Welcome to Part 5 of 6 series with Guest Blogger Danielle Lescure on her Hawai’i Adventure of The Big Island. Next stop is Mauna Kea.
As I’ve mentioned previously, I really, really, really, really, really wanted to reach the summit of Mauna Kea to see the observatories.
I’d made one attempt on my own and had also signed up for a Summit & Stars tour to take place a few days into my trip. Both were thwarted by a brush fire that shut down the main road leading to the entrance. However, the tour was rescheduled for the day before I was to leave as long as the fire had subsided. Fortunately, this time the stars aligned.
If you’re hoping to get a glimpse of the observatories yourself, the Summit & Stars tour is a brilliant way to go and worth every penny. First, for once you don’t have to do the driving! You simply choose a meeting place close to where you are, hop on a van, and let them take the wheel. It’s a welcome respite and allows you to really play sightseer and take in the view along the way.
Upon reaching the base of Mauna Kea, we all got to stretch our legs and enjoy a light dinner at a now abandoned farm. Then it was back on the bus to climb the 13,796 feet to the summit!
It’s difficult to describe what it feels like to be that high above the clouds. It’s simply otherworldly and easy to see why it’s prime real estate for the 11 observatories parked there, including two of the most powerful telescopes in the world. We spent a half hour taking in the view and watching the sun set.
Yes, it’s chilly that high up. The tour company provides parkas for people who may not have worn enough layers. I had decided in advance that this would also be an ideal photo op for a Christmas card and so came prepared with Santa hat. Several people got a kick out of that. Ok, mostly I got a kick out of it. (But a few others did too.)
Once the sky turned dark, we made our way back to the Ellison Onizuka Visitor Center at 9,000 feet (named for the astronaut who perished in the Challenger shuttle explosion in 1996). Here, in addition to purchasing souvenirs, our tour guide treated us to cookies, hot chocolate, and our own private star show courtesy of the powerful telescope he’d brought along.
Breathtaking barely begins to describe the experience. As my final night on the island, it couldn’t have ended on a higher note or a starrier night. My pilgrimage was complete.
Danielle Lescure is a writer and singer in Los Angeles. You can find out more at DanielleLescure.com, tweet a hello @daniellelescure, or check out her blog at https://daniellelescure.wordpress.com/.