After every trip, my father would always ask, “What was your favorite part?” It’s never an easy question to answer. I cheated in my response after this vacation… I have a favorite activity and a favorite experience. I’ve already covered my favorite activity, it is now time for my favorite experience.
On Saturday night we decided to drive up to Mauna Kea. The summit of Mauna Kea is the home to the world’s largest astronomical observatory. Mauna Kea is a dormant volcano and the highest point in Hawaii reaching 13,796 ft above sea level. Reaching the summit requires acclimation at the Onizuka Visitor Information Station for 30 minutes; the center is at an altitude of 9300 feet. We stopped at the visitor’s station as rental cars are not allowed on Summit Rd. If you want to see the observatory and the summit you can pay for an excursion.
To get to the Onizuka Center, take Saddle Road and turn onto Summit Road and climb 2500 feet in 6 miles. It was so fun to drive through “fog” which wasn’t fog in the typical context, you’re actually driving through the clouds you were staring up at only moments ago from sea level! Once making it through the “fog” the sky is completely clear.
We hiked a little ways across from the visitor’s station to watch the sunset from above the clouds. Even before the sun started to set we were cold. I packed jeans and jackets, but I’d never thought to pack gloves on a trip to Hawaii! The best dollar spent was for a cup of hot chocolate at the Onizuka Center. We hunkered down from the wind behind a pile of rocks and watched the most spectacular sunset while we ate our sandwiches. (When hikes are on the agenda, I like to make a stop at the grocery store and pick up deli meat, cheese, bread and snacks to always have food on hand while we’re out.)
I typically watch a sunset from the beach and love watching the sun disappear into the water, but watching the sunset from above the clouds was equally, if not more, stunning. As the colors in the sky continued to shift the clouds began to emulate waves and the rays of remaining sunshine illuminating the neighboring clouds like lava. Stuart titled our sunset photos “The Lava of the Sky”.
In the down time between setting sun and total darkness we went back to the car to warm up! But not before snapping a picture of the first star of the night.
Photography is a new hobby of ours and we were anxious to try and snap a few photos of the night sky. And we weren’t the only ones with tripods handy. Our novice skill set yielded only one non-solid-black photo. I had to do some editing, and you may have to tilt your computer screen to see it but here’s what we could capture. The sky was so clear that I saw the smallest of stars that go undetected on the mainland. The Onizuka Center has a free star-gazing program during which they show a documentary and provide opportunities to look through telescopes.