Reaching the summit of Mauna Kea while hopping the Hawaiian islands was one of those experiences when we could barely hold our tears back. Especially when we thought that we missed the window…
Mauna Kea volcano, aside from getting married on Kauai, was one of the reasons why chose to come to Hawaii. 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. Not getting to the snowy top would have a been a massive disappointment.
Despite studying our Lonely Planet guidebook before the trip, we didn’t plan it very well and left it too late to book a tour. But there’s always a way to do something you really want, right? So we set off on a journey independently and now that we know how easy that is, we want to encourage you to do the same.
Ways to Get to the Summit of Mauna Kea
There are a 3 ways to get to the volcano.
Option one 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.
Option two is to take a tour. If you are up for a tour, get it booked well in advance. Tours usually take about 8 hours, include food breaks and cost over $200 per person. To book a tour, you can check out the Mauna Kea Summit Adventures website.
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. And 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 Centre at about 3 km high. The road to the Information Centre 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 pennies.
As we only had a tiny rental, getting it up the steep volcano was challenging enough never mind the invisible cows! Once we finally got to the Information Centre, we parked our car in the car park.
Next thing to do – layer up! Of course we didn’t have any warm clothes as we were slightly unprepared for our epic trip so we just put on every piece of clothing we had in our car. We were still freezing at the top!
Now off to the main road to hitch hike!
We were lucky enough to be picked up by a lovely Swiss couple seconds after sticking our thumbs up. Soon enough we were ascending through the clouds, having a pleasant chat and exchanging our experiences about the island. Epic!
So the secret to being picked up quickly is to stay in small groups of 2 max 3 people, and smile!
Here’s a tip for you: 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 hike another lift down the volcano!
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. We were running out of breath every other step. 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 is pretty cold so make sure you have something warm and comfortable to wear!
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 Visit 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. It was an inspiring experience.
We were freezing, but having the time of our lives. Hands down the best sunset to date!
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