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The tour explored the Haleakala Crater from the rim (9,870 feet) to the floor (7,500 feet). I typically take a Tylenol and hydrate the night before going to extreme elevations to avoid elevation sickness (headache, nausea and dizziness) from shortage of oxygen at these elevations. On a side note: Pony Express recommends to experience their Crater ride first if scuba diving is on your Maui adventure itinerary. You’ll avoid decompression problems associated with elevation. We prepared with layers of clothing for the temperature changes. At the hotel, 2 hours away, it might be around 85F, but on the top of Haleakala, we’ve heard it could be 55°F.
Address: Crater Rd, Kula, HI 96790
What to Bring: Warm Layers, (*your own*) Rain Gear, Sunscreen, Sun Hat with Strap, Camera, Tip $
We jump on the ever winding road of State Hwy 378 to Pony Express Tours’ ranch office for an early morning check-in.
There were blue skies peeking through the storm clouds which seemed to be rolling in as we headed higher up in elevations to what must be even better fresh air.
It already started drizzling before the tour got started. Our tour guide "Ra" explained that we could try to move forward with the tour and maybe at the half way point take a vote to keep going or return. Uh, that vote never happened. In the back of my mind, I think he was trying to save the company from a day of refunds. I heard this sentiment from the other visitors, too. I didn’t trust our tour guide because he had a not-so-funny sense of humor -- saying an elderly couple who was a few minutes late were, “slow as molasses” and when I was having trouble steering or controlling my horse, Ra rhetorically asked if I drive like I ride my horse… obviously poking fun at “Asian” drivers... at my expense. How Rude!
Wind was starting to howl as Ra handed us some “rain gear.” On this particular morning, we were in a cloud of rain and wind gusts with no sun in sight… so it felt like being in one of those reality shows where you have to endure harsh weather conditions that felt like 40-50F degrees with high winds and damp clothes for 4-5 hours – i.e. Man vs Wild or Survivorman.
Anyways, I loved my horse named "Sultan" (aka Sully). Let’s get this horseback riding adventure started.
During the descent and as the storm really started coming in, we were getting so pounded by thick, sideways rain. Even the horses started leaning their face away from the rain.
We made it on our descent on Sliding Sands Trail to the Crater floor ~2,500 feet below. Couldn’t wait to stretch our legs (and specifically, for me, my creaky knees) from ~2 hours of riding. We were given a picnic lunch: turkey croissant sandwich, Maui chips, and pineapple chunks. The only problem: our group were huddling under small tree bushes to take cover from the elements. Some of us found boulders to sit on because there was nowhere to sit other than the wet sand. Also, we were warned there were no restrooms at the floor so best to go prior to the tour.
It was pretty miserable (*chuckling inside*), but we always try to make the most of the experience. I could only imagine hikers going through here so, I appreciated being on horseback.
Being inside the clouds of the crater, it had its own sense of beauty… especially, when the clouds lifted for those short moments allowing the sunrays to peek through. Heavenly!
We spotted the Haleakala Silverswords (or ʻahinahina) one of the few plant species thriving in the Crater.
Finally, back to the parking area, everyone seemed to speedily dismount and run to their cars. Myself, I immediately turned on the heater, in the car… Full Blast to try and defrost. Layers of clothing were soaked through as the provided "rain gear" given wasn’t really waterproof. We stripped off soaking wet layers of clothes as fast as possible. As I witnessed everyone returning their gear back to our guide, I saw no one tipping. Sorry, but Ra was one of the worst tour guides we’ve had on our travels. The only tip to give him is to be nicer to guests.
In hindsight though, we all should have demanded a refund or given an opportunity to reschedule and definetely bring our own rain gear instead of relying of the tour company. I’m sure the views and experience are a whole different world on a sunny or partly cloudy day. You take what you can get for the short time you might be visiting the island. Gotta look back, laugh and smile at even nightmarish adventures.
Sliding Sands Trail is a 11 mile (Elevation gain: 2,795 ft) heavily trafficked out and back trail located near Kula, Maui, Hawaii that features beautiful wild flowers and is only recommended for very experienced adventurers. -AllTrails.com
Haleakala Crater Trail is a 11.2 mile (Elevation gain: 3,054 ft) heavily trafficked point-to-point trail located near Kula, Maui, Hawaii that offers scenic views and is rated as difficult. The trail is primarily used for hiking, camping, nature trips, and backpacking. -AllTrails.com