Hawaii Forest and Trails Observatory

The Telescopes

Telescopes

Telescopes

Sitting atop the dormant volcano Mauna Kea are numerous telescopes belonging to 14 different nations. Some are small, some are big. Some are radio, some are… visible light?

While these telescopes are sadly not open to the public, the mountaintop is! Sort of. People of the non-astronomer type are allowed on top with two caveats. First is that you have to be given permission.¬†Second is that you have to be off by sundown. How do you get a pass? Thankfully there’s a super easy way! Pay a company to take you up there on a tour. That’s what The Lady and I did. ūüôā

The Tour Details

The company that we choose was Hawaii Forest and Trails. We honestly only choose them because The Lady’s parents used them when they went and said that they did a good job.¬†The tour will run you about a hundred bucks and includes travel, dinner, and a small astrometry lesson.

It starts with either you driving to their main office a short distance away from Kona or by having them pick you up from one of their approved locations. From there the tour guide¬†will drive to a local eatery and pick up the food. Then they will bus you over to an old sheep farm that no longer sees us. Here is where you will dine on the dinner that was pickup earlier. Once you finish your meal, you’ll be bused to the top of Mauna Kea¬†where the tour guide will hand out jackets and gloves to those who want them, and you will.

Once at the summit, you’ll be allowed to roam around until the sun has fully set. With night upon you, you’ll travel down the volcano a little ways where you’ll stop for the¬†astronomy lesson. Popping a rather large telescope out of the back of the van, the tour guide will tell you a little about the constellations and planets. Each factoid is occupied ¬†with a view of the subject via the telescope. On our tour we saw the stripes of Neptune and the rings of Saturn. After an hour or so you’ll be trucked back down to where it all began.

The whole time this is going on, the tour guide will be talking about the geology, culture, and fauna of the island. Hopefully with some amount charm. ūüôā¬†Well, that was a little bland, but it gives you a quick run down of trip. Want a more fleshed out story? The read on!

Our Tour

The Lady and I arrived at the Forest and Trails main office 15 minutes before departure. We used that time to peruse the shop, use the facilities, and make use of the water laced¬†with various fruits. At exactly 2, a bus pulls up and our guide pops out. For those who read this blog, it should come as no surprise that I don’t remember his name. ¬†He came inside and gave us a quick overview of the day. Drive, pickup food, drive, eat food, drive, sunset, drive, astronomy lesson, drive home. Easy peesy. With that we hopped on the bus and began our journey to picked up the food. Along the way our guide had us introduce ourselves and ask him one question. I remember The Lady asked him where a good place to hike would be, sadly¬†I don’t recall my question. Must not have been a good one.

Terrible window shot

A quick shot out the window while driving to pick up our food

One of the other tour members inquired about a flower she saw. Here is jist of that conversation.

Other Tour Lady-I saw a flower that looks like *insert description*
Guide: That’s a *insert flower name*
Other Tour Lady:¬†No no that’s not it
Guide: Can you describe it again?
Other Tour Lady: *describes again*
Guide:¬†yeah that’s the *flower*
Other Tour Lady:¬†No it’s not. We have 24 of them at our home
Guide: And we have bushes of them in front of our office.

I liked this guy. Shortly after that lovely exchange we continued on our way to get the food. While we drove our guide talked about the geology of the area, interesting stuff. It took about 30 minutes to reach our dining location. Along the way our guide shifted subjects and began to tell us more about the local history and culture. When we arrived at the old sheep farm, our guide set up our food while we did a bit of exploring. The surrounding fields were covered in fog which gave the farm an awesome sleepy feel.

Sleeping area

Sleeping area

Building!

A Port-O-Potty had¬†been set up for all of you Port-O-Potty needs. The Lady went in and came out with tales of a HUUGGGEEE spider that sat down beside her which did not get scared away. Personally, I¬†found the arachnid rather patent, but that’s me.

Bathroom adventure finish, we walked over to the tent where our food had been set up. The dinner plate was rather small so it was a good thing we had a late lunch. If  choose this tour, I recommend you do the same.

Food eaten,¬†we began our trek up the volcano. Most of the drive was on a nice paved road, but that last 5 miles to the summit was jumpin more than a man with a racoon in his pants. Our guide pointed out the various telescopes and talked about who operated them and what type they were. We also stopped at a couple of view points to snap ¬†pictures and stretch our legs. At one of these stops, our guide handed out the parka’s we would be using. Nice warm parka. I’ll let the pictures tell the story of the summit.

telescope skyline

Radio Telescope

Skyline

Panorama

Panorama!

Once the sun had set we decided a short distance down the volcano the guide pulled off the road and set up the telescope. He told us about some of the Hawaiian constellations  and how they got their name. He then showed us a couple of stars which was followed up by a great view of Neptune, I could see the strips!, and Saturn, I could see the rings! During the presentation he handed out some brownies and hot coco. This lasted for about an hour. After he finished we shuffled back into the van and began our journey back to the Hawaii Forest and Trails office. We said our goodbyes and umm yea.

Wrap-Up

I can’t recommend doing the sunset tour enough. The guide was simply fantastic and made the trip such an amazing experience. If you can’t tell, I happened to enjoy our tour¬†and would not hesitate to recommend them. That said, the tour is 8 hours long so if that does not fit into your schedule, there are numerous other companies that will suit your needs.

Ohh it you want to see the rest of the pictures…go here!

Thanks for reading!

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