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Maunakea

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Maunakea

What: Dormant volcano that is the highest point in the Hawaiian Islands
Where: 35 miles west of Hilo on the island of Hawaii

You’ll witness the amazing biodiversity of Hawaii on Maunakea, one of the only places on earth where you can travel from sea level to nearly 14,000 feet in a two-hour drive. Early Hawaiians named the behemoth Maunakea, or “white mountain,” for the snow that caps its broad slopes for parts of the year. It’s been more than 4,000 years since Maunakea last erupted, but scientists predict it could become active again in the future. 

As the highest point in not only Hawaii but the entire Pacific Basin, Maunakea serves an important role in the scientific community as a hub of astronomical observation. From the dry, cloudless atmosphere of Maunakea, it is possible to observe galaxies at the farthest edges of the observable universe. The volcano is home to more than a dozen massive telescopes from around the world, making it the largest observatory of its kind on the planet. (NOTE: Observatories are not open to the public.)

Maunakea is considered the most sacred of all Hawaii’s volcanoes, and is known by Hawaiians as a region of the gods. For this reason and for safety concerns, visitors are discouraged from traveling beyond the Maunakea Visitor Information Station (VIS). Here you can take in the sweeping views from 9,200 feet, or take part in stargazing programs, which run throughout the year (be sure to check the VIS website for scheduling information and road conditions before visiting). Or, get the complete Maunakea experience by joining a tour from a permitted tour company, such as Mauna Kea Summit Adventures. You can also participate in outstanding shoreline stargazing at select Kohala Coast resorts on certain nights.


NOTE: The high elevation and thin atmosphere on Maunakea can cause serious altitude sickness, especially for children and teens under the age of 16, pregnant women, visitors with chronic health conditions and those who have been scuba diving within 24 hours of visiting. Bikes are prohibited beyond the Maunakea VIS. Groups of 10 or more require approval from the Office of Maunakea Management. For more information on visiting Maunakea, go to www.ifa.hawaii.edu/info/vis/.

Stargazing on the Island of Hawaii

Whether you are high up on Maunakea or viewing from the shoreline, the Island of Hawaii offers some of the best stargazing on the planet. Learn about prime viewing spots, planetariums and tours that will take you to otherwise off-limits destinations for an out-of-this-world viewing experience.

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