Saturday, December 28, 2013

Mauna Kea sunset and night sky

I have visited the Big Island of Hawaii four times, and have yet to get to the top of Mauna Kea, where there are world-class observatories.  Considering I’m an avid amateur astronomer, how could I miss this so far?  Well, as it turns out, if you want to go to the summit of Mauna Kea you have to plan ahead. The Statendam cruise ship arrives in Hilo the morning of Feb 23, 2014, and sails around the Big Island to Kailua-Kona the next day, departing in the afternoon on the onward voyage to the South Pacific. This presents an ideal opportunity for seeing Mauna Kea at night, however the Holland America shore excursions to the summit only go there during the daylight hours. So I decide to disembark the ship in Hilo, and embark in Kailua-Kona the following day, so I can go up the mountain on my own.

My first hurdle is finding a rental car company, which will allow me to drive up to the summit in their vehicles. It is a bit of a rough road once past the Mauna Kea Visitor’s Center located part way up the mountain.  Most rental companies have a clause forbidding driving on the Saddle Road (aka Route 200), which traverses the Big Island over the mountains between Hilo and Kailua-Kona, and provides access to the Visitor Center. The route to the summit also goes past the Visitor Center, located at the 9,500’ level. It is a short distance to the summit, but reportedly it is a rough road, and of course at 14,500’ elevation, it is hard on both the vehicles and the people in them!

Harper Car and Truck Rental in Hilo specializes in renting vehicles to go to the summit of Mauna Kea.  I arrange to rent a 4WD truck for the 24 hours I will spend on the Big Island, so I can finally see the world, the observatories, the sunset, and the night sky from atop Mauna Kea.

I have previously stayed at The Old Hawaiian B&B in Hilo, so I book a night there, so I have a place to stay overnight while off the ship. The B&B operators confirm that Harpers is the company to use for vehicle rentals when the summit of Mauna Kea is in the plans, so that reassures me I am proceeding along the correct course to my goal.

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