It’s about a sunrise over a volcano, popcorn octopus, and a rain forest. After being away for years, this is a second visit to Maui to explore its natural splendors.

It’s 2:45 a.m. We’re on our way to the Haleakala National Park to experience the sunrise of the Haleakala volcano, the highest point on Maui. The night is illuminated only by the vehicle’s headlights showing a twisty and narrow road. The summit is pitch-black but the restrooms, the only buildings open at this time of the early morning, cast some light on the railings and trails. Dimly I make out the silhouettes of others, some wrapped in blankets, clustering thickly around the railings eagerly leaning forward to grasp the first day’s rays. As it was too crowded, we followed other black figures lighting the way with pinpoints of their flashlights on another volcanic trail.

At the summit the silence is heavy, not even the babies and toddlers cry or say anything. HaleakalaThere’s almost a spiritual, collective silence, with expectant reverence to the dark morning. At 6:15 the sunrise began.

When the first rays appear, an eerie, other-worldly scene emerges. Horizontal bands of golden pink pierce the summit revealing clouds layered within the crater. At over 10,000 feet, the clouds resemble washed-out grey mountain ranges, which gradually dissipate after day break to reveal ancient cinder cones

Haleakala SunriseAnd as dawn rises the northwestern and southwestern volcanoes appear, separated by an isthmus formed by sandy deposits created millions of years ago. The view reminds one that we are at the top of a small part of a huge volcanic range, mostly hidden underwater. The impression is one of a gigantic valley, and it’s easy to see why Maui is called the Valley Isle. Whispery clouds hover over the valleys and towns, diffused with various shades of green and ocean blue. By 8:00 we gingerly follow bicyclists coasting down the volcano and slowly welcome the tropical warmth of the day.

The exploration of Maui wouldn’t be complete without a trip through the rain forest. So we traverse the road to Hana to see cascading waterfalls and wind through a tropical jungle to experience the offerings of deep lush valleys.

The road is 52 miles long with 617 curves and 56 bridges that frequently narrows from two lanes into one. Some parts of the road are rough and extremely bumpy but luckily for us we are with a very experienced and knowledgeable guide who regaled us with stories.

Ever make popcorn octopus? The guide asks as we drive past sugar cane fields and Mama’s Fish House, a popular restaurant on Maui’s north shore. Our response is a skeptical no, never heard of it. So the guide explains how. First, grab some octopus, which should be fairly easy to do since they feed on the crabs that grow in abundance along the shoreline. Then make a batter of Bisquick and soda, and dunk the octopus into it. Lastly, deep fry it. Oh, and be sure that the soda is really cold, he added to ensure the best results.

Sounded intriguing!

We continued past the colonial town of Paia and Haiku towards the beginning of the rain forest. Steep valleys grow lush foliage containing sugar cane fields, exotic fruits and plants. Rain ForestBamboo groves flourish while wild boar roams throughout the forest.

As we cruised further on Highway 36, a few red beaches, red because of volcanic cinder, appeared along the coastline. Black SandsIn fact, beaches can also be golden, grey or black, depending on whatever the currents churn up. So we stopped at Wainapanapa State Park where a black sandy beach and a cave carved into the volcanic rock awaited.

Then just past the small town of Hana we strolled over trails to the Oeho Gulch Pools. These tiered pools are fed by cascading streams and are also known as the Seven Sacred Pools.

The guide stopped for a visitor who hopped out to pick a guava from a tree, one of many varieties brought over by the early immigrants. Each group brought a plant from their own culture such as guavas, rose apple trees, and bamboo. As a result, there is an abundance of unique plants and fruit, some with medicinal value.

Unique trees live on Maui. The Rose Apple Tree grows a sweet and crunchy fruit, which smells like a rose, giving the tree its name. Rainbow Eucalyptus TreeAnother tree is a variety of Eucalyptus, also known as a painted or rainbow tree because of the colors of its bark. Colors can range from green, red, yellow, brown, purple, and even pink!

Banyan trees thrive in the rain forest and other parts of Maui. One grows near the Palapaia Ho’omau Church in Kipahulu, where Charles Lindbergh is buried. But the most famous Banyan tree, located in the Courthouse Square in Lahaina was planted in 1873 by William Owen Smith and is over a century old. It’s a popular gathering place that provides shade as it stands 60 feet tall covering about two-thirds of an acre.

The Banyan tree has multiple branches with 16 trunks that grew from the original trunk and attached themselves to the ground. All branches and trunks are interconnected in a winding, incredible, twisty mass. Banyan TreeWhile admiring artwork from the vendors, it was hard to believe that this gigantic tree is really one tree and not many. And meandering beneath the shade of the old Banyan tree is a great way to end exploring the natural side of Maui.

Back at the Westin Kaanapali Ocean Resort Villa, we strolled along the golden beach savoring the gentle breezes and inhaling sweet, salty air. As the sun set we reflected on the abundance and natural beauty of the Valley Isle.


Maui Nature Excursions

Valley Isle Excursions
390 Papa Place, Suite B
Kahului, HI 96732-2425

Toll free: 877-871-5224

Polynesian Adventure Tours: 800-622-3011

Tip: If you go on a Haleakala volcanic sunrise, dress warmly as the temperature can be about 20 degrees. It also helps to have a hat, scarf, gloves, and a flashlight.

Haleakala National Park:

Oheo Gulch Pools:


Places to Eat and Stay

Mama’s Fish House, Restaurant and Inn
799 Poho Place Paia, Hawaii 96779 or
for reservations

The Westin Kaanapali Ocean Resort Villas
6 Kai Ala Drive, Maui HI 96761

Central reservations: 866-716-8112

Photos by Sheri Mak Roloff