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When I saw that my time at the Banana Bungalow would include a Saturday, the day of their famous Haleakala hiking trip, I briefly considered changing my dates. Yes, it’s true, I’ve become somewhat of a hiker lately, but this was another beast entirely. And while obviously the free tours aren’t mandatory, there’s no way I could forgive myself if I was at the right place at the right time and didn’t go for it. Four miles of knee-pounding descent into the crater, four miles across the sandy bottom, and then — just when you’re good and exhausted — another four miles uphill across steep switchbacks out of the crater.

Sound like a good time?


It was. At around 8:30 in the morning twenty of us piled into vans and made our way up 10,000 feet above sea level, to the summit of Haleakala. The dormant volcano makes up over 75% of the landmass that is Maui, and is a sacred site to the Hawaiian people.

While Hawaii can be a pricey destination, so much of what there is to do and see is based on natural beauty. So with a low National Park entrance fee ($10 per car for three days!) and a cheap car rental or bus pass, anyone can visit this stunning site on a budget.

Splitting into two groups and departing 15 minutes apart to comply with the parks anti-overcrowding rules, we all eventually set off. The first few hours were relatively painless as our group got to know each other by chatting about — what else? — our travels in Hawaii and beyond. We marveled at the cool air — about 30 degrees cooler than sea level –, the other-worldly scenery, and the ever-present blooming ahinahina, or silversword plant.

Hiking across the Halemau’u Trail in the flat center of the crater provided its own challenges, with a mostly sandy bottom making walking difficult. I reflected on my previous major hiking accomplishment, summiting Ben Nevis in Scotland, and laughed remembering how out of desperately out of shape I was (it was even in my post title!) This route would bump Ben Nevis out of first place my a mere two miles — and hopefully a lot less tears.

After hours and hours of non-stop movement, we came to the final test: the switchback ascent out of the crater. Here, the scenery changed from an outer-space like desert to a gradually lusher tropical forest. Now afternoon, fog cover began to roll in and we found ourselves hiking quite literally through the clouds.

This was where the pain set in. As our breathing became labored and our steps became slothish and one girl even shed a few tears, we spread out and gave ourselves space to push through the final few miles.

I was glad for the solitude, as it allowed me the privacy to curse the universe and wonder aloud if the trail would ever end.

Eventually, it did, and I joined the cheering heap of bodies collapsed in the parking lot while we waited for the rest of the group to join us. While there had been some spotty moments, I was thrilled to find that I was able to complete a full day and twelve miles of hiking with only a bare minimum of wishing for death. It was a major milestone for this former physical-activity fearer.

And we were about to be rewarded for our hard work. With the stragglers hopping in the van, we raced to the summit area in time for sunset. The sky darkened with brilliant colors, and I noticed even our guide Isaac pulling out his camera in preparation for our arrival. One thing I’ve learned in my travels — when the tour guide, who in this case had done the trip 140 times(!), takes out his camera, it’s going to be a good sunset.

Through the tops of the clouds we could see the entire island, way down the mountains of West Maui. The sky swirled with colors, and the massive crowd gathered at the summit cheered as the sun finally slipped below the horizon. I couldn’t believe this whole day had been practically free, aside from the park entrance fee and the generous tip I gratefully handed to my guide — viva and their free tour program!

Any lingering sadness I had about missing sunset at Mauna Kea was more than soothed by this amazing gift of a view. It was without a doubt the most beautiful sunsets I had ever seen, and Isaac confirmed it was among the best he’d witnessed on his time living in Maui.

It was the perfect ending to one of my favorite Hawaii days. Stunning scenery, laughter with friends, being active and out in the sunshine — this is what Hawaii means to me.

Are you a hiker? What’s your greatest hiking accomplishment? Go on, put me to shame!

. . . . . .

In other news, my first assignment doing tour reviews for Viator is now live! If you didn’t read my person account here, read my official review of the Las Vegas Helicopter tour !

  • OMG!!!!! That last picture is beyond amazing! What a hike!!! I’m sorry I haven’t been commenting, I took a break from blogs for a 2 weeks. Hope you’re settled nicely in SEA. šŸ™‚
    Andi of My Beautiful Adventures recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      January 12 2013

      I remember that you are always a smart girl and take a break from the computer when you are traveling šŸ™‚ I need to do the same every once in a while even though I am on the road for so long.

  • Dad
    January 12 2013

    The last picture is stunning and should be a picture of the week.

    • Meihoukai
      January 12 2013

      It was, way back at the time! One of my favorites from all of Hawaii!

  • Savvy Scot
    January 12 2013

    Got to agree with Dad here!!
    Savvy Scot recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      January 12 2013

      I can’t remember what week this was in “real time,” but it actually was Photo of the Week!

  • Laryssa
    January 12 2013

    Awesome, awesome photos!

    I’ve never really considered adding Hawaii to my list of destinations… but dammit, this post completely changes my mind. Looks like an amazing hike. šŸ™‚
    Laryssa recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      January 12 2013

      Woo hoo! Spreading Hawaii love all over the internets šŸ™‚ I was the same once, so I’m very excited to spread the good word to all the skeptics!

  • Tawny of Captain and Clark
    January 12 2013

    GAH! The last few pictures took my breath away! Consider me inspired. We’re headed to Maui in early February and this has now been added to my list of things to do. You’ll be running up and down Kilimanjaro before you know it šŸ˜‰

    • Meihoukai
      January 13 2013

      So excited you guys are Hawaii bound! For work or for pleasure? Definitely put this on your list!

  • Gaelyn
    January 12 2013

    That hike looks amazing. Love all the colors in the crater. But nothing like that sunset. WOW! Good practice for rim-to-rim at the canyon.
    Gaelyn recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      January 13 2013

      Always working my way up to the next big goal! šŸ™‚

  • paul | walkflypinoy
    January 12 2013

    I like hiking especially in places where you look down on the clouds and not up. And this place. Just wow. And that sunset. Wow!
    paul | walkflypinoy recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      January 13 2013

      Yup, there’s nothing like some stunning scenery to take your mind off your muscles screaming and your feet going numb! šŸ™‚

  • Shaun
    January 14 2013

    What an accomplishment! Really like the hills cutting the rolling clouds and the sunset pic.

    Mount Olympus is my biggest! Don’t know what will be next.

    • Meihoukai
      January 15 2013

      I’m hoping to do a big trek in Indonesia, maybe Mount Bromo. So that’s whats next for me! šŸ™‚

  • Diane
    January 15 2013

    That last pic is one of my favorites! WOW! Looked like a killer workout — but at least you had some great scenery to distract you from the burn!
    Diane recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      January 15 2013

      I think I realized the reason I hated hiking growing up in Upstate New York: It didn’t look like THIS! šŸ™‚

  • Frank
    January 15 2013

    I love that last photo at the end! These recent posts are really making me miss my old home…I’m going to have to visit soon.

    • Meihoukai
      January 15 2013

      Thanks Frank, that’s a real compliment coming from a local! Glad you’ve enjoyed these posts.

  • TammyOnTheMove
    January 17 2013

    Wooow, that looks epic! Really cool! Lovng the sunset shots! I will do my biggest hiking challenge in about two months time when I will be doing a 10 -day Everest Base Camp trek. Slighlty pooing myslef, but I can’t wait. šŸ˜‰
    TammyOnTheMove recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      January 18 2013

      Woah, that puts me to shame! You go girl!

  • Erica
    January 21 2013

    Oh lord. The last time I climbed to 13k feet I cried. Lots and lots. Good on ya.
    Erica recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      January 22 2013

      I’m planning to do Mount Bromo in Indonesia this spring…. I’m packing lots and lots of tissues for all the tears that will be shed!

  • Kristen
    January 25 2013

    Wow. That’s almost the only thing I can mutter out. Your posts give me life! That sunset is incredible. I did my first hike, about 5 miles or so, in Northern Thailand up to the hilltribe villages about 2 weeks ago. I have to say it was the hardest thing I’ve EVER done, lol, but I wouldn’t rule out future treks if they are as gorgeous as this one!

    I think we might have been in Bangkok at the same time! Ahh.. maybe we’ll cross paths somewhere in the world another time.
    Kristen recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      January 26 2013

      Thank you for such a kind comment, Kristen! Shame we missed each other in Thailand, but congrats on your first big hike!