Zip-lining Down Haleakala on Maui

Oct 23, 2015

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This past summer, the TPG interns’ visited the Hawaiian island of Maui and ascended its highest point, the summit of the Haleakala volcano. Then, as TPG Intern Mark Kellman shares here, they spent an exhilarating afternoon zip-lining back down. 

One of Haleakala’s observatories located well above the clouds.

Maui’s only national park, Haleakala, surrounds a huge volcano of the same name, and is somewhere between a lush mountain landscape and the surface of the moon. Maui itself is only 729 square miles, but the island’s rugged terrain make Haleakala a journey from the most-touristed parts of the island — about a half-hour from Wailea in the south, and roughly 90 minutes from Lahaina in the west (where our team stayed at the Sheraton Maui). If you’re not up for hiking 10,000 vertical feet between the Pacific Ocean and the top of a volcano, rest assured that you can drive the park’s winding roads all the way to the summit.

To enter the park by car, you’ll have to pay a $15 fee per automobile (valid for three days). Depending on the time of day you arrive — many people come here in the early-morning darkness to catch the sunrise over the crater (which now requires a reservation)— you might feel like you’re driving through the clouds as you ascend Haleakala, revealing breathtaking views as you rise above the island. At the summit, there’s a visitor center where you can learn about how both Maui and the crater formed, as well as the unusual ecology of the park (some species here are found nowhere else on Earth) – and when the next eruption might happen.

Near the visitor center are a few government-run observatories with about 10 massive telescopes, but none of these are open to the public.

The crater at Haleakala
The crater at Haleakala, seen from the park’s visitor center.

The sheer size of the volcano crater — as well as its absolute silence — can catch you off guard. From the visitor center, you can take a short (.2-mile) hike to a peak with an even better view of the crater, and it’s likely that the only sounds you’ll hear are your own footsteps. Our whole group became winded after about two minutes of walking, reminding us that: 1) we started our day at sea level and 2) we probably weren’t in as good shape as we’d previously thought.

The Haleakala Crater
Another view of the crater.

If you’re looking for more than a drive up to the top of the crater, consider a tour that will drive you up to see the sunrise, then give you a bike to get yourself back down. Or take a multi-day backpacking trip through the park like I did with my family about 10 years ago, as it was accessible even for a 12-year-old — as long as he, she or you aren’t afraid of heights.

The base camp for zip lining
The base camp for zip-lining.

After spending about an hour at the summit, our TPG team descended to about 4,400 feet for our appointment at Skyline EcoAdventures’ Upcountry Maui Zipline — a bit more exciting than a tranquil nature scene. The base is located next door to a lavender farm (not to be confused with the Ali’i Kula Lavender Farm on relatively nearby Waipoli Road), so while you’re waiting to zip-line you can smell the farm’s lavender bushes or purchase some lavender-scented body products.

Getting ready for one of the five zip-lines.

When it opened in 2002, Skyline was the first zip-line course in the US. It has a suspension bridge and five zip-lines that increase in length as you go along. The best of these zip-lines was about a quarter of a mile long and functioned like a pendulum for each rider. While zip-lining, you can reach top speeds of 40mph-50mph, but believe me, it feels like you’re going more like 60mph.

TPG Intern Mark Kellman zip lining at 45 mph.
Yours truly (TPG Intern Mark Kellman) on my fifth and final zip-line .

Our group of six joined another group of six, and our combined group of 12 was assigned two guides. Incredibly enthusiastic, these guides clearly wanted everyone to have a good time, and succeeded in making our experience a lot of fun — despite my face in the photo above.

The TPG Crew in between zip line adventures
The TPG Interns with TPG Copy Editor Sarah Silbert (second from left) and TPG Editor-in-Chief Zach Honig (on the right) in between zip-lines.

While the zip-line course here was thrilling, it’s not the only one on the island — there are a few others throughout Maui and on the other Hawaiian islands. But while you’re on Maui, you won’t want to miss a visit to Haleakala National Park, and you can’t go wrong by adding zip-lining as an afternoon activity.

Have you been to Haleakala or zip-lined in Hawaii? Share your thoughts below.

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