have a stomach full of burger and Ibuprofen and Scott doctoring my now infected blister as we sipped our beers. We boiled water and added in Bronner’s soap and after an hour-long soak, my bandaged and Neosporined toe was on the upswing. It would take the five down-days on Molokai and Lanai to heal completely but it rebounded in time for Kauai’s Na Pali Coast so all turned out well.

Dawn Kipahulu
Dawn Kipahulu

On our last morning, we packed the rent car, made the gorgeous drive around the island via the remaining part of the famed road to Hana, and met with some of my cousins for incredible Hawaiian ices. We ended our Maui adventure at a beach that my cousin (a resident) knew of and other tourists did not. Located near the airport, it made for a perfect farewell to an island that delivered exactly what it offered, Mother Nature at her most glorious.

Mahalo Maui.

Roadside Hana
Roadside Hana
Cousins and Hawaiian Ice, best way to end the trip!
Maui beach
Maui Beach

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