Mauna Kea is a very special mountain. It is a dormant volcano that stands 4,205m above sea level and it is the only place on earth where you can drive from sea level to 4,205m in about 2 hours. Interestingly, Mauna Kea measures over 10,000m from its base on the ocean floor – that is greater than the elevation of Mount Everest!
My plan was to watch the sunset on the summit. I was really looking forward to it because it’s the only place where you could see snow in Hawaii. Snow in Hawaii? How cool is that!
Due to its high altitude, it is recommended that you stop by the visitor centre (2,800m) for 30 minutes to an hour before heading to the summit to reduce the effects of altitude sickness.
Unfortunately, Mike and I made an incredibly amateur mistake on the evening we drove to Mauna Kea – we forgot to fuel up our JEEP! Ugh! We realised our mistake when we were about 20 minutes out on the highway from Hilo. I was devastated when I realised it was too late to turn back at that point because if we did, we wouldn’t have enough time to drive up to the summit anyway.
So we kept driving…while my heart was bleeding on the inside. I paid extra money to hire a JEEP just for the summit!
Tips for visiting Mauna Kea
- The drive to the Visitor Information Centre is about 1 hour from Hilo; and 1.5 hours from Kona.
- You need to have a 4WD if you plan to go up to the summit – CHECK YOUR FUEL TANK before you go.
- You also need to check your car rental agreement. Most car rental companies prohibit their vehicles on the summit (i.e. drive up at your own risk. You wouldn’t be covered by your insurance if anything happened).
- Rest at the Visitor Information Centre for at least half an hour before heading up to the summit to adjust for altitude.
- The drive from the Visitor Information Centre to the summit takes about 30 minutes.
- The summit closes half an hour after sunset. It is recommended that you start making your way down straight after sunset for safety reasons (it gets very dark, which makes it perfect for stargazing but not driving on an unpaved mountain road!).
- Bring warm clothes, the temperature is near freezing after dark.
- There is free hot water at the Visitor Information Centre for making instant noodles and hot chocolate (which can be purchased from the Visitor Information Centre).
By the time we got to the Visitor Information Centre, I was still quite heartbroken as I was really looking forward to watching sunset on the summit… It was a double blow when someone asked us if they could hitchhike a ride with us to the summit when they saw our JEEP. No, sorry bro…NO YOU CAN’T.
We searched the Visitor Information Centre hoping to see if they happened to have fuel or any tour options to go up to the summit. Unfortunately, the answer was no and no.
However, the person at the Information Desk told us the view from the hill just in front of the Visitor Information Centre is beautiful. Having no other options, we headed to the hill (it’s the hill on the left hand side).
To be honest, I was still kicking myself and also mentally kicking Mike on the inside and silently screaming “WHYYYYY didn’t we fuel up” as we walked up the hill. But five minutes into the hike, I decided feeling upset was not going to help the situation – so I took a couple of deep breaths and embraced it. I thought to myself, OH WELL at least I can write a blog post on “What you can do at the Visitor Information Centre at Mauna Kea”, and that made me feel better.
The hike was fairly easy, it took us 10 minutes or so to get to the top.
The view was BEAUTIFUL.
My good mood returned 100% when I saw this panorama view.
It was perfect – the clouds, the crater, the blue sky and the sun setting in the background.
Sitting on clouds.
Lovers on clouds.
We took a series of selfies here while we waited for the sunset. There were not many people here, which was pretty awesome because we got front row view of the sunset.
Good evening, Hawaii.
After the sunset, we returned to the Visitor Information Centre for something very important…Instant noodles and hot chocolate.
And then it was stargazing time. The free star gazing session runs from 6pm to 8pm every night in front of the Visitor Information Centre, and you get to look at the stars and the moon from sophisticated telescopes!
I found the stargazing program informative and interesting, I highly recommend that you stay for it after the sunset. With its high altitude, dry environment, and stable airflow, Mauna Kea is one of the best sites in the world for astronomical observation and its summit is currently home for 13 telescopes funded by 11 countries! It was truly the most stars that I had seen in my entire life.
Good night, Hawaii. Thank you for an extraordinary night.
Our Hawaiian adventure, to be continued!
- 【Kona】.::You, me, palm tree and sunset::.
- 【Kahaluu Bay】.::Snorkelling in the nature’s aquarium::.
- 【South Point】.::The southernmost point of the United States of America::.
- 【Punaluu Beach】 (aka Black Beach Hawaii) .::Bah bah black beach have you any turtles::.
- 【Mauna Kea】.::Sunset able the sea of clouds::.
- 【Hawaii Volcano – Lava tour】.::WE POKED RED HOT LIVE FLOWING LAVA::.
- 【Nature’s Cottage】.::a very unique Airbnb experience::.
- 【Tide Pools】.::Crystal clear champagne tide pools::.
- 【Big Island Food】.::Bubba Gump, Splasher’s Grill, Pele’s, L&L, LuQuin’s, Cafe 100::.
- 【Hanauma Bay】.::Snorkelling before the sun comes out::.
- 【Chinaman’s Hat & Kualoa Ranch】.::The ocean’s hat and Jurassic Park::.
- 【Polynesian Centre Luau】.::Hula without coconut bikini?::.
- 【Dole Plantation】.::Sweet pineapple and delicious Dole Whip ice cream::.
- 【Oahu Food】.::Teddy’s, Helena’s Hawaiian Food, Duke’s at Waikiki, Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck, Macky’s Shrimp Truck, Ted’s Bakery, Popeye, Ramen Nakamura::.
- 【Airbnb】.::A very chic retreat::.
To the native Hawaiians, the summit of Mauna Kea is a sacred place. It is the place where their gods live it is their heaven . If you decide to visit the summit, please be respectful!
Thank you for the reminder, Rmau. Much appreciated!
The top of Mauna Kea is home to a large collection of internationally funded observatories due to the incredible combination of clear-sky nights, air quality and lack of light pollution which lends the peak an otherworldly feeling beyond the mere height of it s peak.