Big Island Volcano -- Mauna Kea

Because the island is so far from big city lights, this Big Island volcano is the perfect environment to see stars. The summit of Mauna Kea is the ultimate vantage point for stargazing.

Atop Mauna Kea lies the world's largest astronomical observatory made up of 13 telescopes represented by 11 different countries. The only way up to the summit of this Big Island volcano is Saddle Road which can be accessed from both Kona and Hilo.

At the 9,300 ft. level is the Onizuka Center for International Astronomy and the Visitor Information Station. Ellison Onizuka is the astronaut from the Big Island who died in the Challenger in 1986 (His grave is located in Punchbowl Cemetary on Oahu).

It is open every day from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. where you can use many top-notch telescopes. Every evening from 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m., the station hosts an excellent stargazing program. On the weekends, they have a summit tour that starts at 1:00 p.m. You must have a 4WD vehicle for this tour. Call (808) 961-2180 for more information. These programs are free!

If you would like to go past this elevation to the W.M. Keck Observatory and other observatories, you are supposed to have a 4WD vehicle although many people drive up without one. Many rental car companies will say that your insurance will not cover any damages from driving Saddle Road.

A Few Words of Caution:

  • Children under 16 years old and pregnant women are not allowed on the summit tours due to the high altitude of this Big Island volcano.
  • People with severe respiratory or cardiac conditions are advised to check with their physician before doing this Big Island activity.
  • People who have been SCUBA diving in the past 24 hours should not go on the tour.
  • Be sure that you have a full tank of gas. Vehicles run less efficiently at this altitude, and there are no gas stations on Mauna Kea.

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