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I am sitting in woolen socks and heavy sweater – the one I usually take with me to Mauna Kea. It is 9 F or -13C in Gaithersburg, MD – we are beating the record cold for this area. I sorting out photographs from our last trip to Big Island. It is a nice way to spend a cold and windy evening.

Mauna Kea observatories, Keck and Subaru telescopes at sunset

Mauna Kea observatories, Keck and Subaru telescopes at sunset

October 4, 2013

The Mauna Kea Visitor Center is located about 6 miles up on the Mauna Kea Access road, on its right side.  From Hilo and Waimea the trip takes about 1 hour, from Waikoloa it takes about 1 1/2 hours, and from Kona the trip takes ~ hour and  a half (thanks to the new Saddle road).

Mauna Kea Visitor Information Center

Mauna Kea Visitor Information Center. Do not be deceived by people in shorts. It is already quite cold there

Mauna Kea Visitor Center

Invisible cows warning

Invisible cows warning

    • The Visitor Center is located at 2,800 meter altitude, it could be cold there.
    • The  Information Station is open 9am-10pm, 365 days a year.
    • A small shop at the Visitor Center offers a limited amount of food, hot drinks, water, warm  clothing, space snacks, astronomy inspired gifts and paraphernalia.
    • A solar telescope is available during the day to view the sun.
Solar Telescope

The solar telescope at Mauna Kea Visitor information station. It is pointed to the sun and equipped with filters to view solar corona and solar flares

  • The free Stargazer Program is open daily (even on holidays)  from 6pm to 10pm, no matter the weather.
  • Mauna Kea is home to many endemic plant and animal species. There is nice garden at the Visitor Center, which is now a home for the bunch of silverswords, which were drove to extinction at the beginning of 20 century. Do not miss it.
The silversword garden at the Mauna Kea Visitor Center

The silversword garden at the Mauna Kea Visitor Center

  • Most rental cars agreements did not let customers to drive cars on the Saddle Road. But the road has been improved recently. So check this info before you go. i know that Harper Car and Truck Rental does not  have these restrictions that the other car rental companies impose.

Solar telescope

A solar telescope is available during the day to view the sun. It is pointed to the sun and equipped with protective filters. If it is not, ask the astronomer on duty at the Visitor Center to help you.

A picture of the sun

A picture of the sun I took via the solar telescope using my Sony camera. I simply pressed my camera to the telescope objective

Free Stargazing Program

The center has several telescopes. During the year, from 6pm to 10pm everyday (yes, even on holidays) everybody is invited to the Mauna Kea stargazing program to observe the heavens with trained observers.

The program begins with a short documentary film about Mauna Kea made by PBS Hawaii. After the film, volunteers and astronomers on duty offer the views of various objects, including planets, galaxies, open clusters and globular clusters, nebulae, and supernova remnants.

The staff members also provide a star tour using a laser pointer – that is my favorite. They point out the various constellations and bright objects that are featured  on that particular night.

Trails near the Visitor Center

For those who don’t want  to drive to the summit, there is a couple of trails near the Visitor Center, which  lead to rare plants and a stunning view of the Saddle region, Mauna Loa and, at the right time, beautiful sunsets.

A view from the Mauna Kea VisitorCenter

A view from the Mauna Kea VisitorCenter

sunset from the Visitor Center

Some people found the watching a sunset from the Visitor Center is more enjoyable than from the summit. The main reason is altitude. Chances are that you will suffer much less of the altitude sickness at the Visitor Center than on the summit.

Hiking to the summit

It is possible to hike to the summit of if you are strong enough and  the person of an adventurous type. Start at the Visitor Center and ask about the trail and hiker registration. The climb is about 4,600 vertical feet to the summit. This is an all day activity. The round trip takes about 10 hours. And you will not be able to stay and watch sunset, unless you have someone who will drive you back.

Mauna Kea View from the summit

Mauna Kea View from the summit

Andrey doing yoga at the summit of Mauna Kea

Andrey doing yoga at the summit of Mauna Kea

Read more about hiking to the summit from bigislandhikes.com. I mean it, read this post before you even think about hiking there.