One of my favourite adventures from our last trip to Hawaii was reaching the summit of Mauna Kea – a dormant volcano on the incredible island of Hawaii (the big island). Mauna Kea is more than 4,000 meters (14,000 feet) above sea level, making it the highest peak in Hawaii and more than twice the height of Mount Everest when measured from its oceanic base. The last time it erupted was 4,600 years ago and it will most likely erupt again one day. It was our first time to the island, so we hired a Jeep and headed to the top of the one million year-old volcano to take it all in.
It only takes a few hours to drive from sea level to the summit, so altitude sickness is a high possibility and it’s recommended you stop at the Visitor Information Center on the way up to acclimatise. As usual we were on a tight schedule to make sunset and came to the conclusion that if we’d trekked to Machu Picchu in Cusco, Peru without any issues, we’d be sweet. The air at the top didn’t feel as hardcore as our adventures in the Peruvian countryside, but we definitely noticed the 40% less oxygen going through our lungs.
We were there in summer and temperatures were below zero – it was hard to believe that just a few hours earlier we were shooting bikinis in the sweltering Hawaiian heat. If you book a tour to the summit, all your arctic gear is provided – being independent and underprepared for the freezing conditions saw us layering the shit out of our summer gear. There are no photos of me in this article for a reason – at one point I was wearing two beach towels and three pairs of socks with my Havaianas.
The summit isn’t just an incredible place to watch the sunrise and the sunset; it’s also one of the best sites in the world for astronomical observation. The dome-like structures in the photos are observatories and house some of the most sophisticated telescopes in the world. After sunset head back down the volcano to the Visitor Information Center where you can partake in a stargazing tour of the night sky.
TIL tip: do not attempt the drive to the summit on your own unless you’re in a proper 4-wheel drive. Fake SUVs won’t cut it and you don’t want to get stuck in freezing conditions. You’ll also need a full tank of fuel as the nearest petrol stations are 48 kilometers (30 miles) away in either Hilo or Waimea.