Mauna Kea Observatory

Old Apr 27th, 2003, 07:18 PM
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Mauna Kea Observatory

Hi everyone,

I'm interested in checking out the Summit Tours or the Stargazing at Mauna Kea Observatory on the Big Island, Hawaii. I've been on the webiste but wanted some advice.

1) how is the drive up?

2) I know that rental car companies might prohibit taking their cars up but do people still do it?

3) Is the drive up to the summit worth it? (I was thinking of doing the caravan on Sat/Sun) or is the visitor center sufficient?

any comments are greatly appreciated!
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Old Apr 29th, 2003, 03:25 PM
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My husband and I have done Mauna Kea twice. The first time was in 93 on a tour. We went to the summit for sunset then down to about 7000 feet for stargazing. In 2000 we took the kids and drove a rental car to the visitors center. They had out two telescopes and pointed out many things. I actually prefered only going to the visitors center. You are on the summit for only a short time and the elevation will most likely bother you [almost 14,000 feet]. The visitor center showed movies about the observatories on the summit, had hot chocolate and instant soup for a minimal charge, and you could stay as long as you liked.

Be aware that they restrict travel to the summit to four wheel drive vehicles only.
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Old Apr 30th, 2003, 09:33 PM
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thanks for your comments!

How is the drive down and up? Is it really that steep?

we will probably rent a 4wd for that day.
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Old Apr 30th, 2003, 11:14 PM
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The drive up to the Onizuka Visitor Information Center can be done with any car. The road is paved and while steep, is not much more different than a mountain road anywhere else. You just take the Saddle Road, and turn off at milepost 28. Here is a Web site:
http://www.ifa.hawaii.edu/info/vis/stargazing.html

Many rental agencies do not even let their cars onto the Saddle Road, which I have never understood, as this is a mostly well-paved road. Obviously, if you aren't allowed on the Saddle Road, you aren't allowed up the Mauna Kea road either. On two different occasions, we have rented subcompact 2WD cars that were not allowed on the Saddle Road, but we did it anyway. You are taking a risk that the rental agency will come down hard on you if you crash or break down on an unauthorized road.

Most 4WD rentals do not have the Saddle Road restriction, but you should check to see if you would be allowed to drive the unpaved portion of the Mauna Kea Road, above 9,300 feet. As you noted, folks from the Visitor Center will guide you up on Saturday or Sunday afternoon, and this is definitely worthwhile if you have the car that can handle the nasty steep road. The view from the top can't be beat!

In terms of stargazing, I don't think it is worth going beyond the Onizuka Center. The skies will not be discernably clearer on the summit, and you will have the benefit of the Visitor Center staff to show you around, provide telescopes, and even lend you some warm clothing.
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Old May 1st, 2003, 10:53 AM
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I don't know if you'll have kids along, but I read that children under 16 aren't allowed past the visitors' center because of the altitude. I'm planning a trip to Hawaii and am pretty disappointed by this rule, since my kids will only be 11 and 14 when we go. We live at about 7500 feet, and the younger child has hiked to at least 12,500. Both kids love astronomy, and could really get something from a trip all the way up. Oh, well.
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Old May 2nd, 2003, 06:05 PM
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thanks everyone for their comments.

i read that harpers hawaii allows their 4wd drives on the saddle road but they charge $100 a day which is quite expensive.
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Old May 3rd, 2003, 04:43 AM
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It is very, very cold at the Visitor's Center, but the views thru the telescopes are worth it!! You don't look thru telescopes at the summit. Most (all?) are computer operated and not meant for looking. Anyway they are probably pointed at something so far away, it would be meaningless for novices. You would need to bring your own telescope to use at the summit. But the visitor's center is well worth while.
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Old May 3rd, 2003, 11:45 AM
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How is the drive up?
The saddle road can get foggy which can make it dangerous...if a clear day..(from Hilo side)....was a nice drive.

Yes your rental car will make it...the trip from the visitor center to the summit is very steep....max. speed will be about 15mph..Of course if you have car trouble!...guess you are on your own

Yes...a summit is worth it...seeing the top of Mona Kea and the observation station is wonderful....looking "down" on the clouds is sort of neat too.

tough decision....I make it okay...have fun.
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