When you are on The Big Island in Hawaii you must visit the summit of Mauna Kea. It’s a one million year old volcano that has not been active for about 4,600 years and reaches over 13,000 feet in height.
It’s the tallest peak in Hawaii and on a clear day you can admire the snowy top from afar. We also saw it from the plane on our way to Maui Island.
Getting to the summit of Mauna Kea
There are a few ways to get to the Volcano. One option is to rent a four-wheel drive car. This way you will be allowed to drive all the way to the clouds. The road to the summit of Mauna Kea is pretty steep and slippery so a Jeep is the safest option for independent travellers.
Another option is to take a tour. If you are up for a tour, get it booked well in advance. We tried to book it at the last minute and were unsuccessful. Tours usually take about 8 hours, include food breaks and cost over $200 per person. Check out this company for more information.
To be honest, we were very happy the tour didn’t work out for us as we got to the volcano much cheaper and met some lovely people along the way. We will tell you how we did it in a moment.
Your third option is to rent a simple car (cheaper than renting a Jeep) and drive up to the Information Center – about 3 km high. The road to the Information Center is pretty steep and really foggy so be careful and lookout for invisible cows!
For your own safety, you will not be allowed to drive any further in a car other than a Jeep.
How we got to the summit of Mauna Kea independently
So here is what we did to save our money (unintentionally). As we only had a tiny and very unpowerful rental, getting it up the steep volcano was challenging enough, never mind the invisible cows! Once we got to the Information Center, we parked our car in the car park.
We had some sort of warm clothes in the boot and after layering up, we trotted off to the main road to hitch hike. Don’t be afraid or embarrassed, lots of people do that!
After standing on the road just for a few seconds, a Jeep stopped next to us and a lovely Swiss couple invited us to join them! Soon enough we were ascending through the clouds, having a pleasant chat and exchanging our experiences about the island.
Just a tip, stick to the guys you were picked up by, try not to lose them at the top and agree the approximate time to meet up by the car, otherwise you will have to hitch another lift down the volcano!
The secret to being picked up quickly is to stay in small groups of 2 max 3 people, and smile!
Once you get back to the Information Centre, don’t miss the opportunity to gaze at the stars and planets through the telescopes available outside the centre. Also, get some hot chocolate to warm up and don’t forget to treat your driver to a cup of hot brew as a thank you gesture.
What to expect at the summit of Mauna Kea?
Apart from the amazing views, be prepared for altitude sickness once at the top. I was running out of breath after every few steps. The oxygen there is 40% thinner than at sea level and that makes you feel pretty dizzy and uncoordinated.
You sort of get use to it after a while, but still, it always feels as if you’ve been running uphill and need to catch your breath. Did I mention it’s freezing up there too!
It’s pretty cold up there so make sure you have something warm and comfortable to wear in your car boot before you take on the challenge of climbing the volcano!
Mauna Kea is incredibly beautiful. The air is fresh and you really feel like you are on top of the world. Apparently, if you measure the volcano from the bottom base in the ocean right up to the top, it would be the tallest peak on the planet, twice as tall as Mount Everest.
Best time to get to Mauna Kea
The best time to get there is just before sunset. But make sure you leave yourself plenty of time to enjoy it, because you will have to leave the volcano soon after the sun goes down.
The sunset was wonderful, painted in deep yellow and purple colours. The blue sky was as blue as it can get. Watching the sun go down into the clouds was so inspiring.
Hands down the best sunset to date! Even with a few layers on we were still freezing, but having the time of our lives.
Have you been to the summit of Mauna Kea? How did you get there? Let us know in the comments below…
Mauna Kea on Google Maps
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