Polipoli Spring State Recreation Area
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Polipoli Spring State Recreation Area is probably the most remotely located State Park on Maui. It is located at about the 6,800 foot level on the Haleakala Volcano.
First of all if you are going to visit the Polipoli Spring State Recreation Area, you should consider a 4WD. Most of the time the road would be passable in a passenger car if you are very careful and drive very slowly, but some of the road is very rough and can cause a passenger car to drag bottom. We took a rent car up once and damaged the bottom of the engine and ended up with an oil leak. Fortunately I had decided to turn around and we were on the way back down when it occurred and we were able to make it back to route 377 before the oil light came on. Still we had to call the rental Car Company to bring us another car and tow the damaged one away. Then there was the dealing with the insurance companies and so forth. Another necessity in my opinion is a cell phone, if you are going to travel to any remote location anywhere. Having the cell phone to call for help was very reassuring. If you do not own a cell phone, there are usually places in Hawaii that will rent you one with service on a weekly basis. Well worth looking into if you travel around the state.
Directions to the park
To get to the park from Kahului you head to Kula on route 37 until you come to the second turnoff for route 377. The first route 377 turnoff is the Haleakala Highway near Makawao and you need to keep going to Kula. When you turn left onto route 377, be on the lookout for Waipoli road, it is less than a mile. Turn right on Waipoli Road and strap in for the ascent. The road is very twisty and narrow and seems to go on forever. Eventually you will come to a cattle guard and a shack where the hunters are supposed to check in during hunting season. You have a long ways to go from here.
Eventually the paved road will end and turn to dirt. This is where you need to be very careful as it can be very rough depending on when it was last graded. This is why I would recommend a 4WD vehicle.
Timing Your Trip
Anytime you go up Haleakala you need to bear in mind that the mountain makes its own weather and toward dusk the air temperature will begin to cool down very rapidly as the sun’s energy begins to decrease. At this time the mountain will begin to cause the clouds to form. You may ask why is this? Well the winds coming over the Pacific Ocean will pick up moisture from the ocean and as long as the moisture is near sea level, it will not condense into clouds. But when the wind encounters a mountain, the moist air is carried up the slope to where the temperature is much lower and clouds begin to form. As dusk sets in the air temperature lowers until rain clouds form and the rain begins on the upper slopes of the mountains. On Kaua’i, Mount Wai’ale’ale is the wettest spot on Earth with an average 440.22 inches per year.
Why spend so much time explaining the clouds? Because you don’t want to be driving down the mountain in a cloud! The road is narrow with limited sight distances and twisty enough without adding the sight limiting of fog into the mix. Plan on leaving the park in the mid afternoon to be safe, so you should start up by mid morning.
Rent The Cabin
There is a cabin for rent in the park, so one possibility is to stay the night. We have never stayed at the cabin, so I can not give you any first hand information about the accommodations, but if they are like some of the other State Park System cabins, they are ok, just ok. But then you are camping, right? There aren’t any showers, other than in the cabin, so bear that in mind. The cabin is a spacious three bedroom unit with bunk beds that can sleep ten. Essentials are provided for rustic camping. Tent camping is free, but you'll need a permit. The cabin is available for $45 a night for one to four guests ($5 for each additional guest); it has a cold shower, a gas stove, and no electricity. There is no drinking water available, so bring your own. To reserve, contact the State Parks Division, 54 S. High St., Rm. 101, Wailuku, HI 96793 (tel. 808/984-8109 between 8am and 4pm Monday through Friday; www.hawaii.gov).
On a clear day the views from the road on the way to the park are just spectacular. The valley formed by Haleakala by filling in the space between Haleakala and the West Maui Mountains can be seen in its entirety. To the west you have the blue, blue waters of the Pacific and to the east you have the blue, blue waters of the Pacific. There are a few places where you can pull off the road to take pictures, and it is recommended. Neighboring islands of Moloka’i, Lana’i, and Kaho’olawe are also visible on clear days.
Some of the main features of the area are the hiking trails. Nestled in the Kula Forest Reserve, there are eucalyptus, pine and cedar trees in the forest. There are several hiking trails the longest being the Skyline Trail, which is an 8.5-mile hike between the Polipoli campground and the summit of Haleakala in the Helical National Park. Most of this trail is actually in the National Park.
There is also the seven-mile Upper Waiakoa Trail, which begins at 6,000 feet and climbs 1,800 feet over rugged, rocky terrain with outstanding views. The four-mile Boundary Trail descends steeply into a eucalyptus, pine and cedar forest.
Two very important words for you are: LOW GEAR!!!!
I know it will seem very noisy and you will think that it can’t be good for the engine, but do it anyway. Trust me, I have seen cars at the bottom of Waipoli Road with the brakes smoking so much they seemed like they were on fire! What is scary is when the brakes get so hot they fade completely. Once your brakes are that hot, it can take up to an hour to get them to cool down enough to have any operational brakes. Waipoli Road is just such a place as well as the Haleakala Highway that goes up to, and down from, the Haleakala National Park. When you rent a car on Maui, there are signs everywhere at the rental offices that state you are required to use LOW GEAR when descending Haleakala. It is good advice to downshift on any grade that lasts for a while.
Even if you don’t go all the way to the park, the drive to the end of the paved road can be an exciting adventure, just remember about LOW GEAR coming back down.
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