Stargazing & Sunsets From The Top Of Mauna Kea In Hawaii

When booking a trip to Hawaii, it is a must to visit “The Big Island” to see some of the world’s most active volcanoes, walk in volcano craters and of course see views from 13,000 feet at the top of the infamous Mauna Kea mountain.

Some Facts About Mauna Kea

  • At an incredible 13,798 ft, Mauna Kea may not have the highest summit but it’s actually the tallest mountain in the world as there is another 19,700 ft worth of mountain below sea level
  • This marvellous mountain is 1 million years old
  • Although it hasn’t erupted for 4500 years, it is still considered a dormant volcano and so could erupt at any time
  • In Hawaiian, Mauna Kea is short for Mauna a Wakea meaning the mountain belonging to the sky
  • Nowadays, Mauna Kea is most famous for the Mauna Kea Observatory – the world’s largest astronomical observatory and home to more than a dozen telescopes

Why Should You Visit?

Well, if I haven’t already sold it to you then there are so many reasons why you should visit! On a clear day, Mauna Kea offers views across the island and beyond as you can also see neighbouring islands in the distance. Don’t forget your binoculars!

And if you visit in the evening, then you’ll be treated to a picture perfect sunset before descending down to 9200 feet to view the stars and Milky Way at the Visitor Centre. You can see so many stars from up here (there’s a reason why it has been chosen as the perfect spot to host the world class industrial observatories)!

If that’s still not enough to convince you to make a trip here, then how about seeing some photos instead…?

Photos To Make You Want To Visit Mauna Kea

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Insider Travel Tips

  1. Head to the Visitor Centre to acclimatise yourself before venturing on to the summit. With reduced oxygen, you may notice a shortness of breath and mild headaches, but some people do suffer from these side effects more than others! Check how you’re doing at the centre by staying here for at least 1 hour.
  2. Speed up your acclimatisation by walking around Mauna Kea for part of this hour and drinking hot chocolate – trust me, it helps! Hot chocolate costs $1 at the centre so is definitely worth it.
  3. Wrap up warm! The temperatures (especially at night) can really drop up here so make sure you’re prepared with plenty of warm, thermal layers.
  4. Consider bringing your own telescope or binoculars. It can get very busy at the visitor centre. With only a couple of telescopes available for public use; you could find yourself waiting in line for some time.
  5. See the native Ahinahina (Silversword) plant at 9,200 feet (a couple of minutes walk from the back of the visitor centre). It’s like something out of a sci-fi movie!
  6. If visiting in the evening, get to the summit before sunset! The summit closes to the public from 7pm as the Astronomers need to start work, so expect to start being ushered down the mountain from about 6.45pm. But get here ready for 6pm and you can see views at late afternoon, evening and at sunset!
  7. You’ll need 4×4 to get to the summit. If renting a car, check you’re insured to go beyond the visitor centre and check your car has 4×4 capability.

In case you’re wondering how we made our trip to Mauna Kea a possibility; we spent a few nights at Arnott’s Lodge in Hilo. We were able to have tours to both Mauna Kea and Volcanoes National Park via the lodge’s tour guides. If you’re staying at the lodge and booking these trips in advance, then you can get some money discounted from the tours, which made complete sense to us when planning our holiday.

We thoroughly enjoyed our trip to Mauna Kea as we really had never seen that many stars before and the sunset just cannot be beaten. It was truly one of the most memorable evenings of my life so far and will be remembered for a lifetime.

Have you been to Mauna Kea yet? What did you think of it? Do you know of any other perfect star gazing and sunset spots? Share your comments below…

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Psst! Want more Hawaiian wanderlust inspiration? Take a look at these 36 photos to inspire you!


29 thoughts on “Stargazing & Sunsets From The Top Of Mauna Kea In Hawaii

  1. Stunning photos! I just got back from Hawaii but didn’t make it to Mauna Kea. I had a great view of it when flying from the Big Island, so beautiful!

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      1. I went to Waikiki (Oahu); Volcano (Big Island); Lahaina, Hana, & Kihei (Maui). When you visited, did you stay on the Big Island or island hop?

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        1. Oh wow! That’s amazing! You must have seen so many great sights! We first stayed in Waikiki and also did a tour of most of the O’ahu island and then hopped across to The Big Island (staying in Hilo) and saw Mauna Kea and Volcano National Park. Would love to have stayed longer though…always the way! :-p

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  2. wow! those observatories are just floating about the clouds. I’ve never been to Hawaii and this is the second post i’ve seen about it today! It has so much to offer.

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  3. You don’t need to tell me twice to visit! Great idea about the binoculars. Its something I really wish I had! Must invest in a pair. When I was a little kid, I remember peering through what I used to call “noc-nocs” as I couldn’t pronounce the full word!

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    1. Hehe, I actually received a free pair of binoculars for signing up to the National Trust membership here in the UK. They might only be a basic pair but they have served us well (and are pocket sized)!

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  4. Fabulous. I went to O’ahu last year and enjoyed it so much more than I ever thought I would. The Big Island is now on the list for a future visit. Your photos are simply beautiful. Thanks for the tip too about warm clothes – wouldn’t think of that straight up unless I read some tips.

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    1. We also found ourselves in O’ahu during this same trip (we did a few days on both O’ahu and The Big Island). You definitely have to get yourself out to The Big Island one day – there’s so much to see (including active volcanoes)! We loved it!

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