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The landscape of Haleakala National Park rises from a lush valley beneath a waterfall at sea level to a red desert of cinder cones up at the volcanic summit of Haleakala. An astounding array of climates and life zones lies in between. Yet the park's many contrasting worlds are vitally linked. Rain that falls on the volcano's slopes and carves its valleys nourishes a multitude of life forms.
The land above the clouds, kua mauna, is a place where people never dwelled for long. Ka po'e kahiko, the people of old, only came to this sacred place for specific reasons requiring training and understanding. At the foot of the mountain lies kahakai, the coastal land, inhabited and cultivated for centuries. Haleakala National Park preserves and helps perpetuate the cultural richness of both kua mauna, kahakai, and the diverse features in between. It is all here for you to explore.
Kipahulu: Coastal District
Trails skirt dramatic coastline or follow pooling streams to Waimoku Falls at the head of a densely forested valley. At Kipahulu you can get a sense of how people lived in old Hawai'i. Foundations of old village sites, cultural demonstrations, and a living taro farm are preserved and perpetuated.
The Haleakala Landscape
East Maui is made of one volcano, Haleakala. Like all others in Hawaii, this is a shield volcano built from the ocean floor by countless lava flows. The summit once towered high above this elevation. But during a dormant period, wind, water, and ice eroded Haleakala, creating large valleys.
Two of these valleys cut into opposite sides of Haleakala and merged at the top. Later, lava flows partially filled the valley, forming the large basin below commonly known as Haleakala "Crater." However, a true crater is formed by volcanic activity, not erosion.
Pu'u, the hills within the valley, are cinder cones; each cone is the site of an eruption and each has its own crater. Even 600-foot Pu'u o Maui, the largest of these cinder cones, seems dwarfed within this 3,000-foot deep basin that stretches 7 1/2 miles (12 km) long and 2 1/2 miles (4 km) wide.
Life on Haleakala
Life Among the Lava
The seemingly barren landscape of Haleakala hosts many rare forms of life. To survive in this aeolian (windblown) environment, some insects have developed unique features such as an inability to fly or an unusual diet. Most of these insects eat the organic material carried up the mountain by the wind.
The harsh aeolian environment is fragile. Its uniquely adapted native insects are threatened by alien species: rodents, Argentine ants, yellow jacket wasps, and even human beings. When people wander off trails, they may unintentionally crush spiders, beetles, and flightless moths that are found only on this mountaintop.
Found Nowhere Else
Many plants and animals at Haleakala are endemic, which means they're found no where else in the world. Located near the center of the North Pacific Ocean, the Hawaiian Islands are more than 2,000 miles (3,200 km) from North America, the nearest continent. This isolation, combined with a wide variety of habitats, has resulted in a high incidence of endemic species.
Plants, birds, and insects came to these islands by wind, waves, or wings. Scientists estimate that, before humans arrived, one new species came to Hawaii about once every 10,000 years. Today, people bring about 20 new alien species to the islands each year. This onslaught of human-introduced species severely affects native plants and animals. Extinction is all too common in present-day Hawai'i.
'Ahinahina, the silversword, once near extinction due to human vandalism and browsing by goats and cattle, began to recover when Haleakala National Park provided strict protection. The introduction of the Argentine Ant locally threatens the insects that pollinate the 'ahinahina.
'Ua'u - Hawaiian Dark-Rumped Petral
Within the cliffs and cinder cones, 'ua'u dig nesting burrows with their feet and wings. Each spring, a pair of birds may return to nest in the same high mountain burrow. Named for their haunting call, 'ua'u are rarely seen but can be heard at night returning to Haleakala after feeding at sea.
Ua'u, once abundant throughout the Hawaiian Islands, are now endangered. Fewer than 2,000 of these seabirds remain, almost all nesting in Haleakala National Park. 'Ua'u usually dig their burrows about 3 to 6 feet deep and as long as 15 feet. The 'ua'u are vulnerable to mongooses, feral cats, and other introduced predators.
The female 'ua'u lays only one large egg each year, then feeds its chick regurgitated stomach oil, fish, and squid. Habitat destruction, alien predators, and introduced diseases are threatening this bird's survival.
Magnetic Peak, a cinder cone that resembles a high mound of volcanic rock, is named for the mild magnetic field caused by its iron-rich cinders. The field is strong enough to deflect a compass needle. Oxidation of these cinders also gives Magnetic Peak its rusty color.
Cinder cones like Magnetitic Peak form during lava fountaining eruptions. Gas Pressure drives tephra, or airborne material, high into the air. Cooled during flight, solid tephra pieces accumulate around the vent, forming a cone. Cinders, tephra pieces smaller than a fist, contain many gas bubbles. Bombs, the larger chunks of tephra, may weigh several hundred pounds or more.
Pu'u 'Ula'ula is a cinder cone like Magnetic Peak. At 10,023 feet (3,055m), Pu'u 'Ula'ula is the highest point on Maui. From sea level, you make the ascent in 38 miles (61 km), which is one of the steepest climbs of any road in the world. When driving back down, use a low gear to save your breaks.
While on the summit, beware of the effects of thin air. With less oxygen, you might develop "altitude sickness" causing nausea, fatigue, dizziness, and headaches. If you feel any of these symptoms, rest often or descend to a lower elevation. Pregnant woman should refrain from making the trip to the summit. The thin air can cause shortage of air to your unborn child. This is especially dangerous further along pregnancy. We've had pregnant guests come to the peak in their early stages (1st and beginning of 2nd trimester) without problems. But they didn't stay for long, and they didn't exert themselves. We still recommend that pregnant women wait until after birth to visit the crater.
Hawai'i - The Big Island
From the summit at Haleakala, you can often see the Big Island of Hawaii. The island of Hawai'i, the largest of the Hawaiian Islands, is often visible in the distance. Its two dominant volcanic peaks (Mauna Kea 13,796 ft and Mauna Loa 13,667 ft) usually tower above the clouds. These peaks are about 80 and 100 miles southeast of Haleakala.
Often called "The Big Island", Hawaii is still growing. Long-lived eruptions on the east rift zone of Kilauea Volcano have added hundreds of acres of land to the shores of Hawai'i in recent decades. With more than 4,000 square miles (10,400 sq km), Hawaii is almost twice the size of all the other Hawaiian Islands combined. New land is created as a lava flow meets the sea on the south east flank of Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The last eruption to reach the sea here on Maui occurred about 1790.
Haleakala Crater Video
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