We manage to get to the lobby only one minute late and meet our tour guide from Temptation Tours, Eric. His entertaining monologues and offerings of local trivia and really just his overall personality remind Lucie of Crush, the turtle from Finding Nemo, so that's how she refers to him (to me at least) for the rest of the day.
As we drive to our next stop where Eric/Crush is to pick up some more passengers in or limo van, he regales us with various trivia about Haleakala, Maui, and the cities through which we drive, such as:
-There's a 3-degree drop in temperature for every 1000 feet in elevation on the extinct volcano, meaning that at the summit of just over 10,000 feet it'll be 30 degrees colder than it is now, and that 40MPH winds at the top are not uncommon;
-Approx. 92% of everything in Hawai'i has been introduced by man -- this includes such "Hawaiian" things as pineapple, plumeria, sugar cane, and birds of paradise;
-Wailea is Hawaiian for "waters of Lea" (the canoe goddess);
-Likewise Kalahaku means "eye of the clouds" and Puka'alakea means "hole to heaven";
-Haleakala, actually Haleakalā, means "House of the Sun"
He also entertains us with various of his favorite lines such as having PMA (for Positive Mental Attitude), or his weather report of "Welcome to Maui -- the weather will be partly cloudy, with temperatures between 76 and 84, for the next 85 years..."
After we stop and pick up the other passengers (a family of four staying at the Grand Wailea, in Wailea), we begin our ascent to the summit. Eric points out some wild deer feeding in a golf course along the way -- axis deer, African in origin and introduced into Hawaii as a gift to King Kamehameha by Hong Kong in the 1800s, and brought from Moloka'i to Maui around 1960 for hunting. We also see a small wildfire by the side of the road, and Eric calls 911 to report it. The father of the family tries to make a joke and suggests that the deer had started the fire, and before I can make my planned deer-related pun that arson doesn't bring in the big bucks, Lucie quips that they were deer, not Camels. Outpunned by my wife -- curses! And it was a great pun, too, although only the wife seems to get it since after a few seconds she gives a quick bark of laughter and everyone else remains silent. Sigh.
We make a quick stop at a roadside coffee stand in the city of Kula (no espresso machine, so I get a cup of coffee since it's only 3:30AM at this point) and continue our drive. We reach the viewing point on Haleakalā around 4:45. The elevation here is 9740 feet, and there are no clouds to be found this high -- we've already passed through the cloud layer on the drive up. The temperature is surprisingly mild compared to what we were expecting -- somewhere around 45 degrees, with only a slight breeze. The view of the stars, however, is just breathtaking -- we have a clear view of the huge expanse of the Milky Way, with no city lights or airborne pollution impeding our view.
I have never seen more stars in the sky in my life; nor has Lucie.
We spend the next hour or so bundled in our warm clothes, huddled together for warmth, splitting our time between looking at the stars and watching the horizon, as the sky gradually turns from black to midnight blue, to royal blue, then continues from blue to peach as sunrise nears. As the sky lightens, we're also able to see more of the caldera of Haleakalā beneath us. We're standing at the edge of a sheer dropoff, with the caldera floor 3000 feet below us. The far edge of the crater is 7000 feet away, but without any trees or manmade structures in the crater, the distances are very deceiving... It looks like it's only a thousand feet or so at most in diameter, and maybe a few hundred feet down. The reddish hue of the rocks, an artifact of the presence of iron oxide, makes the landscape almost look like that of Mars.
Finally, at 6:05, the Sun begins to make its appearance. From behind us, a group of elders begins their traditional chant welcoming the Sun.
E ala e
Ka la i kahikina
I ka moana
Ka moana hohonu
Pi’i ka lewa
Ka lewa nu’u
Aia ka la.
E ala e!
The Sun in the East
From the ocean
The ocean deep
Climbing (to) the heaven
The heaven highest
In the East
There is the Sun
The sky is clear, the sunrise is amazing, and it's something that we will remember forever. It's not just seeing a sunrise, it's seeing the Sun rise from one of the tallest places in Hawai'i, and one of the most untouched by man; it's the combination of seeing one of the most beautiful things in nature, in one of the most beautiful places in the world, and on this particular day with one of the best viewing conditions possible.
We admire the sunrise for a while, then Eric takes us further up to the summit itself, 10,023 feet above sea level. We walk through the information cabin at the top, reading about the weather conditions on Maui and why some parts of the island are bone dry while others are straight-out rain forest, and about the fact that there are supposedly nēnē living around here, which as ALL know is a total scam and there are no such things as nēnē, and about such rare plants such as the silversword which is endemic to Hawai'i, and -- Lucie nudges me and points down to the parking area and we see some birds down there, which look kind of like... OMG!!! NĒNĒ!
We scoot out of the cabin and take the stairs down to the parking area as quickly as we can -- which, given my bad knee and the fact that we're almost two miles up and there's not all that much oxygen up here so it's a little difficult to breathe when we exert ourselves, isn't really all that quickly -- as I take picture after picture with my iPhone.
Trying to look inconspicuous and as native as possible so the nēnē won't catch on that they're supposed to be hiding from us, we get closer to our quarry, whistling Hawaiian songs nonchalantly as I pretend to play Angry Birds while actually taking picture after picture... we see Crush -- sorry, Eric -- nearby and tell him excitedly about what we'd seen. "Yep," he tells us happily, "those are chukars, originally brought to Hawai'i in the 1930s, and introduced to Maui in 1954; those guys are everywhere up here."
D'ohh. D'ohh!!. Already in my mind I can hear the laughter of the Hawaiians at the big tie-dye-wearing haole falling for their big prank. I'm pretty sure that right now the chukars are guffawing and giving each other high fives (or high feathers, or whatever it's called when birds do it -- I'm pretty sure there's a specific term for it.)
After a few moments of soul-crushing humiliation at actually allowing myself to believe in the presence of the nēnē, we soothe our feelings by taking pictures of the silversword plants. Haleakalā silverswords are endemic, or found nowhere else on earth than on this mountain; once the silversword's flower stalk blooms, which can be anywhere in the plant's lifecycle from 5 to 50 years, the flowers bloom for just a month or two before the stalk and the plant then shrivel and die. Needless to say, because of both this reproduction method and the extreme conditions in which the plant grows (and the clueless or willfully ignorant tourists who cross the erected barriers and walk near the plants, ruining the root systems and killing the plants before they can bloom) these plants are extremely rare.
We take some more pictures of the summit, the silverswords, and the science city nearby inhabited by NASA workers who use the summit buildings for infrared laser and satellite studies, but NOT of the chukars, who are still chirping hysterically and mooning me, and then we head down the mountain. Since we'd talked about seeing nēnē with Eric, he makes a small detour on the way down and stops at a few places to see if he can find any. We see plovers, more chukars, and even a wild pheasant, but (of course!) none of the fabled and imaginary nēnē. We do get a very nice above-the-clouds view of the town of Puka'alakea ("hole to heaven", remember?), named such because a vortex of air currents created by the valley between Maui's mountains creates a huge circle of clouds with an open spot directly above the city. It's a much more impressive view from up here than it is from ground level.
We stop once again in Kula, at the same location where we stopped for coffee on the way up. As part of the tour, we're getting breakfast at the Kula Lodge, owned by the wife of the guy who runs the coffee stand. I sense a bit of a cooperative deal here, but after the awesome experience we just had (sunrise, not nēnē) I'm not bothered at all. After a short walk through the garden where they have ivy, roses, and protea growing on a steep hillside with an amazing view of the Maui coast far below us, we sit down for breakfast. I have cinnamon raisin French toast with coconut syrup and Lucie has a classic breakfast with eggs, toast, potatoes, and ham, and we both have coffee. Lots of coffee... at this point, because of the early flight yesterday and the time change, and the late night last night combined with with the early morning today, we're running on about two hours of sleep in the last 30-plus hours, and I'm getting too old for that stuff.
After the breakfast -- which was tasty and very large, and came with an impressive view of Maui and the Pacific Ocean -- we head next door to a protea shop and I buy my mom a bouquet for a belated birthday present, then head on down again into Kahului, then across the island to our hotel. Along the way, Eric gives us more running commentary about the island... all of the sugar cane growing around Kahului is actually a loss crop -- the Baldwin family (not associated with Alec or Stephen or, sadly, Adam) who own the majority of the land at best break even with the sugar produced (which gets turned into turbinado sugar products like Sugar in the Raw) but they want Maui to remain agricultural instead of selling the land for condominiums, a desire I wholeheartedly support.
He also points out a huge building located halfway up a mountain, a large pink structure originally designed by Frank Lloyd Wright as a 7,000 square foot home but adapted into the 74,000 square foot building it is now, used as a clubhouse for the King Kamehameha Golf Club. Originally named Crownfield, FLW had originally designed the home for a family in Fort Worth, Texas, which ended up being scrapped; then adapted it for an official in the Mexican government to be built in Acapulco before those plans were scrapped; then redesigned it again to be build in Connecticut for Marilyn Monroe before those plans were scrapped; then finally the building plan was eventually purchased in 1988 by a group of Japanese businessmen and redesigned by Wright's firm to fit the current setup.
Eric drops us off in front of the Kā'anapali Beach Hotel lobby at approximately 12:00; we thank him profusely for such an incredible experience, and he leaves to take the other passengers back to their lodgings. We briefly consider going upstairs to sleep, but it's about lunchtime and we're both famished, so instead we pick up our car from valet and head off in search of food.
We drive down the highway from Kā'anapali to Lāhaina (Hawaiian for "merciless sun", a fitting name for this oceanfront but scalding city) and drive along the popular Front Street to see if there's anything that looks good. Unfortunately, everything here seems so tourist-based that there's really nothing that says Hawai'i to us... there's a Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, a Hard Rock Cafe, a Dairy Queen and Orange Julius... honestly, to my slightly cynical and definitely sleep-deprived eyes, it's really not all that different from what we could find in Monterey other than the impressive and rightly famous banyan tree; and we sort of want something a little more of what the locals would eat, so we continue on down the road.
After a wonderfully scenic but seemingly long drive, we end up in the city of Kihei, where Lucie's read about an eatery named WokStar that has a devoted Yelp following. Sounds good to me, so we hunt for a bit and eventually track the place down. It's a sort of hole in the wall joint, easy to miss unless you're looking for it; but the menu is impressive and I'm immediately liking the place based solely on an "I (heart) sriracha" sticker I spot on the cash register. We order and have a seat outside under the awning, and the food comes out to us shortly.
For appetizers, we pick the chicken satay skewers and the potstickers -- the peanut sauce is tasty and the chili sauce they have on the table goes very well with the potstickers. For the entree, Lucie's teriyaki stir fry has udon noodles cooked with bean sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, spinach, and other fresh veggies with a plum-ginger teriyaki sauce; my 13 Dolla' Salad is a huge mound of greens, tomato, carrots, broccoli, spiced stir-fried tofu, bacon, and shrimp tossed in a Thai vinaigrette -- it's a delicious combination of flavors, enormous in size, and (if you ignore the bacon) remarkably healthy for me to actually enjoy as much as I do. We both have water to drink, and Lucie also buys me an iced Thai coffee, the caffeine and sugar of which helps my alertness to the point where I feel awake enough to drive back to the hotel.
We return to our hotel at 4PM (at this point working on 2 hours of sleep in the last 40 hours,) manage to make it upstairs to our room, and plan to lie down for a brief nap before dinner. That's the last thing we remember until we wake up the next morning.