How to Spend a Cold, Wintry Day on Your Hawaii Vacation

Okay, most people don’t plan on encountering wintry weather in Hawaii. Others come to escape the winter altogether.

But consider taking a day to ascend to the top of 13,796-foot Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawaii. Even in summertime, you’ll need to dress for cold weather.

Take A Tour

On a Mauna Kea tour (there are several), you’ll ride in a comfortable vehicle with plenty of visibility; learn about the island’s geography, cultural and natural history; gaze out on fantastic, otherworldly scenery; see the most jaw-dropping sunset in the islands (And that’s saying something!); and gaze at the amazing night sky through powerful telescopes from the best vantage point in the world. (A dozen observatories are perched at the summit, including the world’s largest observatory for optical, infrared, and sub-millimeter astronomy, but you can see them only from the outside.) Most of the tours provide parkas and serve hot suppers.

Or Do It on Your Own

You can do it on your own, as well. Begin at the Visitor Information Station of the Onizuka Center for International Astronomy at the 9,000-foot level on the Mauna Kea access road. At the Center you can learn about the mountain itself, the telescopes and the Universe, buy souvenirs and view the stars after dark through portable telescopes.

But Be Careful

You’ll be roughing it. You won’t find any public accommodations, food, or gasoline service above the Visitor Information Station. There are no permanent restrooms. The only public telephone is an emergency phone in the entrance to the University of Hawaii 2.2-m Telescope Building at the summit. The road above the Center to the Mauna Kea Observatories is unpaved, rough, steep, winding, and dangerous. Only four-wheel-drive vehicles are permitted. The trip takes about a half-hour from the Information Center in good weather, but extreme caution must be exercised, especially going back down. Use low gear and be on the lookout for slide areas and loose gravel. Don’t ever drive faster than 25 mph. Use your headlights if it’s foggy. During the hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset, because of the low elevation of the sun, you’ll be driving directly towards the sun and it’s very difficult to see oncoming traffic. (Children under 16, pregnant women and people with respiratory, heart, or severe overweight conditions are advised not to go higher than the Visitors Information Station.)

Think About it Seriously

Mauna Kea is a very special place to be. An effort is underway to have a huge new telescope project built on Mauna Kea that is almost certain to be controversial among Native Hawaiians, who consider Mauna Kea to be sacred. U.S. Senator Daniel K. Inouye is proposing steps such as scholarships for Hawaiian students as part of an initiative to garner public support for the project, a $1 billion 30-meter telescope. (The largest on Mauna Kea currently is 15 meters.)

Think about including Mauna Kea in your vacation plans. A Hawaii-Aloha agent can help set you up for a thrilling, educational and unusual day of fun on the mountain. Pick an agent from our Web site home page (, or call 1-800-843-8771.

Posted by: Jamie Winpenny