March 15, 2018

Mauna Kea translates to English as “white mountain,” aptly named for the snow that falls at its peak. On a clear day, you can be sitting on a black sand beach in your bathing suit while looking at snow on top of Mauna Kea. From the beach, you can even see the telescopes that sit on top of Mauna Kea because they are as large as buildings.

Reaching 14,000 feet in elevation, driving to the top of Mauna Kea will bring you above the clouds. If you measure Mauna Kea from its base underwater, it measures 33,000 feet tall, making it the tallest mountain on earth from top to bottom. There are signs all over Hawaii telling you this, pointing out the fact that Mauna Kea is, in fact, taller than Mount Everest (as long as you measure from its base underwater).

Luckily, in order to get to the top of Mauna Kea, all you have to do is get into a car.

If you go to the Big Island, I would tell you that the two things that you have to do are go to Mauna Kea and to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

We took our tour through Arnott’s Lodge. I was so happy with my experience back in May when I went with my friend that I didn’t hesitate to book with them again. They gave Nick a military discount which was really nice because this tour does not come cheap.

You probably want to be at Mauna Kea for sunset, but what you might not realize is that this is an almost all-day affair. Nick and I were staying in the National Park, so we went to Hilo in the morning to drive around and see some stuff. Since you are on the tour for a long time, Arnott’s asks you to bring your dinner (some tours will provide dinner). So we stopped for sandwiches and then got to the lodge around 3:00 pm to check in.

Soon, we were on our way. We drove about an hour to the Visitor Information Station at Mauna Kea.

The first stop on Mauna Kea is the Visitor Information Station, located at 9,000 feet above sea level. If you decide to drive up to Mauna Kea, this is where you will have to stop. After this, the road becomes gravel and really uneven. No rental car company will let you take your car up there. You probably would not want to drive on it, anyway. I’ve heard that if you decide to take your car up there anyway and you get stuck, it costs $10,000 to tow it down.

Packing for a Hawaii vacation doesn’t often include hats, gloves, and scarves. But when you are going to Mauna Kea, it definitely does. We brought pants, long sleeves, sweatshirts, hats, gloves, and scarves.

We didn’t put on all of our layers just yet because it wasn’t cold up at the Visitor Information Station. We walked around a bit, went inside to see the video they had playing, and ate our dinner. The sun was super strong and I even started to feel warm.

Anyway, we spent about an hour up there getting acclimated to the low altitude before getting back into the van to continue our journey. We went from 9,000 feet in elevation to 14,000 feet in a matter of minutes. The road was so bumpy and rocky that our guide stopped talking to us and just focused on driving. He did a great job though and I didn’t feel worried or anything.

When we got to the top, it was about 30 minutes before sunset. Nick and I promptly put on every single layer we had on. Our tour guide gave us the big bulky jackets that we wore over everything, which is another great reason to go through a tour, I think. You don’t have to worry about cramming a big jacket into your suitcase.

Nick was so excited to see snow that he promptly made a snowball, which he, of course, threw at me. Behind him is a telescope! They are the size of buildings! Can you see that person behind Nick for scale?

There is 40% less oxygen at the top of Mauna Kea than at sea level. You can get sick. Thankfully, I didn’t get sick or anything, but I had to take deeper breaths and so I decided to just stay put. We walked only a few feet before settling on our view and watched the sunset over the clouds.

It almost looks like water, but those are clouds the sun is setting behind!

More telescopes.

After the sun went down, we had to immediately get back into the van and go down a little bit. All of the vehicles have to go down after the sunset because the light from the cars interferes with the telescopes. Our tour guide took us to a secluded spot and gave us a star show, where he showed the different named that Hawaiians have for the constellations and talked about how Hawaiians used the stars to navigate. It was a full moon so we didn’t see as many stars as we could have, but it was still awesome to experience.

I would go back to Mauna Kea in a heartbeat, and I think it’s something you absolutely have to do if you visit the Big Island!

20 responses to “Watching the Sunset Above the Clouds on Mauna Kea”

  1. Jen says:

    That first picture is absolutely stunning!!! You get to experience the coolest things and I love it.

  2. Audrey says:

    What a beautiful tour and experience. I had no idea there was a Mauna Kea, let alone it being the tallest (top to very bottom) mountain! That sunset looks JUST like it’s going down over water. So amazing!! Can you imagine looking through one of those telescopes?? That moon pic is great! It’s hard to capture that!

  3. Elizabeth says:

    Your photos are so gorgeous!! What a one-of-a-kind experience! We’re already making plans to visit the Big Island when we move back and I can’t wait to visit Mauna Kea. Also that moon photo is stunning.

  4. Rachel G says:

    This sounds like the coolest experience! And yeah, definitely not the kind of attire you typically associate with Hawaii! But wow–well worth doing!

  5. What an incredible sight! Those telescopes are unreal!

  6. Julie says:

    Oh wow! I had no idea this place existed!! Would love to do this! So itching to go to Hawaii now for my next US visa run. Hehe

  7. What a gorgeous place! Those clouds!!

  8. Emma says:

    This is incredible – and I’m definitely bookmarking this!

  9. Oh my goodness! Getting to watch the sunset from above the clouds – what an experience!

    I’ve been to Hawaii a couple of times, but I’ve definitely never seen snow. Ha! I’d love to do this next time I’m there, which hopefully won’t be too long from now. 🙂

  10. Eva Traveler says:

    A must for everyone,Definitely worth doing if you have a clear day!
    I am glad find your posts so useful.

  11. Emma Sivewright says:

    I can see the sun setting behind the clouds on Mauna Kea. I love to watch the sunsets here on the island. The sky is usually so clear, and the colors are so beautiful. Cerebrovascular Adelaide

  12. Denial Leaonardo says:

    On a clear day you can see the sun set behind the majestic Mauna Kea volcano. The sky is usually filled with clouds, but on a clear day the sun can shine through them and create a beautiful sunset. Northcote Home Renovations and Extensions

  13. Elizabeth says:

    If you’re looking for a way to spend an evening in the Hawaiian Islands, why not head to the summit of Mauna Kea? There, you can watch the sun dip below the horizon, surrounded by brilliant clouds. Dental Implants North Shore

  14. Shane long says:

    When you’re on top of the world, it’s easy to forget just how big the world really is. Standing at the edge of a crater on the island of Mauna Kea, you can see for miles in every direction — and that’s just the sky! From up here, the clouds look like they’re floating, and the colors are so bright and beautiful. It’s hard to believe that all of that is down below us, in the middle of the Earth. rooming accommodation brisbane

  15. Richerd Smith says:

    When you’re at the top of the Mauna Kea volcano, the views are simply breathtaking. The sunsets are something else entirely, as the clouds drift lazily across the sky. Whether you’re watching from the summit or from one of the many beautiful vantage points on the island, don’t forget to snap a photo and share it with your friends! timber floors Adelaide

  16. Kurt Widderick says:

    When one climbs to a high elevation, the sky appears to be much bigger than at lower elevations. This is because the atmosphere at high altitudes is thinner than at lower altitudes. When the sun sets, the clouds at Mauna Kea reflect the light back to Earth, creating the illusion of a giant disk in the sky. Electrician Alexandra Hills

  17. Alex Yap says:

    The sky at sunset is breathtaking on Mauna Kea. The orange and red sunsets often show off the beautiful, colorful clouds that fill the sky. Luxury Homes Karrinyup

  18. Lynton Electrical says:

    When visiting the summit of Mauna Kea, be sure to enjoy the sunsets from the summit’s observation deck. The views of the Hawaiian islands and the Pacific Ocean are simply stunning from up high, and the clouds below are a perfect backdrop for a sunset. Electrician North Shore

  19. Martin Mitchiall says:

    Looking out over the Pacific Ocean from the summit of Mauna Kea, you can see the sun slowly dip below the horizon, coloring the sky in shades of orange, red, and purple. As the light fades, the clouds slowly turn from a bright, fiery red to a deep, dark purple. It’s an amazing sight and one that is hard to take your eyes off of! Electrician Darch

  20. Steve Martenzs says:

    When you’re on the summit of Mauna Kea, the world’s tallest mountain, you can see the most amazing sunset and clouds. building inspections port stephens

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