Did you know that Mauna Kea, when measured from actual base to top, is actually the tallest mountain on earth? Sorry, Mount Everest but you can’t beat the whopping 33,100ft (10,100m) this mountain reaches up from below sea level up to the visible last 13,800ft. But even measured from sea level, it makes it the highest peak in the state of Hawaii.
Mauna Kea is another example of the immense variety of this beautiful island. We started at sea level with about 90 degrees Fahrenheit. We took the scenic Saddle Road starting from the town of Waimea to make our way up there. The landscape outside of our windows changed dramatically in just minutes. From lush green meadows spotted with cattle we drove through lavascapes before taking the Mauna Kea Summit road and breaking through the clouds.
There are two ways to explore the summit: Either book a tour which takes you up there for the summit or, if you have a 4×4 car, drive up yourself. This is not a road you’d want to use without a 4×4 car, it just gets too steep and driving down there without a low-gear shift could become seriously dangerous. The tours usually offer a good package, drive up to the Ranger station to get acclimated to the high altitude, get up to the summit for sunset and then finish of with stargazing from the ranger station with some hot chocolate.
We’ve decided to do it on our own as we wanted to stay longer to shoot the stars rising after sunset. We’ve followed the recommendation and stayed for 45 minutes at the Ranger station before continuing to drive up the mountain. Don’t forget to bring warm clothes and dress in layers, it gets quite chilly up there. Temperatures dropped from 95 degrees in Kohala down to 44 on the top of Mauna Kea. The high altitude is also definitely not to underestimate, just walking around for a few minutes makes you feel like you just run uphill for 20 minutes.
The last few miles up to the summit makes you feel you just leave earth and are driving around Mars, nothing can survive up here anymore, you leave the clouds below and the world seems to be so far away. Once you arrive up there, you’re surrounded by the Mauna Kea Observatories, which opened up their huge panels once the sun was gone and the stars came out.
We’ve picked a spot on the very top of the road, overlooking the observatories as a foreground for the sunset. Once the last light disappeared, the stars came out and -surprisingly – most people left. It was cold and the altitude is eating at you but you wouldn’t want to miss the rising stars and further diminishing of the light.
It was already 7 days after new moon so the moon was quite bright that night. Next time, we’d probably go around new moon to get a chance to see the milky way, but it was too bright that night. Some of my favorite shots of the night are the blanket of stars with the observatories in the foreground, absolute unreal pictures.
Check out the photos in the album below and please leave your feedback in the comments.