Hawaii, USA

Mauna Kea : Sunset and Sights

We had Poke before loading into the tour bus that would take us up to the highest mountain in the world (measured from the sea floor and I love Poke).  Our plan was to do the best, best food (Poke), best driving style (chauffeur), best sight (sunset from the highest peak that we can see sunsets from – We’re not sure that we could survive a sunset on Mt. Everest).

Staying on the Kona side of the Big Island of Hawaii means that the drive up to Mauna Kea runs through the grassy sheets of former cattle ranches and alongside lava fields, formed long before you were born.  This is the closest America comes to the Icelandic landscapes, and, while we had been in the ocean all morning, we were dressed like we were about to attempt a glacier walk.

Mauna Kea Summit and Stars Tour - Stop 1

It was cloudy, the ride felt like an Escape to Witch Mountain or that scene in sci-fi movies when a bus load of scientists are rushed out to some secret laboratory where the alien artifact has spontaneously come to life, and that’s really the feeling you want. I mean, we’re about to summit Mauna Kea, a Hawaiian holy land, one of the peaks of the world, and the best place on Earth for staring into Space; it should feel like you’re charging into uncharted territory.

Mauna Kea Summit and Stars Tour - DinnerHawaii Forest and Trail’s Mauna Kea Summit and Stars Adventure, is a roughly eight hour round trip journey from sea level to the summit of Mauna Kea.  Towards the final leg of the drive, before hitting the main mountain road, we stopped for dinner at an old farmstead and were given time to acclimate ourselves to a bit of the altitude we were rising into.


Mauna Kea Summit and Stars Tour - Lower Satelite

Mauna Kea

Obviously the most spectacular sights are at dusk and then into the night, but to get to the summit for sunset you have to head up early.  Which means that the first satellite you cross is in daylight.  There is nothing about this sight that doesn’t have an innate gravity about it.

Being near the top of the world, an infinity skyline rushing off the edge of your footing, and beside the physical interpretation of humanity’s farthest reaching dreams feels special.  There was one phrase that kept running around in my head…

“We stand on the surface of our planet with nothing above us but space.”

Then, of course, we continued to head deeper into the sky….for the last rays of light.

The Sunset

Mauna Kea Sunset 1

Mauna Kea Sunset People Standing




“Surely we can do it again, as we did in the times when our eyes looked towards the heavens and, with outstretched fingers, we touched the face of God. “



Mauna Kea Sunset People Sitting


The clouds were too thick for astrophotography, damn.  Our guide was able to find gaps in the cover that allowed us to view Saturn, the Moon, and a number of stars.  To be totally honest, the cloud cover put a huge damper on the evening…nothing anyone can do about that.  The best you can hope for when the “best case scenario” has flown out the window is a good Door Number 2.

The guide wove us a story that was a mix of Hawaiian beliefs, scientific study, and popular opinion that made the sky come alive with wonder.  It was good, but I recommend trying to go on a night when you can see the stars…I mean that’s one of the main reasons for going.  However, if you do make it up on a night with clouds, the guides at Hawaii Forest and Trail will work really hard to let you see some of the sights through their telescope and fill your imagination with what’s possible in space.

Mauna Kea Moonrise