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Onizuka Visitor Center
Onizuka Center for International Astronomy Visitor Information Station. At a 9,300-foot elevation, this is an excellent amateur observation site, with a handful of telescopes and a knowledgeable staff. It hosts nightly stargazing sessions from 6 to 10. This is also where you should stop for a while to acclimate to the altitude if you're heading for the summit. This is a pleasure to do as you drink hot chocolate and peruse the exhibits on ancient Hawaiian celestial navigation, the ancient history of the mountain as not only a quarry for the best basalt in the Hawaiian Islands, but also as one of its most revered spiritual retreats. Other exhibits cover modern astronomy and the unique natural history of the summit.
The gift shop is full of great books, posters, and other mementos. On weekends the Onizuka Center offers free escorted summit tours, heading up the mountain in a caravan. Participants must arrive at 1 pm, in your own all-wheel or four-wheel-drive vehicle. After watching a one-hour video, the caravan begins.
To get here from Hilo, which is about 34 mi away, take Highway 200 (Saddle Road), and turn right at mile marker 28 onto John A. Burns Way, which is the only access road to the summit. Mauna Kea, HI. 808/961–2180. www.ifa.hawaii.edu/info/vis. Daily 9 am–9:30 pm.
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