It is here where the Nissan Xterra World Championship the planets premier off-road triathlon takes place. This race annually sends several hundred adventure travelers diving into the Pacific Ocean, climbing up an enormous volcano named Haleakala and running down 3,000-foot-long stretches of white sand.
But there is also comfort here. The Maui Prince is the lone hotel of the 1,800-acre Makena Resort. Located where Haleakala meets the ocean, in a panorama of lava and ocean, Makena is where many worlds meet.
The hotel is a precious pocket of civilization. The serenity of the Japanese meditation garden touches all corners of the hotel and in the evening, music rises through the atrium and spreads its beauty. The sky is cerise; the ocean drinks in the color; the looming mountain presides over all.
Go north from Makena and find Wailea Resort, with its sophisticated hotels, restaurants and shops. Wander south of Makena on a winding dirt road and youll discover a world of pristine beaches, crystal-clear waters and breezes that soothe the spirit. The sands are dazzling white, and the water runs turquoise to jade.
In the winter months, November through April, humpback whales come close to shore and create immeasurable joy for spectators. Legend holds that the mermaid goddess Wewehi, sister of the fire goddess Pele, adorns herself with rare red seaweed, limu loloa, and swims with the gentle giants of the deep. Scientists with their high-powered binoculars have never caught a glimpse of her, but people attuned to the land and waters of Maui claim to have seen a beautiful woman, with hair flowing like the waves, frolicking in the spume of the whales and singing their haunting song with them.
In ancient times, Hawaiians settled in small villages along the Makena shore. They came to fish the large schools of akule that practically swam into their nets. People from the uplands would come for the weekly hukilau, the seafood version of the luau.
Located in the hills above Makena is Ulupalakua Ranch, where access to Haleakala is granted just once a year -- on October 29th -- for participants of the XTERRA World Championship. The bike course is full of rock-strewn paths; golf ball-sized gravel; short, steep climbs; long climbs; hard, packed lava; and deep, dusty silt. Theres more than 3,000 feet of climbing, and therefore -- descending!
The drive to the summit of Haleakala, the dormant volcano that dominates the island of Maui, can be compared to driving from the sub-tropical beaches of Mexico to the forests of Alaska in two hours -- and then arriving on the moon. As the road winds upward, the changes in climate, mood and vegetation are dramatic. Swaying tropical palms give way to pines, eucalyptus and even giant redwoods. The scents are invigorating. The panoramas are breathtaking.
The name Haleakala means House of the Sun. More than one million people a year make the pilgrimage to the top of the mountain to watch the sun as it seemingly rises from within the volcanic crater and ignites the eerie landscape in hues of umber, amber, rose and jade. The beauty of the dawn sears the soul.
It was here in this place that Maui, superman of Hawaiian myth, lassoed the sun and made it travel more slowly across the sky, giving Mauians more sunshine to enjoy the day.
Haleakala's summit crater, 3,000 feet deep and 21 miles around, is large enough to hold the island of Manhattan, skyscrapers and all. It harbors plants, such as the magnificent silversword, and wildlife found no place else on the planet. The strange vastness is so much like the face of the moon that the American astronauts trained here for their lunar landing. They placed a prism on the moon, and laser light beams are bounced to it from Science City, a research facility atop the volcano. The roundtrip takes two seconds.
Horseback tours, 32 miles of hiking trails, and a few cabins and campsites make the crater accessible. The entire summit is part of Haleakala National Park.
The drive to the 10,023-foot summit, through the area known as Upcountry Maui, is as much a part of the experience as the crater itself. The slopes of the mountain are quilted in colorful, fragrant flower farms. Because of the cool elevation, carnations, roses and the glorious protea thrive. Many farmers welcome visitors and will ship flowers to their homes.