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Telescopes in Hawaii to visit

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New Member
Joined: 2 years ago
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Hello folks,

I just found out that I have a family wedding to go to in Hawaii in November 2022.  I wanted to reach out to VAS to see if anyone has experience/recommendations re: visiting observatories there. Any ideas are welcome! This will be my first visit to Hawaii.

Many thanks.

Terri Zittritsch
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Joined: 4 years ago
Posts: 349
Posted by: @monty-m

Hello folks,

I just found out that I have a family wedding to go to in Hawaii in November 2022.  I wanted to reach out to VAS to see if anyone has experience/recommendations re: visiting observatories there. Any ideas are welcome! This will be my first visit to Hawaii.

Many thanks.

Hi Monty, welcome to the forums!     I am envious of your trip to Hawaii... a magical place.    There is a wonderful visitors center on Mauna Kea, on the big island, below the top where there are some nice telescopes to look through.  You can also drive to the top but I honestly don't know if you can visit any of those observatories.  I did not try when there.    Good luck and you'll have to tell us all what you found!

best of luck


Paul Walker
Estimable Member Admin
Joined: 12 years ago
Posts: 95

Hi Monty.  Now I know why you wanted to register on the Forum : )

I’ll relate my experience visiting there. My wife and I went to Hawaii the end of August 2014 for 2 weeks. The 1st week we stayed in Kailua-Kona on West side of the big island and visited the Mauna Kea Observatories. The Keck building at least used to be open on certain days (not open on our visit) and/or as part of special tours.  There are tours to the top you can pay for, I think they start in Hilo (northeast side of the island). 

A note- the car rental companies do not cover their regular cars for driving up to the top. I don’t know why. The road to me is fine for regular cars (we’ve driven on far worse and scarier roads out west). The road is wide, dirt most the way from the visitor center but paved at the top. We did rent a 4WD for a day (as required by the rental companies for driving the 8 miles of road above the Mauna Kea visitor center). At least some of those tours are timed to have you at the top for sunset. Don’t quote me but, since one is responsible for damaging a rental, I doubt one would be more responsible for the car if they managed to go off the road to the observatory. We stopped at the visitor center for a few hours to acclimate as recommended before going to the top. We stayed at the top for the Sunset. It was quite lovely, very intense color along the horizon. As expected it was quite cold and windy at the top even in August. In November snow may prevent you from going to the top. Another note- I ended up getting a headache from the high altitude that I couldn’t get rid of until we came down to sea level the next day. I had never had that issue before but had never been to that altitude before (almost 14,000 ft). Had we only stayed an hour or so I probably would have been OK, we stayed at top for 3 ½ hours. We’ve been to Pike’s Peak since then and I didn’t get a headache there.

You can stay overnight at the visitor center which is at 9,000 ft but you have to sleep in your car (even in August I should have thought to run the engine from time to time to warm up, it was a cold night with little sleep). We parked in a dirt overflow parking lot just below 2 buildings that are below the visitor. There are rest rooms in one of those 2 buildings. I did some wide field astrophotography that night from next to the rental truck. That is also where we slept in the rental truck. The Milkyway was beautiful. I also saw the Zodiacal light in the morning about 4:45 AM HST. It was very obvious. Jupiter was right in the middle of the Zodiacal Light near the top of the cone of light appearing as if it was the source of the light.

They have public viewing at the visitor center, though maybe not in the winter. I didn’t view through any of the scopes set up, lines too long and too much ambient light for good dark adaptation. I have read recently that if one stays until the crowd disperses that one can get some one on one viewing.

There are also observatories on Mount Haleakala, HI, on the island to the Northwest of the big island. Using Google Maps is see there is a visitor center (currently closed). But I don’t know anything about them. The elevation at the top there is 9,000 ft.

Reputable Member Admin
Joined: 11 years ago
Posts: 9

Hi Monty

We went to Mauna Kea in February 2017.  We did not have a four wheel drive so we went to the top on a tour. It was worthwhile and very informative. I would recommend it.  The observatories were not open to the public but the view at sunset was fabulous.  The observatories are not at the top of Mauna Kea.  The last bit of mountain to the peak is sacred to the natives and we were discouraged from climbing.  Back at the visitor's center, we had a sky tour with volunteers using their scopes.  It was cold at the observatory level but not too bad at the visitor's center until the middle of the night.

I came back to the visitors center on second evening at around 11PM.  No one was around so I set up my camera on a tripod and started imaging constellations and later the Milky way.  The sky was incredibly dark.  I could see M33 without aid.  There was no light with the exception of a trail of glowing lava from the Kilauea volcano forty miles south.  My images had a green background from glowing oxygen (sky glow).   

The visitors center has better viewing than the summit.  The low oxygen at the top affects the eyes.

I would highly recommend the astronomy visitors center in Hilo.  It is excellent.






This post was modified 2 years ago by Joseph Comeau

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