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“One of the most amazing Hawaiian experiences we've had”

Mauna Kea Summit Adventures
Ranked #24 of 199 Tours in Kailua-Kona
Certificate of Excellence
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Attraction details
Recommended length of visit: More than 3 hours
Owner description: Mauna Kea Summit Adventures offers daily trips to the summit of Mauna Kea for sunset and stargazing. We are the pioneer service of this kind and we have over 30 years of experience. Our daily trip starts off on the Kona coast 4 hours before sunset and returns 5 hours after sunset. We travel in custom built 4x4 mini coaches with panoramic windows. Our guides are experts in island geography, geology, culture and astronomy. At the 9,000FT.level, we stop for the better part of an hour to dine and experience the visitor's center. We arrive on the summit before sunset and we stay until the best of the color has faded. Afterward, if natural conditions allow, we put on a highly informative stargazing session with large, computerized amateur telescopes. MKSA does not guarantee the weather in any way. Although the mountain enjoys a great majority of fine weather there is the possibility the tour may be canceled, and refunded or may encounter poor conditions in the field.
Dublin, Ireland
Level 6 Contributor
64 reviews
11 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 97 helpful votes
“One of the most amazing Hawaiian experiences we've had”
Reviewed 31 March 2011

I can't recommend MKSA highly enough. They pick up from the Starbucks in Queen's Marketplace which was literally right across the street for us so coming and going - especially once they dropped us back off after 10 p.m. - was the easiest thing in the world.

On the drive up to Mauna Kea, our guide Pat (who might also be the owner or President) was extremely knowledgeable about the local area as he has lived in Hawaii for the past 30 years. He has some definite viewpoints that could be considered "political" but we found them interesting and it added a personal touch to the drive up. We drove up the Saddle Road, passing Parker Ranch lands, the Army training base and lava fields, finally reaching the Visitor's Center. Pat told us about seeing one of the volcano eruptions in the early 80s (I think this is when he said it was) from one of his backcountry tours and reporting it to the local civil defense units. What an experience that must have been!

At the Visitor's Center (9200 feet above sea level), MKSA provides you with a meal and an opportunity to acclimate to the high altitude. I was worried about this trip seeing as how I nearly passed out on Haleakala back in 2007 and had recently had respiratory problems but I need not have feared. While I was a bit slower than others, I just took it really easy and made sure that I was always taking in as much air as possible into my lungs and I was fine.

After eating we climbed back into the van for the remainder of the drive to the top of the summit - 13,800 feet above sea level. Once you leave the visitor's center, the mountain takes on a much starker appearance, looking extremely extraterrestrial (or at least, that's what I thought given the images we've seen of Mars and elsewhere).

Once we reached the top of the summit, we were given a couple of breaths to acclimate once again to this even higher elevation. Immediately it hit me, but I persevered. My husband commented that even he could feel it. We were then given parkas and gloves and while I thought at first I wasn't going to need them, within just a couple of minutes it was FREEZING and my hands would go numb without the gloves. After learning about each of the observatories and their various equipments, we climbed back in the van to drive over to where we'd watch the sun set and look through the telescope provided by MKSA.

Then we made our way back down the mountain to an area around the visitor center where we had an astronomy lesson from Pat that was just astounding to someone that knows absolutely nothing about stars or the galaxy. My public school education skipped right over that part of the curriculum it seems. Through their telescopes we got to see galaxies, constellations (I can now unequivocally point out Orions Belt), and to close out the night the rings of Saturn. It was just magnificent and awe-inspiring.

I immediately fell asleep after getting back in the van, so I can't comment on the rest of the drive, but I can comment on MKAS - if you're going to Hawaii, definitely book this trip. This, the manta ray night snorkel, and hiking Kileau Iki trail are three experiences you don't want to miss.

Visited March 2011
2 Thank Becky-in-Oakland
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
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California City, California
Level 3 Contributor
12 reviews
7 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 24 helpful votes
“Think Twice if You're Not an Astronomy Buff”
Reviewed 19 March 2011

Our guide, Chris, earned five stars on his own. Great commentary during the entire trip. The top of Mauna Kea for sunset was beautiful, but very cold with a strong wind. They give you nice, warm parkas and gloves to wear. Trying to take sunset photos without gloves could only be done a few minutes at a time without having to warm my hands. Seriously. And this is after swimming in the ocean just a few hours earlier. Amazing. Apparently, Saddle Road has improved a lot in recent years. It sure looked like regular cars were driving up to the ranger station without any difficulty. Above that is 4WD territory. After sunset, the tour went to a lower elevation for telescope time. This is where some on the tour lost interest. Unless you're a real astronomy buff, looking at little white dots (stars) through a telescope is not very impressive. I didn't think to ask at the time, but I wonder why we couldn't look at the moon or any planets? Something other than white dots. With the cold temperatures and everyone in parkas, the van became very tight and uncomfortable. Throw in the length of the tour, and by the end, we were quite ready to go home. Going to the top of the mountain was an experience (you can even hike the trail to the very summit if you want) and the sunset was pretty, but I can't really recommend this to non-astronomy buffs,

Visited March 2011
2 Thank mhkzak
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Peoria, Illinois
Level 4 Contributor
34 reviews
9 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 13 helpful votes
“Mountain Top Snow in Hawaii”
Reviewed 17 March 2011

We learned not just about Mauna Kea, we but about the ecosystems of the island of Hawaii. The star party was helpful to see a sky very different from the mid-west. Our guide was knowledgeable about not only Hawaii, but other Pacific sites. The added volcano history was extremely helpful.

Visited March 2011
Thank DianeBrian
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Level 2 Contributor
4 reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 14 helpful votes
“Absolutely Amazing!”
Reviewed 20 February 2011

This trip was worth every penny! Our tour guide, Chris, was very informative and we learned a lot on the drive to the mountain about the local area and also about the Hawaiian culture. You can tell he just loves his job, which is so unusual when you come from the rat race of the mainland. When we got to the summit, I suffered from altitude sickness because there is 40% less oxygen there. Chris kept checking on me the whole time and because he was a paramedic as well as an oriental medicine practioner, I felt like I was in good hands. We watched the most beautiful sunset and when we turned around the full moon was rising over Mauna Loa at the same time. How cool was that?
We went to a special spot down by the visitor centre where the two guides, Chris and Rick set up telescopes so we could look at interesting things in the night sky. Cookies were delicious but I did feel the hot meal that was served earlier, left a lot to be desired. On a scale of 1 to 10, I would have given it a 4. I had the chicken and my husband the beef, and we both felt the same way.
I would highly recommend this tour to both amateur and experienced star gazers!!

Visited February 2011
2 Thank purplerain1969
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Juneau, Alaska
1 review
“Very informative, great hospitality, and fun all around”
Reviewed 20 February 2011

We were hesitant at first by the price tag of this tour company, but don't regret a penny spent! Our tour guide was Chris, and his partner in the star presentation was Rick. Chris did an excellent job of giving a general educational tour of the Kona side of the Big Island on our way to the mountaintop. The meal and hot chocolate snack were very tasty and warm. The parkas and gloves provided were also warm and clean. The sunset atop Mauna Kea was amazing, although you should definitely move at your own pace in the thin air. The night sky presentation was outstanding, both informative for the novice and the astronomy buff.
Overall, it was a great value, and a very memorable experience!

Visited February 2011
Thank Lizzie_Smurf
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC

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