Day Trip to Mauna Kea
If you like to get high and have great views……….Let me re-phrase that. If you like to go to the top of mountains and appreciate wonderful views, this might be a good day trip for you.. Mauna Kea is pretty high for the middle of the Pacific Ocean, 13,796ft to be exact. Don’t go on days where there are high winds or lots of clouds. The road from the visitor center at the 9,000 ft level to the summit is rough and requires a 4 wheel drive vehicle. The visitor center advertises that it is open 365 days a year and has a nightly stargazing program. If the weather is too windy or snowy, the road to the summit may be closed. For questions about the weather and road conditions, please call (808) 935-6268. Even on seemly bright sunny days expect the unexpected, mainly high winds and cold temperatures.
If you really want to see the summit, you have a some options. Getting to the top of Mauna Kea is not cheap. There are the tours which will cost you in the neighborhood of $200 per person. Some include a dinner at the summit if that’s important to you. You can rent a jeep or other 4 wheel drive vehicle and drive yourself. This will cost you $130 to over $200 for the day for the vehicle. You can join a guided tour at the visitor center by reservation when you drive your own vehicle. This way you save some money and get someone who knows something about Mauna Kea leading your tour. Of course you can just rent a 4 wheel drive like we did and go it alone.
We started our day in Hilo. Here is a great picture of the sunrise on Mauna Kea from our hotel room on the water in Hilo. The island of Hawaii has several climates zones. Here is an interesting map of the zones you may encounter during your visit. If you are going to visit Mauna Kea from one of the resort areas on Hawaii, you will probably experience 5 or more climate zones in one day.
The drive up Mauna Kea is very interesting. From the saddle road you will notice changing topography and climate. The visitor center will most likely be your first stop.
The visitor center is a nice place to take a break on the way up or down. There are some interesting displays and a small gift shop. This is also the last bathroom break for you. Plan accordingly. Check out the origami dollars in a donation box at the visitor center.
Once you leave the visitor center the pavement ends and the road gets steeper. This is the part where you need 4 wheel drive. We saw some mini-vans on Mauna Kea and even a couple of compact cars. You can make it to the summit if the road is not too rutted up. Read your rental agreement. If you get stuck or damage the car this could turn into a very expensive afternoon for you.