Madding crowds and parking dramas have created huge problems at the summit.
Both the Disney movie Moana and the creation myth of the Hawaiian island of Maui talk about a demi-god named Maui who lassos the sun from atop Mount Haleakala.
Metaphorically speaking, many visitors to the island try to do the same, waking up in the middle of the night and driving to the apex of Haleakala National Park to see the ball of fire in the sky as it crests the horizon to start the day.
In recent years, however, madding crowds and parking dramas have created huge problems at the summit. This week, the National Park Service responded by announcing a reservation system for sunrise viewing. The new system requires permits for all vehicles parked in the summit lots between the hours of 3 to 7 a.m. local time. The rules go into effect February 1, 2017.
In an article on Maui Now, a local news site, park representatives said the online reservation system is being implemented to ensure visitor and employee safety, protect natural and cultural resources, and provide a quality visitor experience at the summit.
And in an email to AFAR, park spokesperson Polly Angelakis said the reservation system is an emergency interim measure until park officials can determine a long-term solution. “That longer-term process will begin in 2017,” she wrote.
Angelakis added that when this detailed evaluation takes place, the park service will consider a myriad of alternatives, including shuttle buses like those in Zion and Yosemite national parks.
Technically, according to the park website, the new Haleakala reservation system goes live on December 1 and will cost $1.50 per car. (This is in addition to the entrance fee of $20 per car, which visitors pay upon arrival; the daily pass is good for three days.)
Between now and February 1, 2017, all of the 150 spaces in four sunrise-viewing parking lots will be available without advanced reservations on a first-come, first-served basis.
After February 1, however, reservations will be required and will be sold only online, at Recreation.gov, up to 60 days in advance. Visitors with reservations must show receipts and photo IDs in order to enter the summit between 3 and 7 a.m. For this reason, Angelakis noted, reservations are not transferable.
A FAQ document released by the park service indicated that due to limited parking, visitors without a sunrise-viewing reservation will have to wait until after 7 a.m. to enter the park. The doc also noted that there are no refunds due to inclement weather or change of plans and that vehicles parked without a permit between the hours of 3 and 7 a.m. will be ticketed.
What’s more, the FAQ indicated that all fees—including entrance fees—are waived for Native Hawaiians who wish to conduct traditional cultural practices at sunrise or any other time of day. This provision originally was protected under the American Indian Religious Freedom Act.
Predictably, reactions to the news of the new parking permit system were mixed. Locals generally seemed happy about the new policy, embracing the notion that limiting traffic at the summit can only help preserve and protect it for future generations. Among travelers and those in the tourism industry, however, there was more skepticism—while the notion of following in Maui’s footsteps and lassoing the sun atop Haleakala once was available to everyone, now it is conceivable some visitors could miss out.
Our advice: As always, plan ahead. The $1.50 fee is negligible, and this experience definitely is worth the extra effort. Or, head there for sunset—which is almost as amazing.
Matt Villano is a freelance writer and editor based in Healdsburg, California. In nearly 20 years as a full-time freelancer, he has covered travel for publications including TIME, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Sunset, Backpacker, Entrepreneur, and more. He contributes to the Expedia Viewfinder blog and writes a monthly food column for Islands magazine. Villano also serves on the board of the Family Travel Association and blogs about family travel at Wandering Pod. Learn more about him at Whalehead.com.