Descending Into Hawaii’s Haleakala Crater

A trip to the floor of the Maui volcano still promises an encounter with the “raw beginnings of world-making”

From cinder desert to tropical forest, the 19-square-mile Haleakala Crater boasts varied landscape. In the center is a hiker at "Pele's Paint Pot," likely named for the goddess of fire and volcanoes. (Susan Seubert)
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“Haleakala holds a high number of endangered species,” says Matt Wordeman, president of Friends of Haleakala National Park, a volunteer group that helps repair cabins, remove invasive plants and support the breeding of Hawaiian geese. He says every national park has to balance everyday needs with preservation, “and Haleakala comes down heavily on the side of preservation.” No walking off-trails, no fires and no camping in undesignated areas.

Park superintendent Creachbaum says invasive species are the biggest challenge. In Hawaii, where outside plants and animals arrive daily, controlling them is almost a Sisyphean task. In the past ten years, axis deer, native to India, have been introduced to Maui—most likely by hunters—and have started to jump fences erected around the park in the 1970s. “Just like humans, other species discover that Hawaii is a great place to live,” says Creachbaum.

And the crater is a great place to visit. On my last morning, I awoke just as golden shafts of sunlight began creeping across the lava fields, illuminating the cliffs behind me. I scrambled up the rocks behind my cabin, entered a cave, whose use as a campsite may go back a thousand years, to be enveloped once again in silence. “If you spend any time at all inside Haleakala,” Raymond had told me, “you will be overcome by what Mark Twain called its ‘healing solitudes.’ It induces tranquillity and encourages reflection. Peoples close to the earth all find summits sacred. It’s as close as one can get to the heavens.”

Frequent contributor Tony Perrottet is the author of The Sinner’s Grand Tour. Photographer Susan Seubert is based in Portland, Oregon, and Maui.


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