We finished up Christmas Day with a tour to the summit of Mauna Kea, which was truly spectacular. Our meeting place was in Kona, and the tour was fully booked with 14 guests. Our guide, Justin, was very informative, and as we drove through lava fields he gave us a lot of historical and geological information.
We stopped at the Mauna Kea Visitors’ Center to acclimatize to the altitude change and to eat dinner (veggie lasagna in cute little tins).
The area was packed with visitors, both locals and tourists. There were a lot of pickup trucks whose beds were filled with snow – apparently it’s a tradition to drive your pickup to the top when there’s snow and bring it back to build snowmen on the beach.
We were already high enough to be above some of the clouds.
We reached the summit shortly before sunset, where we were treated to a talk about the various research observatories situated there. Sunset from the summit was truly spectacular, especially with the snow. We were at about 13,800 feet, so I felt the lack of oxygen just from simple tasks like lifting my phone for photos. It was also very cold; the company provided thick parkas, but Domingos and I just wore our coats we had along from Chicago.
After sunset, we traveled partway down the mountain for stargazing. The moon was quite bright, so this part didn’t wow me as much as I think it could have under different conditions. It was very cool to look through the company’s high-powered telescopes, especially when we saw the Andromeda galaxy, which is around 2.5 million light-years away from Earth! I was also quite cold at this point – my toes were in a lot of pain – so I was eager to head back by the end. The company did provide hot cocoa (coffee, tea, and cider were also on offer) and biscotti as we finished up the stargazing, which was quite welcome. All in all, an incredible Christmas – from sea level to almost 14,000 feet, from hot sun and beaches to a freezing cold snowscape.