I recently got back from Hawaii (did I mention that? no? hmmm…must have slipped my mind) and while I was hopping around the tropical islands and consuming far too many fruity cocktails, Boyfriend and I had the incredible opportunity to go star gazing. This was no ordinary star gazing though, oh no! But first, a quick history lesson.
Mauna Kea is an inactive volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii. Reaching 13,803 feet above sea level, Mauna Kea means white mountain in hawaiian and is a reference to the fact the summit of the mountain is covered in snow in the winter months (snow! in Hawaii!). It is the worlds tallest mountain by measurement; that is, there are about 20,000 feet under the sea (take that, Everest!), but it is the 15th tallest mountain above sea level.
So we went up Mauna Kea and I can’t even begin to describe how amazing it was. The summit of the mountain is all lava rock and alpine tundra, a landscape I had never encountered before except for in textbooks. The summit has been a celestial observatory since ancient times when Hawaiian royalty used to go up the mountain to make sacrifices to the Gods, and is considered to be one of the best astronomical sites in the world, primarily because you can see 100% of the northern sky and 85% of the southern sky.
We did our tour with Mauna Kea Summit Adventures, who came and picked us up in their fancy pants tour van that was like something out of Star Wars. A couple of hours later we were halfway up the mountain enjoying teriyaki chicken and homemade brownies (totally worth noting – food is important). Then we went to the top for sunset – nothing but you and the clouds as you watch the sun disappear. Undeniably magical but also very cold – luckily they give you hooded parkas and gloves. After sunset it’s back down to the halfway point for stargazing with their highpowered telescopes and laser pointers. I’m not much of a sciencey person, but I was so excited seeing the milky way, the rings and moons of Jupiter, the red and blue stars and the insane detail of the moon. Plus star gazing was made more fun with hot chocolate and cookies.
I cannot recommend this experience highly enough. Our tour guide Mike was an island native with an intimate knowledge not just of the island but also of the sky above. I get nervous easily and I felt perfectly safe driving up the dirt mountain to the summit, as I did coming back down. We were comfortable and well taken care of the entire time and when we were safely delivered back to our resort I wanted to do it all again.
Price: US$197 (189.12 + tax)
From: Mauna Kea Summit Adventures – Big Island, Hawaii
Why you need to go: This is one of those experiences that you will treasure for the rest of your life. If you are in Hawaii, please promise me you will go!
Picture credits: shockingly, they are mine! Cool, huh?!