Tuesday 24 May 2016
Today is the reason I wanted to spend some extra time in Kona after the cruise finished – we are going to Mauna Kea, the highest point in the Hawaiian Islands, to see the sunset and then the stars.
There was nothing planned for the morning so Peter headed to the beach in front of the hotel for a swim. He came back soon after to grab his underwater camera to take some photos of the fish swimming around.
After his swim we went for a walk to the Kona Inn Shopping Village and had a look around the shops there and had lunch at the Kona Canoe Club. It’s in a great little spot with a fantastic view and the lunch was pretty good with reasonable prices.
After lunch we walked back to the hotel to order a taxi to take us to Hawaii Forest and Trail for our Mauna Kea Summit and Stars Adventure tour. We had to be there by about 2.25pm but arrived about 2.00pm. We checked in, made ourselves a coffee and waited for our tour. There was a model hanging up on the wall of the Big Island.
They also had a shop on the premises with things like hiking gear and clothes, camping gear and other adventure related items. They also had this ummm … delicacy
There was about 10 or 12 people on our bus including a young Australian couple and a Dutch couple who had some pretty serious photographic gear. We set out up the coast going past those rocky landscapes that I love.
We headed inland and stopped at a town to pick up dinner which was loaded in the back of the bus for later. It had started raining as we were nearing the town, and the sky was looking very grey as we were getting closer to Mauna Kea. I was worried that we wouldn’t be able to see anything on top of the mountain with all the dark clouds around.
We turned off the main road and drove for a few minutes before going through a gate and to the Historic Humuula Sheep Station. While our guide set up for our dinner we went to the portaloos and wandered around. We were at about 7,000 feet high and were staying here for about an hour to acclimatise to the height before getting to our destination which is 13,796 feet high. It was a great place to take a few photos because of the dilapidated buildings.
We were all given our parkas for the cold temperatures on the summit and then were back on the road and steadily climbing towards our destination. We passed the visitor information centre at around 9,000 feet and kept on driving. At some point the sealed road ended and the gravel road began.
The visitor information centre is at 9,000 feet
We turned off the road down a little side road to get to this radio telescope which is part of the Very Long Baseline Array and is operated remotely. The sky is still pretty murky. I estimate we are about 12,000 feet at this point.
Back on the road to the summit and we finally broke through the clouds to a shining, blue sky. No need to worry about not being able to see the sunset.
I loved the observatories and radio telescopes and that we could walk amongst them.
Walking around the radio telescopes was great and then all of a sudden there was a noise and the telescope was moving, being controlled remotely
Back in the bus and a short drive to the top where we were given the warnings about walking around because of the low oxygen – walk slow, take it very easy, with the low oxygen the feeling is like being a little intoxicated. We had plenty of time to wander around before the sun started to set.
I am in love with these two photos. It was so beautiful up on the summit. Everywhere was red brown rocks and sand and it was such a barren wasteland, such a rugged beauty.
I don’t know what possessed me to take a selfie – it must have been the lack of oxygen
The sun was getting low so it was time to stop wandering around and settle in to watch the sunset
While I was busy watching and taking photos of the summit the young Australian guy on our tour proposed to his girlfriend! He had told Peter earlier that he was going to do it and gave Peter his camera to take some photos of the moment. I didn’t find out about it until after the fact. So exciting and they looked so happy.
A map of the observatories at the summit
Once the sun went down we went back down to 9,000 feet just above the visitor information centre. We parked in a car park area in front of the staff accomodation along with a few other tour buses. Our guide was showing us the constellations and pointed out the North Star. Being from the southern hemisphere this is not something we see in our night sky but it was the constellation he pointed out next that really floored me. The Southern Cross which is visible in the southern hemisphere and forms part of the Australian and New Zealand flags is also visible from here. I think he said it was the only place in the world that you can see both the North Star and the Southern Cross.
After looking at a few more constellation he set up the telescope. In May, Mars was very close to Earth and we got to see it nice and red through the telescope. We also got to see Jupiter and four or five of its moons. It was so cool.
Next we went down to the visitor centre where there was a public presentation of the night sky still in progress. We went into the visitor centre and Peter bought a couple of these as a momento of our trip to the summit. One of them he gave to the newly engaged couple.
We were dropped off at our hotel around 11.00pm. What a fantastic day and so worth it. The view was amazing and to be there with the telescopes and observatories was so cool. The only thing that could have made it better was if we were able to go inside an observatory. I highly recommend going to the Mauna Kea summit.