A Maui vacation may conjure up images of white sand beaches and turquoise waters, but the mighty Haleakala is the island’s main attraction. Rising 10,023 feet above sea level and visible from practically everywhere on island, Haleakala is a constant reminder of Maui’s diversity and lore.
Haleakala National Park itself encompasses over 30,000 acres of public land around the volcano, in which an endless array of adventure awaits. The park is not only home to rare and indigenous plants and animals, backcountry hikes, lush jungle waterfalls, and jaw-dropping beaches but also the star of vast amounts of Hawaiian history, both ancient and modern. These are the legends of Haleakala.
How many Legends of Haleakala do you know?
1. The House of the Sun – The Beginning of Haleakala’s History
Haleakala, or House of the Sun in Hawaiian, received its name from a famous Polynesian legend. In it, the mischievous demigod Maui and his hardworking mother, Hina, lived on Hawai’i (Big Island). Lā, the sun god, governed their days, as he decided when there was light or darkness.
When there was light, Maui spent his time fishing and Hina on household work. One day Hina was working on making a special cloth made of tree bark called kapa, which needed to be dried completely in the sun. Lā frequently slept in, thus shortening their days, and Hina could not dry her cloth. She complained to her son, and he decided to do something about it.
Maui made a long, strong rope out of woven coconut fiber and climbed in darkness to the top of Haleakalā. When Lā finally appeared (late as usual) in a dazzling display of glorious light, Maui lassoed the god and tied him to a nearby tree. Lā, trapped and helpless, begged to be released. Maui demanded more light every day in trade for his freedom. Finally, the two reached a deal, and the Hawaiian Islands received additional sunlight.
To this day, Haleakala is wao akua — a sacred place of the gods. Sunrise at Haleakala is a must for any Maui vacation!
Local Tips: Be sure to plan ahead to reach the summit in time. You will want to aim for 1 hour before the listed sunrise time as that is the time the sun will break the horizon, and you want to see all of the colors that happen before that moment. Reservations are required between 3:00 am and 7:00 am. Unless you go on a guided tour, you will need to make a reservation before you go up. Dress warmly as temperatures can reach freezing. Walking across the street at 30°F is much different than standing in it for an hour, so you may as well be comfortable.
2. The Haleakala Silversword only grows on Haleakala, Maui
The rare Haleakala Silversword, or āhinahina in Hawaiian, can be found growing in only one place on earth: Haleakala Volcano. Silverswords typically live between 3 and 90 years. They were almost wiped out due to excited tourists and hungry cattle, but the national park now protects it.
Silverswords have a distinct and photogenic appearance and have acclimated to the unique environment on the top of Haleakala. Their silver leaves act as storage vessels for water and angle in to create an internal reflector oven, which focuses sunlight on the plant’s central growing point. Before dying, they send up a flowering stalk that grows up to six feet high in a few weeks and produces hundreds of flowering heads. After being pollinated, the silversword dies, and the cycle begins anew.
Enjoy viewing this unique plant, and know that while protected now, once it was almost just a legend.
Local Tip: Silverswords have a very delicate lateral root system which means that the roots are just inches below the rocky surface. Please fight the urge to stand close to these plants as you may be standing on and crushing their root system, leading to their death. Seeing a blooming Silversword is an incredible experience, but make sure not to get too close so that others will be able to enjoy the site for years to come.
3. Pele’s Curse – Hawaii’s Famous Legend
Pele’s Curse may be the most notorious of all the Hawaiian legends. Madame Pele is the famed Goddess of Volcanoes and Fire, and she guards her “children” (lava rocks) jealously. If anyone is foolish enough to take a volcanic rock off of the islands, they will suffer irreparable bad luck until it is returned to its mother.
Some dismiss the myth and say the legend was started by a disgruntled park ranger who was tired of tourists taking rock “souvenirs” on his watch. Yet every year, hundreds of rocks, sand jars, and shells are mailed back to hotels and tourism offices on the island, often accompanied by notes sharing stories of death, bankruptcy, and heartbreak. The curse has even been verified by fact-checker Snopes!
Let this be your warning when visiting Haleakala: rocks and shells are not your keepsakes but rather Pele’s cherished babies, and you don’t want to mess with this overprotective mama!
Local Tips: “Powerstones” is the name of a book dedicated to telling the stories of Madame Pele, Haleakala, and the power of the lava rocks. It also shows actual letters of bad luck stories from visitors returning the rocks to the park in hopes that the bad luck ends. It is also illegal to take lava rocks from Hawaii, so it’s best just to appreciate their beauty and leave them where they are.
4. Is Haleakala Crater the Quietest Place in the World?
Haleakala Crater is said to be the quietest place on Earth and was recently the subject of a PBS documentary of the same name. “At certain places on the crater floor,” said Liz Gordon, Cultural Resources Manager for Haleakala National Park, via Hana Hou! Magazine, “It gets so quiet, it exceeds the technical capabilities of the microphones.”
Why is the crater so quiet? Many factors have resulted in this phenomenon, such as its protected state from mankind and the fact that many parts of the crater are devoid of plant or animal life. In addition, its unique landscape seems to absorb sound, and the high altitude changes how sound is heard and spread.
Whatever the causes, science has proven this myth as a fact! Can you find the secret pockets inside the crater that create the quietest place on Earth?
Local Tip: To truly experience the quietest place in the world, hike 10 minutes along the trails to get away from people and cars. It is a truly spectacular experience that is hard to find anywhere on Earth. Be sure to bring water, sun protection, and good shoes.
5. Haleakala Crater – Not a Crater at All!
Although the sunken area of Haleakala is commonly referred to as a “crater” (including in this article), it is not actually a volcanic crater. What we refer to as a large crater is, in fact, the result of years and years of volcanic explosions and lava accumulation. Some scientists say that the crater was formed from two large valleys merging at the summit of the volcano.
What does that mean to you? Things are not as they appear, and what you think you may know of Haleakala is just the tip of the metaphorical iceberg – or the head of the volcano!
Local Tips: The “crater” at the top of Haleakala is technically called an erosional depression where wind and rain have shaped the ridgeline of the top of the Volcano. Cinder cones from past eruptions can be found inside the erosional depression, but this is not the site of a caldera. You can get a good look at a cinder cone if you are willing to hike about 1.5 miles down into the crater. Bring water and sunscreen, and check with Haleakala National Park for the latest information and trail closings.
Ways to Experience Haleakala
To truly immerse yourself in the legends of the island, a Haleakala visit is in order. Plan an early sunrise to see Lā in his glory. Hike the desolate crater and see if you can find the quietest place on Earth. Explore the expansive park surrounding the summit on your choice of rugged trails. Or, consider a more nontraditional approach and bike down the volcano with us!
However you choose to honor The House of the Sun, just make sure you leave it as you found it and resist the urge to take home a souvenir rock, as you don’t want to risk Pele’s wrath!