Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Hawaii Day 4 – Mauna Kea Summit Tour

Warning – Picture heavy post ahead!

This was the day that J was REALLY looking forward to.  About a week before we left for Hawai’i, we were trying to find a guided tour of some type on the Big Island.  J found one for Mauna Kea, so after going back and forth between two different tour companies, I finally settled on Hawaii Forest & Trail.

Our tour didn’t leave until 2 p.m., so we decided to do a little more exploring around the island….after our daily breakfast at Splashers, of course.

IMG_4156We drove up the west coast of the Big Island and stumbled upon this state park, so we decided to check it out.  It had a lot of neat historical structures that were built hundreds of years ago.  Very cool little place.


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We headed back into town to grab some lunch before meeting up for our tour.  Once we arrived, we changed into jeans, as we had read that it gets pretty cold on Mauna Kea, especially after the sun goes down.  We met our tour guide, Greg, loaded up the bus, and headed out.

We took the infamous Saddle Road, which I had read was in rough shape, and some car rental companies had it written in their policies that tourists were not to take their cars down it!  They have improved it, but I’m glad we didn’t have to drive it.

Greg had so much knowledge and information to share with us that we may not have ever learned had we done this ourselves.  He told us how the land used to be run by cowboys.  It was super foggy on parts of the road -


We drove by an active military exercise site.  Greg told us that if they’re flying the red flag, they are performing live exercises.  I tried to snag a picture of the flag as we drove by -


Greg later pulled over the bus and gave us a few minutes to walk out on some of the lava.  There are two types of lava in Hawai’i – pahoehoe (pronounced pa-hoy-hoy) and a’a (pronouced ah ah).  The pahoehoe comes out smooth and dense, and the a’a is more jagged.  We were hanging out on some pahoehoe :)


We picked up our last passenger and headed to our dinner spot – an old cowboy “farm”.  We wandered around while Greg set up dinner for us.  It was a neat little place at the base of Mauna Kea!

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Greg ran the dinner bell and we all went to the tent to eat.  We enjoyed baked chicken, rice, veggies, and cornbread and chatted with a couple from Wisconsin during dinner.  Once dinner was over and cleaned up, we were handed out jackets.  Like I said…it gets cold up there! 

We began our drive up to the summit….the welcome center was at 9,280 feet elevation, where we briefly stopped, and then kept on going.  Just past the visitors center were the snow plows. WHAT? Snow plows in Hawai’i?  Yes, it does occasionally snow up Mauna Kea, and since astronomers and scientists have to get up there to operate the telescopes, snow plows are actually needed.


Greg pulled over at around 11,000 feet elevation.  The view was absolutely beautiful and picturesque. 

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Greg told us that the reason some of the land is red is because of the iron in the soil.  When the topsoil begins to erode, it exposes the iron.  At some points it's so incredibly bright.  Very cool little tidbit of information!

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I believe at this point we were up at around 10,000 to 11,000 feet…pretty much above the clouds!

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This satellite is actually controlled by a lab in New Mexico.  While we were there it even changed positions!  Pretty cool to see it move knowing that it was being done thousands of miles away.

We continued up to the summit, and the landscape started to change.  Nothing was growing, and it really started to remind me of what being on the surface of Mars or the moon would be like.

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When we finally reached the top of the summit, we were at 13,796 feet above sea level, which makes it the world’s tallest mountain.  I had read that there is 40% less oxygen at the summit and got a little worried about getting sick, but I managed just fine.  Once we stepped off the bus, IT.WAS.COLD!!!  I am not a fan of the cold, and you don’t think Hawai’i gets this cold, but it was close to, if not below freezing up there.  They had some mittens we could use and I took full advantage of them! 

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Jason took a print screen of his phone just to show where we were!


This next photo is really cool – what you’re actually seeing is the shadow of Mauna Kea over Hilo, Hawai’i.


Once the sun set, we slowly headed back down the mountain for hot chocolate, cookies, and stargazing.  Mauna Kea is the best place in the world to study astronomy.  Thirteen telescopes operated by eleven countries have been constructed on the summit for this reason.  Even if we could have gotten pictures of the night sky, it wouldn’t have done it justice – being there and seeing it was absolutely amazing.  We both agreed that the sky would never look the same once we got home.  Our tour guide showed us where different constellations in the sky were, and we focused in on some stars and planets, and even saw a couple of shooting stars.  One of the neatest things we saw was the glow from Kilauea.  The clouds were low enough that the orange glow from the lava would reflect off the clouds and it could be seen.  How cool is that??

We finally packed it up and headed back down to civilization.  It took me awhile to warm up and I dozed off a couple of times on the drive back.  Needless to say when we got back to the hotel we crashed!

If you’re ever on the Big Island, this excursion is a must do!  It was a little pricey but worth every single penny we paid.

Have you visited the Big Island?  What was your favorite thing? 

Until next time,

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  1. I LOVE the Big Island! When I went with my family years ago, we stayed up in the mountains for a couple of days then headed down to the Hilton Waikaloa Village for the rest of the time. Such a gorgeous island :) I loved hiking through the volcanic caves!

  2. Gorgeous!! Love the view and the tour sounds like so much fun!!

  3. SO jealous! Love all the photos- I can't wait to visit hawaii one day!

  4. Looks like a really fun day! You guys got some great pictures.


Your comments make me smile :)