This is the first of three entries detailing our recent trip to the Hawaiian Islands. The visit was planned as completion of several items on our NOW Life List (TV presenter Phil Keoghan's philosophy for accomplishing things you've always wanted to do). Plans went exceptionally well, and we've managed to notch a handful of things off the list. This entry covers my intent to some day see the sunrise over Maui's Mount Heleakala, commonly considered one of the most beautiful in the world.
As usual, the adventure begins at o'dark thirty. Truly, this time, as at 2:30am sharp I am picked up by Glenn, the driver for a morning expedition up Maui's famous Mount Haleakala to view what is considered to be one of the most beautiful sunrises in the world.
I am the first guest of what will eventually be 21 hearty souls braving the early morning and darkness to make the two hour drive -- well, drive for Glenn...just a ride for the rest of us --- to the volcanic mountain's crater.
It is pitch black as we head south out of Lahaina, making the bend from Maui's western shore into the island's central valley, a preliminary for the planned ascent up the 10,000 plus foot Haleakala. A few more stops to gather passengers and we're promised a stop at a convenience store for coffee, a sorely needed commodity for the sleepy tourists in the minibus.
Glenn is an affable, friendly guy with a classic beach boy vibe that betrays the storehouse of knowledge he possesses regarding Haleakala and the history of Maui itself. He came to the islands 28 years ago to work construction, transitioning to his tourism job just five years ago when the carpenter jobs dried up in the midst of the oncoming recession. No regrets, he insists. "It's hard to complain when your office is a Haleakala sunrise." There's no question he adds considerably to the texture of the trip.
|From the visitors center outlook|
An hour or so later, as part of a many car/tour bus convoy making its way up the highway. We arrive while it's still dark, and huddle in the warm confines of the bus until Glenn spies the very earliest glow over the eastern horizon. It's time, he says, to get our spots on the rail.
|Sunrise over the crater|
For no reason other than my personal adventurousness, I leave the group and head up the narrow pathway in the dark. It isn't lit, but you can find your way if you're not in a rush. going through the restroom buildings I soon locate and buckle up to the railing. It's still to early to see much more than a thin line marking the horizon, so I Braille my way through my equipment, set up the tripod and mount the D50 for pre-sunrise shots. Later I plan to switch the Nikon to hand-held once the lighting allows for it, replacing it with the video cam to catch the sunrise itself.
It's roughly 40 degrees at the outlook. It's chilly without being cold, though a few people around me might disagree. Off to my right two people huddle with a heavy blanket, while I overhear two young women behind me comment on someone they see wearing shorts. (!)
There is a calm that overtakes you as you see the first glint of gold on the clouds in the distance. The proverbial silver lining, but her in the islands it's pure golden in tone. We note, happily, that the cloud layer is below us, and sky above a spectacular deep blue. The horizon becomes bands of orange and yellow as the light increases. Then, a pinpoint of bright, pristine light.
|Glenn (backwards cap) and others at the summit|
I'm overcome by a sense of awe, a sense of insignificance and wonder. The crowd, now numbering over a hundred, goes silent. And as they do, suddenly, nearby and behind me off to my right, I hear a woman begin to sing. An old Hawaiian song to greet the new morning. As she sings, the light grows and begins to glint colorfully against the clouds below. There is a real reverence in the crowd at participating in this moment.
(You do not simply "see" the sun rise on Haleakala, you experience it. You participate.)
Soon the entirety of the sun is up and visible, and the moment is over. The singer, entirely anonymous to most of us, thanks the crowd and welcomes us to the new day
The crowd mills around, taking pictures of themselves and others with the sun and crater as backdrop. I help a few of them out, making sure everyone I'd using a flash (otherwise all you get are silhouettes against the sky). I slowly pack up and take a moment to browse the visitors center.
I don't want it to end, but by the time I get back to the tour bus I'm the last to arrive. Glenn smiles and gets me on board where I take my seat and we head further up the mountain to the 10,043 foot summit.
My mind remains, however, at that moment on the rail, when the first gold fleck appeared along the clouds. For perhaps the first time as a photographer I feel my work cannot convey the moment, the clarity, the impact of the event. And for that, I apologize. If you find yourself transported, even for a moment, to the top of the mountain, I am glad. I have to dip my head and acknowledge that at times such as these, all I can do is provide a taste. Hopefully it will convince you to try it for yourself some day.
And I'm pretty sure Glenn will be happy to take you there.
Glenn works for Polynesian Adventure. To book this and other trips, you can find them through Viator (www.viator.com) and on their own website at http://www.polyad.com/haleakala_sunrise_tour.html