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