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“For visitors to the observatory” 5 of 5 stars
Review of Mauna Kea Observatory

Mauna Kea Observatory
Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station, 9,200 foot level of Mauna Kea, Hilo, Island of Hawaii, HI 96720
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Small Group
and up
Mauna Kea Summit and Stars Small Group Adventure...
Ranked #1 of 66 things to do in Hilo
Certificate of Excellence 2014
Attraction details
Durham, United Kingdom
4 reviews 4 reviews
4 attraction reviews
12 helpful votes 12 helpful votes
“For visitors to the observatory”
5 of 5 stars Reviewed April 10, 2014

Was pretty fortunate to have the opportunity to work up at the observatory for a fortnight, so got to see quite a bit of it. Was able to do a bit of the tourist stuff too, so thought I'd leave a few quick tips…

The visitor centre is near Hale Pohaku, the residence for scientists/engineers working at the summit, and is easily accessible by road, a ~45 min drive from Hilo. It is at about 10000 feet, and hosts a gift shop, space for seeing an educational film, and several amateur telescopes, that they set up on clear nights, from about 7.30pm-10pm. On one of my nights off I went to one of the astronomy 'talks' which was an excellent interactive tour of the sky, using a laser pointer and the telescopes, to point out lots of amazing sights. Mars and Jupiter look cracking through a 16 inch Meade LX200 GPS telescope, and they have several similar large telescopes which they point at various different objects, such as Supernova SN2014J, the Orion nebula, the Pleiedes, etc. (For a sense of scale, the 'amateur' telescopes cost in excess of ~$10000.) It was all very well organised, but ultimately, weather dependent, so try to be flexible if you want the sky tour.

Anyway. Beyond the visitor centre, the road is unpaved, and pretty dangerous, due to inclement weather, an aggressively low sun in the morning and evening, and steep drops at various points. People are often killed up there. Most hire car companies specifically exclude people from driving up there (even if they hire 4x4/SUVs), and fine heavily for disobedience. Moreover, people often break down, either by burning their brakes out coming down, or oxygen-starving the engine on the way up, due to dust and low air pressure, and towing fees are large. So if you do want to go up to the summit, at 14000 feet, either book a tour, or hire from a company that loans out cars specifically for that purpose (with low range 4x4 gear box).

The summit itself offers incredible views of sunset/sunrise and is where you can see the professional telescopes, like Keck, NASA's IRTF, Gemini North, JCMT, Subaru etc. At night, the active volcano can be seen glowing in the distance. The night sky is phenomenally clear, but as you're quite oxygen starved, doesn't look as spectacular as at the visitor centre. It's often at freezing temperature up there, and the altitude can affect people heavily. But as long as you consider these factors, you shouldn't have a problem.

All in all, well worth a visit!

Visited March 2014
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South Lake Tahoe, California
Senior Contributor
39 reviews 39 reviews
18 attraction reviews
Reviews in 14 cities Reviews in 14 cities
9 helpful votes 9 helpful votes
2 of 5 stars Reviewed April 8, 2014

There was a short film about the mountain and the Hawaiian culture, but scientific information was sorely lacking. We were unable to go past the 9,000 ft. Level due to ice and snow on the road. The telescopes for public viewing we're not being used due to cloud cover so, for us, this proved to be little more than a "warming hut" with souvenirs. It would be nice to have some displays and information there about the discoveries and scientific research that is currently occurring at the observatories. In my opinion, this is a real "opportunity missed".

Visited March 2014
Was this review helpful? Yes 1
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Brisbane, Australia
Senior Contributor
24 reviews 24 reviews
13 attraction reviews
Reviews in 17 cities Reviews in 17 cities
19 helpful votes 19 helpful votes
“Nothing short of heavenly.”
5 of 5 stars Reviewed April 3, 2014

Mauna Kea was magnificent. The views were breath-taking and peaceful. Highly recommend this.

It is a little chilly at the top, so bring a jacket and some gloves.
Bring some food with you as it'll be quite a few hours getting to the top, waiting and driving back. We took subway, fruit and lots of water (to help with the altitude sickness).
Hire a 4WD - the drive up is fine, it's the drive back down that you really need the 4WD, don't risk your (and/or family's) safety for $20 extra dollars; hire at Harper's, the only 4WD rental on the island.
Go before sunset, watch the sunset - simply stunning and await the stars to come out - absolutely gorgeous.
Stay an hour or so at the visitor's centre to ease any altitude sickness.
If you go on the weekend, there's a fantastic show the visitor's centre does with lots of telescopes - excellent viewing opportunities.

Visited March 2014
Was this review helpful? Yes 2
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Chesterfield, Missouri
Senior Reviewer
6 reviews 6 reviews
5 attraction reviews
“Pretty sweet”
4 of 5 stars Reviewed April 2, 2014 via mobile

Travel past the gate to check out the silver swords a very rare plant that is pretty neat - looks like a sea anenome.

Go up w plenty of gas!!!
Not as cold as it is made out to be. Jeans and a light hoodie are fine. We were there for 3 hours and it was drizzling no problem wearing just that. .. From MO though.

Even our Mazda M2 made it to the Observatory w/o a problem.

Some in our group had altitude sickness issues after only snorkeling that day.

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Kansas City, Missouri
Top Contributor
51 reviews 51 reviews
6 attraction reviews
Reviews in 20 cities Reviews in 20 cities
14 helpful votes 14 helpful votes
“Worth the trip”
5 of 5 stars Reviewed March 19, 2014

Great trip up, the drive was fun and scenic, the sunset and star gazing cannot be described with words. I recommend this to everybody!

Visited March 2014
Was this review helpful? Yes 1
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

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