Star Gaze Hawaii

Big Island Stargazing

Stargazing tours.


Not your Usual Star Party

This is not your usual Star Party where you only look at the top 10 easy and bright deep space objects. We select a curated list of visually stunning space objects. You’ll see a stimulating variety of obscure and well known space curiosities designed to open your mind to the mystery and romance of astronomy.

Our equipment is beyond question, well maintained and performing at the optimum, limited only by atmospheric conditions. We ask you to focus the image for your personal eyesight. Unlike other stargazing experiences where only one eyepiece is used all night, we use a variety of high quality eyepiece optics to reveal delicate details and obscure overlooked aspects.

Novices and experienced stargazers will enjoy the high quality views, carefully selected list of objects and the star lore narrative on the history of Astronomy told by an experienced Astronomer.

Download Brochure (PDF)    |    Watch a Quick Preview

Seaside Stargazing

All our stargazing tours are done on coastline hotel properties in warm weather near all the amenities you enjoy. Join us at any of the following locations based on the spot or the day of the week that works best for you.

Notes on Standing

Our activity requires participants to stand for the entire hour, and we do not provide chairs. If you or others in your party need to sit during the hour, please bring a beach chair with you. Stargazers must stand in queues to look through our telescopes. We may have one to three telescopes depending on the number of reservations.

Weather Cancellation Policy

Gift Cards Now Available!

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Westin Hapuna Beach Resort

February 1 to April 30, 7:30 PM

May 1 to September 30, 8:00 PM

October 1 to January 30, 7:00 PM

Kohala Garden Parking Lot

Adults to 12 years: $75 Child 11 to 5 years: $30 Free Under 5 Years Parking: Free

Hilton Waikoloa Village Resort

Adults: $47.50, Children: $24.00

Fairmont Orchid, Hawaii (at Mauna Lani)

January 1 to 31: 7:00 to 8:00 PM

February 1 to September 30: 7:30 to 8:30 PM

October 1 to December 31: 7:00 to 8:00 PM

Pool Side on the Croquet Lawn

Subject to Cancellation for bad weather or low attendance by one hour before starting time. 6 Reservations minimum per session. Prices subject to change without prior notice.

AstroPhotography Session

Vaonis Stellina Robotic camera

Star Gaze Hawaii offers 2-hour astrophotography sessions featuring a Vaonis Stellina Robotic camera. The session’s goal is hands-on, acquiring pictures of many deep space objects.

Deep space objects are dim and require long exposures. We can most likely obtain just a handful of objects in two hours.

The Stellina is an 80 ED F/5 400mm refractor with a Sony CMOS sensor. Artificial Intelligence software will post-process the images in real-time as the customer watches on an iPad.

The client will control the telescope and camera exposures.  The images obtained will be sent to the customer’s email, airdropped, or SMS to their cellphone.

Our Fee for an astrophotography session is $400.00 + 4.712% Tax = $418.85 (Credit Card or cash). Please get in touch with me if you want to book this, and I will send you a link to book and pay for it online.

Scheduling and Location

The Moon will prevent astrophotography of deep space objects – schedule for dates with minimal moonlight. We do these sessions at the Westin Hapuna Beach Resort.

Private Stargazing Session


We love being part of your small group event. We offer Private Stargazing Sessions at the amazingly dark (except for Star light and Moon light) Westin Hapuna Beach Resort, Kohala Garden Parking Lot. Unsurpassed Stargazing with pristine skies and wide-open vistas.

Private Sessions lasting from 1 to 2 hours for families or small groups.

One Hour Session

Guided tour of the sky with private access to the telescope for groups of up to 6 10 people.

Contact us for pricing.

Two Hour Session

Guided Tour of the sky for groups of up to 15 people with private access to the telescope.

1 or 2 Telescopes Available. Contact us for pricing.

Equipment Rental

Frequently asked questions, why stargaze at sea level when all the observatories are at high altitude.

The Kohala Coast of the Big Island of Hawaii has unique geographic topology that allows world class stargazing–sub-arc-second viewing–from Sea Level.  1 arc-second is 1/3,600 of one degree of angle.  In most places on this planet, due to turbulence in the air, stars will be 2-3 arc-seconds in diameter.  At Star Gaze Hawaii’s selected sites, we can attain ½ arc-second star images routinely, limited only by weather.

Additionally, high Altitude reduces oxygen levels in the air that your eyes need. Your eyes require oxygen to metabolize rhodopsin in order to see anything. Dim space objects require maximum oxygen to be realized at all. Mauna Kea Observatories (at 40% oxygen levels) are remote controlled telescopes where the astronomers are at low altitude.  Nobody views directly through any of the telescopes at the summit. Astronomers using the telescopes can be anywhere in the world as they operate over the internet.  If an Astronomer comes to Hawaii at all, they will be in a warm, low altitude environment while using the telescope.

Why should you go and freeze and suffer high altitude effects when no professional astronomer does that anymore? Instead, wear your aloha shirt and shorts (or Muumuu) in warm weather, close to hotel amenities at 100% oxygen levels and world-class arc-second viewing.

How does Star Gaze Hawaii differ from the Mauna Kea tours?

Star Gaze Hawaii concentrates on observing the sky. We look at interesting and many obscure objects not on any top 10 lists in Astronomy. We seek to stimulate the mind as well as the eyes of the participant. The principal astronomer has been doing this since 1962 and he knows a lot of history of Astronomy as well as the physics of the objects viewed. He keeps current with the news in Astronomy and has a unique ability to explain physics in plain language. Astronomy brought down to Earth. We use visual aids such as Green Laser Pointers and Original photographs taken of the objects viewed in the telescope.

What will happen if it is cloudy at sea level?

We do not control the weather.  Even professional astronomers have that same problem.  We call it “Astronomy in the Trenches”.  We bring the telescope and our expertise and deal with Mother Nature on her terms.  If the weather is a lost cause by 5 PM, we will cancel the session.  If there is hope or if it is clear at 7 PM, we will proceed and deal with clouds as they will do whatever they will.  We offer extensive historical accounts of Astronomy in the trenches when that happens.  We demo our equipment and make equipment reviews and recommendations.  In 1991, the Total Solar eclipse in Hawaii was encumbered by cloudy weather.  The astronomers and general public that made the investment to come to Hawaii were frustrated by the cloudy weather.  But, some people got partial data and photographs through breaks in the clouds.  This is Astronomy in the trenches.

The Kohala Coast has unique weather patterns that no weather forecast covers. It can be cloudy at 6 PM and clear up completely by 8 PM. We have been doing this since 1992 and we can predict the weather fairly well. Due to the high mountains to the East and South East, we get a Venturi effect from the winds funneling through the mountain valleys. If the trade winds are out of the North East, we can depend on clear weather by 8 PM. If it comes out of the East or South East, then we have a wind shadow effect and clouds may linger a bit longer, beyond our time frame for stargazing, but it will eventually clear. If we have Westerly winds, the clouds will pile up against the mountains and we can have clear skies overhead. If it comes out of the South, bad weather can persist all night.

How do weather cancellations work?

Hard cut off at 5 pm for reservations. we will send out email and (optional) text messages to confirm or cancel stargazing just after 5 pm. we are based over an hour away from the stargazing venues and with travel and setup times, we are unable to respond to changes in weather after 5 pm..

If the weather is poor at 5 PM we will cancel stargazing and send out email and (optional) text messages.

If it turns bad after 5 PM we will inform you around 7 PM of a cancellation in the same manner.

Check your email before you travel to the stargazing location. During Hurricane season, June 1 to November 30, having any storm in the vicinity can make weather highly unpredictable and rapidly subject to change.

Is VOG (Volcanic haze) a problem for stargazing?

In general, no. VOG indicates calm steady air free of turbulence. Strong winds and clear air go together and result in blurry views from moving turbulent air. With VOG, Planetary views are greatly improved as they will be sharp and finer details can be viewed. Jupiter, Saturn, Mars and the Moon are very bright. In our telescopes, they are so bright that your eye will be saturated and see no color, just white. The dimming due to the VOG can improve the colors and finely detailed views of these bright objects. Galaxies will be impacted negatively by dimming. But, Galaxies are commonly called “Dim Fuzzies”, best photographed rather than viewed by eye. Galaxies are always hazy and nebulous in small telescopes. Edwin Hubble required the 100” Mount Wilson telescope to be able to see individual stars in the Andromeda Galaxy a mere 2.54 million light years away. Galaxies offer intellectual stimulation of actually seeing ancient photons from millions of years ago as dim fuzzy patches. To see spiral arms, photography is the best method.

Can we see a Black Hole?

Visual light telescopes such as the ones that we use cannot “see” a Black Hole.  By definition, Black Holes emit no visual light.  As matter falls into a Black Hole, it can form an accretion disk that emits infrared and x-ray radiation.  The Infrared is from friction and compression of material falling into the strong gravity field.  The X-Ray is from ionized plasma that is accelerated to the speed of light as it falls into the event horizon around a Black Hole.  Visible light will be obscured by the accretion disk in all directions.  What can be seen in visual light are an artifact of a Black Hole: the jets of ejected matter from the poles of the spinning accretion disk.   We have a different name for those: Quasars.  Quasars are the incandescent glow from matter that is ejected out along the poles as jets of high speed material.  It is not a view of the actual Black Hole.  Unfortunately, most of these are very dim and billions of light years away.  There are no active Black Holes nearby with jets of ejected material.

Can we see Saturn’s Rings?

Yes, even a 60mm (2.4”) telescope can do that. We use 11” or 280mm telescopes and we normally magnify Saturn 200x. We can get up to 550x but that would cut off the Moons orbiting Saturn. We get fabulous views of Saturn’s rings, Moons and delicate banding in the atmosphere.

Show us the Milky Way.

All of the stars you can see in the sky at night are part of the Milky Way galaxy that we occupy. During the summer months, Sagittarius and Scorpius are high in the sky and the core of our galaxy is in that area. The Milky Way is the bright band of hazy light running through that area. In the winter, we are looking out towards the rim of the Milky Way and the hazy band is much dimmer running through Cassiopeia and Perseus.

Why are the pictures from NASA and in Magazines so vivid and the telescope views so dim and hazy?

The Human eye is very different than a camera. Cameras can store light over time and build up an image from multiple exposures. Essentially, Photoshop and image manipulation software is used to highly enhance the images through adding together many dim hazy exposures. The human eye has to work with the light it can sense through the telescope and what we show is the truth about the sky. Only a camera can get those magazine views of deep space objects. Planets are actually subdued in color and details are fleeting and hard to see. The atmosphere blurs out fine details except for short periods of time when it is stable. We extract this fine detail in images via video methods that average together many frames of video and build up the details from averaged data. Very often, we like to use 2,000 video frames to produce a decent image of Jupiter, Mars or Saturn. The human eye cannot do this type of processing. The Human Eye is very insensitive to red light. Hydrogen, the most abundant element in the Universe emits a deep red color in nebulae. Most people see that as blue or green since the rods in our eyes are most sensitive to dim light and they are monochrome. The Cones in our eyes need lots of light to see the red.

Have Star Gaze Hawaii staff used the telescopes on Mauna Kea?

Yes, we have been to the mountain many times, but to use the telescopes, you do not go up there. 95% of the time, there is no astronomers on the mountain. Only telescope operators who live at the 9,000 foot Hale Pohaku dorms actually go up to the summit at night. The astronomer goes to Waimea or Hilo where the main control panel is located. All of the telescopes are remote controlled robots. The staff at the summit are there to fix things that break or jam. The folks calling the shots are at low altitude and warm. The summit is at 40% oxygen levels and people need to acclimatize to that to work there. There is no good reason for astronomers to do that. Remote operations can be done from anywhere in the world over the internet. Star Gaze Hawaii has participated in observing sessions for the Keck Telescopes. Some of our staff work part time for us and full time for the Keck Observatory.

Will the views through the 11-inch telescope be similar to the pictures on this website?

The short answer is no. Telescopic views of astronomical objects are dim and faded to the human eye. The vast distances (thousands to millions of light-years) to the objects dim the view due to the inverse square law of light – twice the distance, one-fourth the brightness. Our eyes evolved to adapt to bright sunlit vistas on Earth. Space is a new frontier where we need to develop tools to extend our vision into an alien Universe. Some people are disappointed with the telescopic view of deep space objects. Others expand their view of the vastness of space and our situation among the stars. Star Gaze Hawaii gives one a first-hand experience sensing the actual photons from a deep space object. Then we show you our processed images which reveal it further to your minds’ eye.

An analogy in paleontology is the discovery of a fossil bone millions of years old, which we interpret into a dinosaur. Telescopes look far into the past at light, which left stars, Nebulae, and Galaxies thousands to millions of years ago. Per my paleontology analogy, I show you a bone in the telescope and try to reveal the entire dinosaur.

I show pictures of the actual object as it would be up close. Science aware people will perceive the physics of the object by its appearance. Star Gaze Hawaii will explain in plain language what is going on in an image. Looking through a telescope with the human eye will not be comparable to a long exposure image. Astronomers use instruments such as spectrometers, CCD Cameras, multi-spectral sensors, and filters to seek out what processes are present. Knowing this data, I photograph and process my images to be a good representation of an object.

Time exposures with a camera accumulate the colors for beautiful images. If we could be closer to the objects, those colors would be visible. The vivid colors in Nebulae originate from ionized gasses excited by ultraviolet light from stars. Many of my images are 1-hour or longer exposures. Amateur astronomers learn to use averted vision to see dim details directly, with little or no color. Colors depend on each individuals’ threshold of color, which is dependent on genetics and eye health. Still, colors in Nebulae are very subjective at these distances.

Mauna Kea



Mauna Kea kuahiwi ku ha’o ika malie

(mauna kea is the astonishing mountain that stands in the calm), ‘since starting this outfit in 83’ with an ancient land cruiser and a basket full of dusty sweaters, my guides and i have had the enviable job of guiding inquisitive folks, like you, to the beauty of mauna kea. for us, guiding mauna kea isn’t a sideline, or the greatest new instagram spot. for us, it’s our passion, our responsibility, and our pleasure., we invite you to experience what is quite possibly the most dramatic and stimulating scenery to be found anywhere. journey with us to the top of this spectacular mountain in our 4x4 vans, enjoy a hearty meal, watch the breathtaking sunset and stargaze at the heavens..

E Komo Mai!

M. Pat Wright  Founder, Owner and Guide

big island astronomy tour

The Highpoints of our tour:

  • Professional Guides: As the pioneer guide service on Mauna Kea we have over 60 years of combined experience on the mountain.
  • 4X4 Passenger vans:  All Mercedes fleet. Large windows, custom-built coach-style seating where everybody gets a great view and plenty of room.
  • Educational and Fun: Learn all about the island’s geography, culture and natural history from our experts. A laugh or three isn’t out of the question
  • Astonishing Scenery: See surrealistic landforms, strange cloudscapes and a panorama of the night sky like no other. Excellent photo opportunities abound!
  • Sunset at the Summit: The most dramatic spectacle in Hawaii.
  • Stargazing: Learn about the night sky from Polaris to the Southern Cross and see the treasures of the night sky through our powerful telescope. *
  • Trip Includes: This 7.5-8.5 hour excursion includes Arctic style parkas with hoods, a hearty and hot supper, gourmet hot beverages and convenient pick-up points.

* natural conditions permitting

big island astronomy tour

Call our local Hawaii specialists for any questions about our island tours and activities

Read the Frequently Asked Questions or send us an inquiry

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big island astronomy tour


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big island astronomy tour

  • Mauna Kea Summit Adventures & Stars (3)

Mauna Kea Summit Adventures Sunset & Stargazing Guided Tour with Transportation

shutterstock_102757958 (1)

Awesome - everything

A full package, 4.5 - 8.5 hour(s) incl. transportation, available daily, pick-up available, not accessible, what to expect.

  • Sunset at the summit: The most dramatic spectacle in Hawaii!
  • Guided stargazing with lasers and Celestron telescope at the Visitor Information Station
  • Duration: 7.5-8.5 hours
  • Pick-up Available from Kona Crossroads Shopping Center, The Queens Market Place, Saddle Road Junction (between Hwy 190 and 200) or Maunakea Recreation area
  • Dinner Package: Dinner includes a hearty portion of 3-cheese vegetable lasagna. Gourmet hot cocoa, coffee, and teas accompanied with biscotti while stargazing

Mauna Kea Sunset & Stargazing Tour with Dinner

Price per Adult/Child :

Mauna Kea Sunset & Stargazing Tour (Dinner not included)

big island astronomy tour

Pick-up from Kailua-Kona & Waikoloa


Before sunset, stop at the Mauna Kea Visitor Center. Here you can see 3D models of the summit observatories, watch videos about Mauna Kea and the astronomical research going on at the summit, and look through a solar telescope.


Upon arrival at the summit your guides will provide a short presentation on the Mauna Kea observatories. Then you'll have approximately 20 minutes before and after the sunset to take in the panoramic views and walk around the giant telescopes.


After sunset, head back down to VIS for a stunning stargazing experience! Warm up with a hot beverage and watch as the guides use lasers to point out constellations and planets, then look through a Celestron telescope for a closer view.

Transportation add-ons

Pick-up/check-in time & location.

big island astronomy tour

Drop-off/Check-out Time & Location

big island astronomy tour


  • Island Lava Java Waikoloa


  • Oceanside parking lot by Denny's (look for Mauna Kea Summit Adventures parking signs)


  • Lower Dirt Parking Lot


  • Starbucks Coffee Shop

Location, direction and description

  • Pick-up times will vary from day to day depending on the location of the pick-up of and sunset times. Please be at your pick-up location 10 minutes prior to your scheduled pick-up time. Parking Information: Kona Crossroads Shopping Center: As you enter the parking lot, you will see the Domino’s Pizza and AutoZone store fronts to the right-hand (mountainside) of the shopping center, and a Denny’s restaurant on the left-hand (oceanside) of the shopping center. Please park your vehicle on the left-hand (oceanside) of this shopping center, and look for parking signs with the Mauna Kea Summit Adventures company logo on them. Queens Marketplace: Please park on the back (south) side of the mall. The pick-up is directly in front of the Starbucks Coffee store. Island Lava Java Waikoloa: The pick-up is directly in front of the Island Lava Java Waikoloa at the Waikoloa Highlands Center. Please do not leave valuables in your car.
  • Guests meeting the tour at the Maunakea Visitor Information Station must be sure to park in the designated Lower Dirt Parking Lot located approximately 100 yards below the visitors center. Once you park, look for a bronze-colored 14-passenger 4WD vans that say Mauna Kea Summit Adventures on the side. The van will be park in the paved parking lot above your designated parking area. Mauna_Kea_Visitors_Center.pdf


22:00-23:30, 21:30-23:00.

  • Return times will vary depending on the time of sunset and the drop-off location.

Important activity information


  • Guests who are pregnant are not permitted to participate in this activity.
  • People 13 years old and above can participate in this activity.
  • Participants may not scuba dive within 24 hours of this activity due to the risk of decompression sickness.
  • Guests with a BMI (Body Mass Index) of 40 or over should not make this trip.
  • Participants with any history of a respiratory problems (this includes pneumonia in the last 6 months, any lung conditions or surgeries) are not permitted to take this tour. Contact your physician if you have questions about traveling to this altitude.
  • Participants with any history of heart problems (this includes ANY heart surgery, stent, pacemaker, heart valve irregularities etc.) are not permitted to take this tour. Contact your physician if you have questions about traveling to this altitude.
  • Wheelchair Accessibility: Tour vehicle is not equipped with a lift. Must be able to get into the van with assistance, storage available for collapsible wheelchairs. Please indicate during booking for most convenient arrangements.
  • This activity is not wheelchair accessible.

Other requirements

  • Please call the activity provider the day before to reconfirm your booking. Your voucher has the necessary contact information listed.

Booking requirements (# of participants, vehicles, hours, etc.)

  • You can book a maximum of 8.

Required items to bring & attire

  • Closed toe shoes
  • The average temperature on top of Mauna Kea is 30°F and wind is common. Please wear long pants and closed toed shoes and bring any layering garments you may have.
  • Warm gloves

Additional notes

  • The activity schedule is subject to change or cancellation due to weather or traffic conditions.
  • The menu is subject to change without notice.
  • Road closures due to high winds near the summit may happen in the winter. If a road closure is discovered en route a shorter version of the tour will continue and guests will receive a partial refund. If a road closure is discovered before departure, guests will be contacted and given the option to cancel at no charge or receive a partial refund and still participate on an shorter tour. If you cannot be reached, your booking will be canceled and you will be given a full refund.
  • Beverages and snacks are available for purchase at Mauna Kea Visitor Center, and you are also welcome to bring your own non-alcoholic beverages if you wish.

big island astronomy tour

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Traveler's photos.

big island astronomy tour

Overall rating

We had the best time Tour guide was so knowledgeable and friendly We learned so much about Hawaii and the big Island and astronomy On the way we learned so much Tour guide was exceptional - always told us what wa ... s coming - very organised - everything was like clockwork Everything was high quality and expert in every way I can think of nothing to improve

The guide was great and shared loads of interesting facts and stories about history, nature, culture, language, habits and astronomy. His knowledge and captivating way of presenting things were amazing. I also highly ap ... preciate his deep respect towards the Hawaiian culture. The trip was organized very professionally. The warm parkas were also highly appreciated. I highly recommend this service.

Amazing evening at Mauna Kea!

My husband and I had an amazing time with Fernando! He was an incredibly knowledgeable guide and made the trip very fun. If you have the opportunity to do the evening stargazing and sunset do so and request Fernando!

Activity Provider Mauna Kea Summit Adventures (Paradise Safaris)

Activity provider, payment / cancellation policy.

  • Credit card payment

big island astronomy tour

  • Any cancellations made after 15:00, 2 business days prior to the activity will be subject to a charge of 100% of the total amount. (Parties of 4 or less) Any cancellations made after 15:00, 3 business days prior to the activity will be subject to a charge of 100% of the total amount. (Parties of 5 or more) Any cancellations made after 15:00, 1 week prior to the activity will be subject to a charge of 100% of the total amount. (Parties of 8-10) Any cancellations made after 15:00, 2 weeks prior to the activity will be subject to a charge of 100% of the total amount. (Parties of 11 or more)

Payment Methods

big island astronomy tour

Cancellation Policy

What will we see on this tour.

While driving up Saddle Road you'll have panoramic views of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. Along the road you'll see black lava rock formed by Mauna Loa's eruptions in the last two hundred years. From the Mauna Kea Access Road you'll see many volcanic cones that once spewed lava. You will also get to watch the sunset over these volcanic slopes. At the summit you will see thirteen telescopes that make up the Mauna Kea Observatories (the observatories are closed to the public but you might get to see the domes open after sunset). At the Onizuka Visitor Information Station you will get to look through a solar telescope, watch a video about Mauna Kea and the observatory, and after sunset this is where the stargazing magic happens. The guide will operate a computerized Celestron telescope through which you can see stars, planets, distant galaxies, and the moon.

Will we get to look through the big telescopes on Mauna Kea?

No, the observatories have very limited public access. However, you might get to see the domes open after sunset.

Will there be any health risks linked to going up Mauna Kea?

Mauna Kea has 40% less oxygen than sea level and 40% less air pressure. This drop of vital oxygen can cause serious problems for persons with heart or lung issues, children, and women who are pregnant. Visitors in good health are also susceptible to altitude sickness and should use caution and abide by all rules and regulations of the tour. Next to having a good time, safety is the number one priority.

What type of vehicle will be used?

Built for comfort, the 14 passenger 4v4 Van Terra micro-coaches are equipped with air conditioning, stereo sound, PA, phone, first aid and oxygen, parkas, and a telescope. Each van can hold up to 14 people.

Will we be guaranteed to see stars?

Mauna Kea enjoys an average of 325 clear nights per year. Most of the inclement nights are easily predictable. The weather is monitored on a daily basis and if poor scenic conditions are likely, the trip will be cancelled and a full refund given (or reschedule if available). Like any high mountain there can be unpredictable and fast changing weather at any time.

What kind of equipment will be used?

Your guides will provide you with new Celestron CPC 1100 telescopes that are equipped with Starbright XL coatings for 10% more light throughput than ordinary instruments. These scopes are computer automated and have spectacular optics. Because they are bigger and have better optics they gather about 100% more light than telescopes used on other tours.

What jackets sizes are available?

The jackets sizes are as follows: Small ~145 lbs and under / ~63.5 kg Medium 140~175 lbs / ~77 kg Large 170~210 lbs / ~90.5 kg XL 200~260 lbs / ~ 113 kg

How far in advance should I book this activity?

We recommend booking at least 3 weeks in advance. If you have very specific schedule requirements and are not flexible, please book sooner. Last-minute bookings are often possible, but availability is limited.

How cold does it get on Mauna Kea?

Average temperatures can reach 32° Fahrenheit or 0° Celsius.

Please visit VELTRA Support page to send an inquiry about this activity.

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big island astronomy tour

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big island astronomy tour

Epic Tours


Mauna kea stargazing experience + free photos.

Travel by starlight to the dormant Mauna Kea volcano in Hawai’i! With our stargazer guarantee, we make sure to take you out on the nights with the most amazing shows, led by our Pro Astro-Photographer James. Book your Mauna Kea stargazing tour online today!

  • Users All Ages
  • Clock 2 Hours

Epic Tours Has Over 300+ Five-Star Reviews on Tripadvisor!

So surreal.

"Absolutely breathtaking trip! James was our guide and he couldn’t have been more knowledgeable about the constellations. He knew exactly what to do when a few clouds began to come in, and made the trip so enjoyable. There were coats available for us, and chairs too, plus our pictures turned out to be phenomenal. Such a surreal experience!"

Worth taking the trip

"Views of sunset from top of the Mauna Kea were amazing and the stargazing experience was pretty good. Leaving the difficult driving to the professionals was one of the best decisions we made in the Hawaii vacation. Also the addition of dinner and the jackets for the cold were very helpful."

Would recommend

"This tour was great! The location and times are well thought out to not be interrupted by others or even light from the moon. James is extremely knowledgeable and you can tell he really loves what he does. It was well worth waking up in the middle of the night to see the breathtaking views of the Milky Way, constellations, and planets."

Unique and well worth it

"This was just the coolest experience. James was so knowledgeable and answered everyone's questions. The entire process from start to finish was thought out with care. Everyone at home was gushing about the pictures. This tour is 100% recommended and worth every penny."

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big island astronomy tour

Mauna Kea Sunrise Sunset & Stars

Mauna Kea Stargazing

The most epic experience on Hawaii’s Big Island

The breathtaking view you'll never forget.

Watch an amazing Sunrise/Sunset from the summit of Mauna Kea, nearly 14,000 ft. above the Pacific Ocean. Located in the center of Hawai’i Island, Mauna Kea has an unobstructed view of the horizon and offers a breathtaking vista that is hard to match. This view, coupled with its famous clear skies and dry crisp air, creates the perfect condition for absolutely stunning scenery.

My God, it's full of stars!

Mauna Kea is also known as one of the best stargazing spots in the world for its air clarity and total darkness. Our tours include ample time to explore the amazing star-filled night sky from where ancient Hawaiians believed the earth meets the universe.

Please note;

  • Our tours do not include meals. We provide light snacks.
  • Please bring warm clothes to wear under the provided parka. Read the FAQ to learn more about our Mauna Kea Tours.
  • We strongly encourage you to bring water. Staying hydrated can help you reduce the risk of altitude sickness.
  • You will be standing outside for roughly an hour while stargazing. If you have difficulty standing, please let us know in advance.
  • Gratuity is not included in the tour price but tips are greatly appreciated.

*Children 12 or younger are not allowed on our tours due to the high altitude. Seniors 81 or older may only participate in our Private Charter Tours for our guides to be more attentive to their health during the tour. **If the number of participants does not reach 3 by 24 hours before the tour departs, the tour will be canceled. Customers who have already applied will have the option to pay the difference to avoid cancellation.

3 convenient locations to catch your tour van

We provide 3 convenient pickup points in Kailua-Kona, Waikoloa Beach Resort, and Onizuka Visitor Center. Select an ideal location according to where you are staying or your activity of the day.

Don’t have a car? Or just don’t feel like driving? No worries! We can pick you up at major hotels and condos on the west side of the island. (Subject to an additional fee)

E Ola Mauna Kea

Mauna Kea is one of the most sacred sites for native Hawaiians and the Hawaiian culture. We are dedicated to promoting a deep appreciation of and respect for the natural beauty, culture, people, and history of Mauna Kea and Hawaiʻi Island. E Ola Mauna Kea – Let Mauna Kea Live!

We continue to receive and pass on the traditional teachings of Kumu Kaela Ching , our exclusive advisor to the Hawaiian culture.

Kumu Keala Ching

Tours operated by Taikobo Hawaii, Inc.

Taikobo Hawaii, Inc. has been providing guided tours to the summit of Mauna Kea since 1983 as well as other famous tourist destinations on the Big Island of Hawaii. We are one of the few companies that are officially authorized by Center for Maunakea Stewardship (part of the University of Hawaii at Hilo) to conduct commercial tours in this Hawaiian sanctuary.

We are dedicated to promoting a deep appreciation and respect for the natural beauty, culture, and history of the Big Island of Hawaii and the Hawaiian People by providing a variety of safe, enjoyable, and educational tours to visitors from all over the world, and by focusing company resources on the development of hospitable and knowledgeable guides and safe and comfortable tour vehicles.

big island astronomy tour

Book Our Private Airport Shuttle and Get $10 Off Our Mauna Kea Tours

big island astronomy tour

Big Island Stargazing: Everything You Should Know

The stars have had both my attention and my fascination since I was a youngster. And after some experiences with Big Island stargazing, my fascination has only grown more profound.

big island hawaii stargazing

Without a doubt, the opportunities to stargaze here in Hawaii, and especially on the Big Island, are astounding. There’s a reason we have 23 observatories present here on this small island chain! (Actually, there are billions and billions of reasons.)

If Big Island stargazing is on your bucket list, you owe it to yourself to dive in and make sure you understand what your options look like and how to take advantage of this amazing opportunity. We are here to help, so let’s get right into it!

Big Island IS Best!

I understand you might be a bit skeptical about opinions on this topic. I mean, since I live on the Big Island doesn’t it make sense that I would think this is the best place for stargazing? Well, yeah.

But, I actually have facts on my side! (That’s always a nice add-on.) Let me explain.

As I mentioned, in the Hawaiian islands we have a total of 23 observatories currently operating. Observatories are the multi-million dollar facilities with high-end telescopes observing and collecting data on all things in the heavens.

Mauna Kea Observatory

And do you know how many of those 23 observatories are on the Big Island? FOURTEEN are right here in our backyard , with twelve on the summit of Mauna Kea (elevation 13,796 ft) and two on Mauna Loa (elevation 13,678 ft).

If you want a little taste of what these observatories can capture, hop over to this image gallery from the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (CFHT) .

Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa

Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, both located on the Big Island, are the two highest peaks in the Hawaiian island chain. In the Hawaiian language, their names mean “white mountain” and “long mountain”, respectively.

With its elevation alone, it’s not hard to understand why the most advanced telescopes on the planet are placed on Mauna Kea. Teams of astronomers from countries around the globe come to Mauna Kea to man their country’s high-end telescopes which have been placed at this location.

Mauna Kea Observatories

But besides simply elevation, Mauna Kea has several other factors going for it:

  • Lack of light pollution (middle of the Pacific Ocean, no major cities)
  • Low humidity
  • Position above most atmospheric water vapor
  • Clean air (again, middle of the ocean)
  • Good weather dominates this region
  • Low latitude location (lower than Mauna Loa)

Essentially, you can’t really ask for a better location for astronomical observation and data collection than the beautiful summit of Mauna Kea. Astronomers from around the world clearly agree with this one, so it’s hard to argue.

Just how powerful are the telescopes on Mauna Kea? Well, there are multiple telescopes with mirrors in excess of 10 meters in diameter! That, my friends, will make for some serious stargazing. Only space telescopes like the Hubble and the James Webb Space Telescope (launching in October 2021….YAY!) can outperform these Mauna Kea behemoths.

Can you visit Mauna Kea at night?

Let me start off this answer by saying this: The summit of Mauna Kea (or Maunakea, the proper noun) is one of the most significant spiritual sites in the world to native Hawaiians. Many of them are deeply opposed to construction on the summit, which they view as desecration of a sacred site.

The stars from mauna kea on the Big Island of Hawaii

In recent months, Hawaiians have actively blocked access to the summit to protest and prevent the construction of the latest stargazing project: the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT). This is a $1.4 Billion project that intends to construct the largest telescope in the northern hemisphere.

So whether you should visit the summit of Mauna Kea at all is a highly charged question. Personally, I’ve chosen not to do so even if given the opportunity, out of respect for native Hawaiians and their culture.

There are tours that will take you to the summit (here is a page with a list of permitted tour companies ), but it appears that these tours normally take you there for the sunset and then descend to lower elevations after sunset for stargazing.

So the best I can tell you is: Check with your chosen tour company about the details of visiting the summit after dark.

Stargazing o ptions other than the summit

BUT, there are many locations on Mauna Kea which can be ideal for a stargazing session aside from the summit itself. I speak from experience, because our tour with James at EpicTours took place around 8,500 ft elevation on the western slope of Mauna Kea…and it was simply incredible!

Our Big Island Hawaii Stargazing Experience

Our stargazing location was just a little over an hour drive from our home in Kailua Kona, so it was also far more convenient than a trip all the way to the summit as well.

stars from mauna kea

When your guide is extremely experienced and knowledgeable like James, you can trust them to deliver the best experience possible. His intimate knowledge of the skies and the mountain allowed him to craft the right experience in the right location for that particular night. It was a perfect way to ring in the New Year!

Photos included is a huge plus!

And here is my personal advice: If your tour doesn’t include images (like the ones we received from Epic Tours above) taken by an astro-photographer, you are really missing out.

Some stargazing tour companies may actually charge you extra if you want to walk away with a keepsake image like we did (we got a whole album full, actually). But when you are already paying an average of $200-$225 for your tour , you can get some real sticker shock with add-ons like this.

It will be colder than you think

When you get up to these higher elevations on the slopes of a mountain, things can get chilly pretty fast. And especially when you are spending a couple of hours or more out in the elements, you will feel the effects for sure.

For us, it was our toes that got the coldest during the tour. Even though it was around 50 degrees at our location, the constant breeze made it feel much cooler than that. We wished many times that we had brought along a pair of wool socks to throw on!

Luckily, James brought along warm parkas for everyone. We made very good use of those. He also provides hot cocoa to help warm your bones as well, so you can definitely call his tour an all-inclusive option. Trust me, hat is definitely the way to go.

Can you see the Milky Way in Hawaii?

Well, I guess I’ve already given away the answer to this question with our image from above, kissing under the Milky Way.

But I’ll say it clearly: Yes, on a clear night above 8,000 ft elevation, you should have absolutely NO problem viewing the Milky Way with the naked eye. Sure, the photography really makes it pop, but it was really no less stunning just looking up without any equipment to aid us.

Big Island Hawaii Stargazing tours

Honestly, I felt like I could just got take a swim in that beautiful river of stars. It felt so close and was so vivid and alive, I was certainly tempted to try.

Can you visit the observatory in Hawaii?

If you’re going to visit the Big Island and you are a complete “star nerd” (or not), it’s likely that you can’t stop thinking about a visit to the famous Keck Observatory . This observatory is home to a pair of 10-meter telescopes, which are able to capture images of the heavens like these .

And on this point, there is good news and bad news.

The good news is that there are actually two visitor centers for the observatory : one located at the observatory’s headquarters in Waimea, and one located at the summit, close to the telescopes themselves. Both are normally open for visitors during limited hours and you are able to learn everything about these amazing pieces of stargazing technology.

The bad news is: they are both currently closed . At the time of publication, both visitor centers were closed to the public “until further notice”. As you probably know, the state of Hawaii has been (understandably) extremely cautious in their response to the global health situation that emerged in 2020.

You do have the option of visiting the Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station which has reopened for visitors as of July 2021.

In addition to the state’s required testing program for inbound travelers, many public locations like this have remained closed for many months. Currently, there are no target dates for reopening the visitor centers.

A Big Island Hawaii Must-Do: Stargazing tour

Can stargazing tours be canceled or rescheduled?

Here on the Big Island, the reality is that weather conditions can change quite rapidly and can be very unpredictable. This can make scheduling a stargazing tour during a shorter visit quite a challenge.

While I am almost certain that all reputable stargazing tour companies have reasonable cancellation and change policies, you should carefully review them before booking.

If you are only visiting the island for a short stay of a week or so, the last thing you want is to book an appointment with a tour company that only offers rescheduling but not refund options in the event of poor stargazing conditions. With just a little bit of bad luck, the skies could be uncooperative for the duration of your stay.

For shorter stays on the island, it may be a good idea to not have a good chunk of your vacation budget tied up in a “finicky” tour like this. You want to be able to experience as much as you can of all the island has to offer! This may mean opting for activities and tours that are less dependent on multiple factors, not to mention less expensive.

Mauna Kea at Sunrise

Can you choose a self-guided stargazing outing instead of a tour?

We have obviously focused primarily here on opportunities for you to explore the stars with a guide. But hey, we also remember being a kid just laying out on the lawn at night, staring up into forever and transported to other worlds.

So no, you absolutely do not need a guide to enjoy the night sky on the Big Island! Instead, you could simply choose what you expect will be a clear night and head out on a drive across Saddle Rd. This road takes you up several thousand feet in elevation and moves you quickly away from almost all light pollution (even though there is not much of it here on the island). Finding a spot to safely stop along that road to hop out and view the stars won’t be too tough.

Sure, you might not end up with the “perfect” conditions for stargazing. In fact, you might strike out completely and have a cloud layer roll in from nowhere and obscure your view of the heavens. And if that’s the case, then you spent a few bucks in gas and escaped the city for a little peace and quiet. That’s my kind of failure.

But more than likely, if you keep your eye on the weather a bit, your outing will introduce you to a brilliant night sky like you have never experienced before!

Personally, I would be willing to take that “risk” and strike out on my own without any hesitation at all. And I’m sure in the time we have left here on the island, I will do just that at least a couple of times. The stars are definitely calling my name.

Which Big Island stargazing option is right for you?

When it comes to enjoying the night sky on the Big Island, you really can’t go wrong no matter what you choose. Whether a guided tour will give you the best experience, or simply a stargazing outing on your own, I can pretty much guarantee you will be completely astounded by the Big Island’s view into the cosmos. Please, don’t miss the opportunity!

Big Island Hawaii Stargazing tour review

Todd loves a competitive game of table tennis, a breathtaking hike, and exploring new places. He lived and traveled in an RV with his family as they traveled throughout much of the US and parts of Canada. Todd has extensive knowledge about RV travel, safety, and accessories and has shared many of his stories here on TREKKN. When he’s not busy launching and building small businesses, you may find him staring at pictures of Glacier National Park (probably his favorite spot on earth).

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Great article! thank you for the pro-tips. It would be awesome were you to update your blog —according to MKVIS: WE ARE OPEN! Please adhere to safety barriers and social distancing according to local, state and federal guidelines. Modified daily hours of 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m will be in effect until further notice. Read full release

Thank you for chiming in. From what I’m seeing it looks like the observatory visitor centers are still closed but the Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station is now open, so I added that to our post. Appreciate it very much!

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Mauna Kea Stargazing: How to DIY and the 3 Best Tours

Mauna Kea Stargazing

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning if you decide to make a purchase through my links we may earn a commission at no additional cost to you. Read about our affiliate policies here .

Stargazing atop one of the tallest mountains in the country is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and a must-do activity if you’re on the Big Island. Without any light or atmospheric pollution to distract you, you’ll be able to see the night sky filled with stars, galaxies, planets, and so much more. 

However, getting to Mauna Kea can be a bit tricky, as it requires a long drive up to a high-altitude climate. 

If you would like to do Mauna Kea stargazing during your trip, then you can either drive yourself or book an organized tour. To help you decide what’s best for your group, we’ll share the pros and cons of each so you can plan a memorable and stress-free trip stargazing experience.

Get the most out of your Big Island vacation Take a deep dive on the island with our Big Island Travel Guide , packed with everything you need to know for your trip! Let us help you find the best place to stay on the Big Island Save on your rental car with Discount Hawaii Car Rental , they’ve saved us thousands! To get to the top of Mauna Kea requires 4WD! Find even more great things to do on the Big Island .

What is Mauna Kea?

Mauna Kea is an inactive volcano on the Big Island. It’s the highest point in the entire state of Hawaii, with a peak that stands over 13,800 feet tall (making it a little over a hundred feet taller than Mauna Loa – one of the largest volcanoes on the planet).

Because of the high elevation, Mauna Kea is an excellent place for stargazing. With a dry, cloudless, and nearly pitch-black sky, Mauna Kea has the perfect conditions for astronomical observation. Not only is it open to visitors, but it’s also used by professionals and scientists, including NASA.  

What are the Mauna Kea Observatories?

Perched on the summit of Mauna Kea sits the Mauna Kea Observatories. This 525-acre plot of land is home to 12 different observational facilities and 13 telescopes. The University of Hawaii operates two of them, while the others are governed by other agencies and countries. 

As a visitor, you won’t be allowed to go inside the observatories or use the telescopes. The only exception to that is NOIRLab does a limited number of tours at noon to their Gemini North Telescope . You must drive yourself to the summit.

But if you make the trek up to the summit during the day, you might be able to see the astronomers at work. The domes will be open, and the telescopes will be swung into position! 

Mauna Kea Stargazing - Observatory

Besides being on the summit, you also have the chance to check out the visitor’s center, The Onizuka Center for International Astronomy Visitor Information Station (VIS for short), which is located further down the slopes of the volcano.

Can You Visit Mauna Kea on Your Own? 

Yes! Although many people choose to visit Mauna Kea with an organized tour, it’s possible to go on your own. However, there are some rules and regulations you’ll need to follow if you plan to drive yourself up the volcano. 

The visitor center is open from 9 AM to 9 PM, although the road to the summit opens 30 minutes before sunrise and closes 30 minutes after sunset. You can visit anytime during operational hours, although many people like to come during sunrise or sunset for the view.

2-wheel-drive vehicles are not permitted past the visitor’s center, so be sure you go prepared! We’ll cover more on this below.

big island astronomy tour

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Mauna Kea Stargazing: Visiting on Your Own

Organized tours are expensive and often take up an entire day. While it is great to have a knowledgeable guide with you, some people prefer to go stargazing on their own. If you are planning to head up to Mauna Kea without a tour, there are some things to keep in mind to make sure your trip goes as smoothly as possible.

Tips for Stargazing at Mauna Kea

Beware of altitude sickness.

As the tallest peak in Hawaii, the high altitude levels on Mauna Kea are no joke. In fact, the air at the summit contains 40% less oxygen than at sea level! If you aren’t adequately prepared, you may get Altitude Motion Sickness (AMS), which can cause headaches, drowsiness, nausea, and loss of balance among other symptoms.

To prevent getting sick, there are some safety precautions you should take:

  • Spend at least 30 minutes adjusting to the altitude change at the Visitor Center (9,200 feet)
  • Bring and drink lots of water to stay hydrated
  • Don’t drink alcohol before or during your visit
  • Don’t do too much strenuous activity at the top. You should save your oxygen!
  • Avoid high altitudes if you are pregnant, under the age of 13, or have poor general health

Join the Stargazing Program

Once a month, the Mauna Kea Visitor Center hosts a free stargazing event. As a group, staff members will take you to a private stargazing location where you’ll be able to spend two hours viewing the night sky. They’ll have telescopes set up and can answer any question you may have.

To join, make sure to reserve your place online in advance. You can come a bit early to watch the sunset before returning to the visitor center to start your stargazing experience.

Rent the Right Vehicle

To reach the summit of Mauna Kea, you’ll need to have a 4WD vehicle. The 8-mile drive from the visitor center to the peak is on steep, bumpy terrain, which means it’s not suitable for 2WD cars. If you don’t have an off-roading vehicle, you’ll still be allowed to go to the visitor center, although venturing any further is strictly prohibited.

When renting a car, make sure the rental company allows its vehicles to be driven up Mauna Kea. Some companies have regulations that prohibit this, so double-check before you leave the airport or rental car center.

It’s also important that you have enough gas to make it up to the summit and back. While the drive is doable on ½ a tank, we highly recommend filling up before going to Mauna Kea. You will burn a lot of gas as you make the climb to the summit. There are no gas stations after Waimea, so plan accordingly if you’re driving yourself!

Mauna Kea Stargazing - Jeep rental

Check out our rental car recommendations before you book!

Be Respectful

Mauna Kea is a sacred place, and according to Hawaiian mythology, the summit is home to benevolent spirits and gods, including Poli‘ahu, the Goddess of Snow. Historically, Hawaiian law stated that only high-ranking nobility were allowed up to the peak.  

While this has changed over time, it’s still vital that all visitors treat the volcano and the natural surroundings with respect. Make sure you stay on the road at all times and don’t pull over unless instructed.

Related reads: 9 Ways to Have an Authentic Hawaiian Experience The 6 Best Big Island Luaus by Location

Dress Warmly

As you might imagine, the top of Mauna Kea can be very cold. The average temperature at the peak is 32 degrees Fahrenheit (literally freezing!), although the wind chill can make it feel even colder.

For this reason, you’ll want to dress warmly. Make sure you have long pants, closed-toed shoes, and a warm jacket or sweater. You may also think about bringing thick socks, gloves, and a beanie, so be sure to add these to your Hawaii packing list !

Don’t Go Scuba Diving Before or After

Similar to flying, being at a high altitude can pose major risks for scuba divers. The decreased air pressure and build-up of nitrogen in the bloodstream can be extremely dangerous. If you want to go scuba diving after stargazing, you must wait at least 24 hours to adjust back to sea level.

The same applies to diving before your trip up the volcano. Because of the altitude change, you should also wait more than 24 hours to go up Mauna Kea if you’ve been scuba diving. 

How to Stargaze at Mauna Kea On Your Own

Now that we’ve gotten the safety information out of the way, let’s walk through what you’ll need to do to have an amazing experience stargazing at Mauna Kea!

One important thing to note is that the road from the visitor center up to the summit is closed 30 minutes after sunset. Therefore, you won’t actually be doing any stargazing at the peak. While you can drive up there for the view (and the bragging rights), you will be doing all your stargazing around the visitor center at a lower elevation.

Arrive Ninety Minutes Before Sunset

As mentioned, the road up to the summit closes 30 minutes after sunset. You’ll need enough time to make the drive and acclimate to the altitude change if you’re planning on watching the sunset from the top.

Therefore, we recommend getting to the visitor center 90 minutes before the scheduled sunset. That gives you 30 minutes to acclimate at the visitor center and another 45 minutes to 1 hour to drive to the summit. If there isn’t traffic, you can usually make the drive in about 30 minutes, although it can be longer if you’re stuck behind a slow driver.

Mauna Kea Stargazing - sunset

Give Yourself At Least 30 Minutes to Acclimate

We can’t stress this enough! Unless you want to spend your entire evening feeling sick and dizzy, It’s important to acclimate to the change in altitude. You don’t want to just drive straight from the beach up to the peak without stopping to adjust, as this can be extremely dangerous.

The visitor center is located 9,200 feet above sea level, so you need to stop here for at least 30 minutes before heading to the summit. However, the longer you have here, the better. Some visitors even spend several hours here just to make sure. 

There’s a lot to see inside, including photos, diagrams, and models. You can also pick up a book or souvenir at the gift shop while you’re waiting!

Drive from the Visitor Center to Mauna Kea Summit

If you have a 4×4 vehicle with an allowance to go up Mauna Kea, then you can head to the summit before sundown. Remember that the road is long (8 miles) and very steep (~5,000 feet), so take your time.

Give yourself at least 45 minutes to an hour to go up the road from the visitor center. While the drive should take just 30 minutes, it will likely take longer due to the number of cars, slow drivers, etc.

If there are high winds, ice, or lots of snow, the road up to the summit might be closed. Before you leave, check the road conditions to see if it’s open to visitors.

Watch the Sunset

Once you’ve reached the peak, bundle up in your warm clothes and go out to watch the sunset. It’s a breathtaking sight to see it descend below the clouds. Make sure to bring your camera (and some sunglasses), as the colors are stunning from this high up.

Drive Back Down to the Visitors Center for Stargazing

Remember, you can only stay up at the peak for about 30 minutes after sunset. The road down to the visitor center can be quite dangerous in the dark, so you won’t be allowed to stay for too long. 

But once you arrive back at the visitor center, it’s time to go stargazing! 

Why Stargazing is Better at the Visitors Center

Despite what many people think, the visitor center is better than the summit for stargazing! That’s because it’s at a lower altitude, which means there’s more oxygen in the air. Getting less oxygen makes it harder to see the stars, even though you’re technically closer to them!

However, the summit is still the ideal place for astronomers. The telescopes they use aren’t affected by the lack of oxygen, which is why they’re situated at Mauna Kea’s peak, but many astronomers control the telescopes and view the images at lower elevations.

So, don’t be upset that you can’t stay on the summit after dark. The visitor center is still at a high enough elevation to make your stargazing trip a memorable one!

Mauna Kea Stargazing stars

Find even more great things to do on the Big Island: 21 Incredible Things to Do on the Big Island 32 of the Best Things to Do in Hilo (+nearby) The 21 Best Things to do in Kona (+ tips to know before you go) 12 Epic Things to Do in Kona with Kids The 15 Best Things To Do In Waikoloa

The Best Mauna Kea Stargazing Tours

While a DIY drive-up Mauna Kea is doable, it might be easier to go with a tour group. Not to mention, it’s always nice to have a knowledgeable guide with you to answer any questions you may have and help you see even more.

We recommend a tour for stargazing if you’re hesitant about the drive. Driving up or down the mountain at night is difficult – the road is windy, and completely dark, and the change in altitude is significant. Thankfully, there are some great options available if you prefer to go on an organized stargazing tour.

Stargazing Tour with Photos

A lot of stargazing tours last the entire night (10 to 12 hours!), which may not fit your schedule if you’re short on time. However, this stargazing tour is only 2 hours long, so it’s perfect for those who have other activities planned.

The tour is led by James, an analog astronaut and professional astrophotographer. He uses a telescope and laser pointer to show you exactly where to look for the most breathtaking views of the night sky. He’ll also take professional photos of you with the starry backdrop so you can have a unique souvenir to remember your time on the volcano.

Because this tour doesn’t go up to the summit, it’s suitable for kids or those with health issues. And if the weather or stargazing conditions are bad, you’ll get a full refund or opportunity to move your tour to a later date.

Mauna Kea Stargazing - Astrophotography

If you’re trying to get great photos throughout your vacation, check out our favorite photo spots .

Twilight Volcano and Stargazing Tour

This full-day tour allows you to experience the best of what the Big Island has to offer. You’ll start your morning with a coffee tasting at a local Kona coffee farm before heading to Punalu’u Black Sand Beach (one of the most unique beaches on the island!). From there, you’ll visit Hawaii Volcanos National Park, where you’ll see the Kilauea Iki Lookout, steam vents, and Halema’uma’u Crater.

After dinner at a local restaurant (which is included along with a picnic lunch), you’ll head up to Mauna Kea for an evening of stargazing. 

Mauna Kea Summit Tour

If you’re staying in Hilo, this is one of the best stargazing tours you can join. They’ll pick you up at a central location and whisk you up the slopes of Mauna Kea for an unforgettable evening. After a warm picnic dinner, you’ll visit the summit for a spectacular sunset before heading back down to the stargazing spot. 

Admire the different constellations and space objects through the telescope while sipping hot chocolate to stay warm. Your guides will also take photographs of the night sky that you’ll get after your tour! 

Parkas and gloves are provided, which is a huge perk if you don’t want to pack yours from the mainland. However, stargazing is not guaranteed, as cancellations due to poor or cloudy conditions may occur. Refunds are not offered for unfavorable conditions.

Kohala Coast Stargazing

Getting up to Mauna Kea can be a time-consuming venture. However, there are closer stargazing spots you can visit that don’t require lengthy drives, heavy coats, or acclimatizing to the high altitude.

This stargazing experience takes place at the Westin Hapuna Beach Resort , which is just 45 minutes from Kailua-Kona. Even though it’s at sea level, you can still enjoy dramatic views of the night sky with their high-tech telescopes! We did this tour and saw the moon, Saturn, and tons of stars, so it’s definitely worth it if you don’t want to make the long journey to Mauna Kea.

We highly recommend this tour for kids as it only lasts for one hour. And if your little ones are under 5, they get to go for free! Honestly, we were a little hesitant about this tour but we all had a great time and learned so much. We took our kids and our parents with us, and it was great for all ages.

Mauna Kea Stargazing

Check out more can’t miss Big Island tours and activities: Tried and Tested: The 5 Best Manta Ray Night Snorkel (or Dive) in Kona The 10 Best Big Island Farm Tours You Won’t Want to Miss The 9 Best Big Island Snorkeling Tours

The Easiest Big Island Trip Planning

We make planning a trip to the Big Island simple  with our itinerary . This itinerary includes excursion days designed to take you on a planned route around the island to explore the best things to see and the best places to eat.

We are going to Oahu, Maui, and Big Island over the course of 21 days, so I have loved your itineraries–seriously they are a must-have lifeline for planning a trip to Hawaii! Kim S.

big island astronomy tour

Big Island Wayfinder Itinerary

Get the big island itinerary.

The step-by-step itinerary takes you to all the best beaches, snorkeling spots, restaurants, and sights. You’ll get six carefully planned excursion days to help you see the can’t miss stops no matter how limited your time is.

Get all the details on our itinerary and download it for a memorable and easily planned trip to Hawai’i (Big Island).

Love this guide? Pin it and follow us for more!

Mauna Kea stargazing

I'm the co-founder, with my husband Jordan, of The Hawaii Vacation Guide. We have lived on Maui and Oahu and continue to travel, experience, and learn about the Hawaiian Islands. We travel with our kids, Henry and Edith. I am a planner! I love to plan trips from the mainland and island-hopping adventures, excursion days, and everything in-between. I spend a lot of my time in Hawai'i on a SUP and my favorite time of year in Hawai'i is whale season!

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Your use of the information provided in our Content, Itineraries, Site, and Services is for your informational purposes only and is subject to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service. Your use of the information described in, your participation in activities presented in, and/or your engagement of any Travel Service Providers presented in our Content, Itineraries, Site, and/or Services may carry the risk of illness, bodily injury, disability, death, or property damage. You voluntarily and freely assume all risks and dangers that may occur pursuant to your access, use, purchase, or participation in any information, activity, good, or service described in our Content, Itineraries, Site, and Services or provided by any Travel Service Providers.

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University of Hawaii at Hilo Center for Maunakea Stewardship

Visitor Information

Maunakea Visitor Information Station

The Onizuka Center for International Astronomy Visitor Information Station ( VIS ) is located on the Maunakea Access Road at 19°45'33"N Latitude, 155°27′22″W Longitude, and 9,200ft (2,804m) Elevation. Take the Daniel K Inouye Highway (Saddle Road) and turn onto Maunakea Access Road (Milepost 28). For accurate GPS directions, search for Onizuka Center for International Astronomy .

Daily hours: 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.

VIS Phone: (808) 934-4550

Google Maps link

The Visitor Information Center is located below Hale Pohaku on Maunakea

See Visiting Maunakea Safely and Responsibly for important safety information. Due to the hazards of altitude sickness, pregnant women, persons in poor health, and children under 13 should not venture above the Visitor Information Station. Drivers are required to use 4-wheel drive vehicles above the VIS because the road to the summit is unpaved, rough, and quite steep. Those traveling to the summit should always use 4WD Low Range to reduce brake failure and overheating. It is recommended to have at least 1/2 a tank of gas before proceeding to the summit. Make sure your vehicle and any items taken to Maunakea are clean to prevent the spread of invasive species.

Things to do at VIS

A shirt that is available at the Fist Light store

  • Star-gazing
  • Short hiking routes around VIS

VIS First Light Store (and the online E-Store ) has souvenirs related to Maunakea. The newly renovated parking areas provide a safe place to acclimate before going up to the summit.

Summit Access Road conditions: Maunakea weather varies widely and sometimes very quickly. The latest road and weather information are available at the upper right corner of this page.

Kamaʻāina Observatory Experience: The Kama‘āina Observatory Experience is currently suspended due to COVID 19. When it is in operation, it is a monthly community event that welcomes Hawaiʻi residents to the science reserve atop Maunakea to see world-class telescopes and learn about the cultural and environmental importance of the mountain. For more information about the event or to reserve a spot for an upcoming tour,

call ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center at (808) 969-9703.

A student looking into a telescope at the VIS

Your generous, tax deductible donations allow us to make all of these free programs possible, including all of the telescopes used in our free nightly stargazing programs!

Online donations:

Give Online

Mail donations:

Please make checks payable to:

UH Foundation #12045164 Maunakea Observatories Visitor Program

and mail to:

Maunakea Shared Services 640 North Aʻohoku Place Hilo, HI 96720-5108

big island astronomy tour

Visiting Mauna Kea Observatories

big island astronomy tour


An Introduction to the 13 Observatories on Mauna Kea

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The Institute for Astronomy at the U of Hawaii

Tune in to hawaii public radio stargazer program.

Mauna Kea Observatory

Go Stargazing at the top of Mauna Kea

Mauna Kea is the tallest sea mountain in the world, offering unprecedented views of the heavens above. So get ready for some stargazing like you’ve never seen before.

big island astronomy tour

Polynesian Voyaging and Wayfinding

Polynesian Voyaging was a nearly lost art and science that has been revived in recent years

big island astronomy tour

Mauna Kea Safety

Mauna Kea is the highest point in the state of Hawaii, that’s why it’s so important to stay safe and take every precaution before venturing up the summit.

big island astronomy tour

Mauna Kea: A Portal to the Universe

A highly regarded scientific site, Mauna Kea is one of the world’s most important astronomical research centers, allowing mankind a portal to see the Universe.

big island astronomy tour

Learn about the Flora & Fauna on Mauna Kea

The alpine environment that lies below Mauna Kea is home to startlingly unique and ruggedly-beautiful flora and fauna that you can’t find anywhere else.

big island astronomy tour

Hiking on Mauna Kea

There are two major hikes on Mauna Kea that attract most hikers: The full Mauna Kea Summit Trail and a shorter hike to Lake Waiau, both are amazing.

big island astronomy tour

Hawaiian Culture and Connection to Mauna Kea

Also known as Mauna O Wakea, or Mountain of the Sky Father, Mauna Kea, the White Mountain is an important cultural site.

Mauna Kea Summit Adventures

Offering a well-rounded tour experience that takes you to the top of the Big Island’s greatest geologic feature, Mauna Kea Summit Adventures makes reaching the summit easy.

Dining Options for Mauna Kea Summit

For all its splendor, Mauna Kea is a remote location without basic amenities like food and gas, so you will want to fill up and stock up before you go.

big island astronomy tour

The Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii is one of the world’s most influential and impactful astronomical research centers.

A brief, entertaining look at the world of astronomy, the Stargazer Radio Program is an excellent listen for astronomy buffs and lay people alike.

big island astronomy tour

More than 11 countries, non-profit institutions, and scientific cooperatives have established, funded, and maintained 13 telescopes atop Mauna Kea.

Kilauea glow.....#hawaii #hawaiilife #hi #aloha #nationalpark #findyourpark #nakedhawaii #discoverhawaii #visithawaii #luckywelivehawaii #hawaiiisland #explorehawaii #alohaoutdoors #hawaiiunchained #venturehawaii #nature #naturephotography #wanderlust #travel #bigisland #thebigisland #bigislandguide #volcano #kilauea

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ʻImiloa Astronomy Center

Sharing Hawaiʻi’s Legacy of Exploration

big island astronomy tour

At ʻImiloa, discover the traditions and knowledge of Polynesian navigators, learn how astronomers on Maunakea unravel the mysteries of the Universe, and enjoy Hawaiʻi Island’s only Planetarium featuring programs for explorers of all ages.

Hours of operation.

9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday

600 ʻImiloa Place at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo

big island astronomy tour

Hālau ʻŌkupu

New enrichment program for toddlers.

big island astronomy tour

Explore With Us!

big island astronomy tour

Planetarium Program Schedule

Enjoy Hawaiʻi’s first 10k-resolution Planetarium.

big island astronomy tour

Become A Member

Enjoy unlimited admission and special discounts.

big island astronomy tour

Place-based enrichment program for keiki in grades K-5. Now enrolling for “The Voyage,” Summer 2024.

Hālau Lamakū

big island astronomy tour

School Field Trips

Schedule a visit with your haumāna.

Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side Of The Moon: 50 Years In A Heartbeat”

Friday, june 28, 5:30 p.m. & 6:45 p.m..

big island astronomy tour

“Fungi: The Web of Life” Member Premiere

Wednesday, july 10.

big island astronomy tour

Seeing The Invisible: Proving the Existence of Our Galaxy’s Supermassive Black Hole

Friday, july 12.

big island astronomy tour

Make a Difference

Promote your organization and support ʻimiloa by becoming a corporate member..

big island astronomy tour

Visit us at 600 ʻImiloa Place in Hilo

Follow us on Instagram , Facebook and YouTube for amazing images, announcements and event information: @imiloaastronomycenter .

big island astronomy tour

Broome astronomer, tour guide and TV star Greg Quicke, known as 'Space Gandalf', dies aged 62

A man with a beard and headset mic smiles

West Australian astronomer, TV star and tour guide Greg Quicke has died at the age of 62.

A legend in Broome, 2,000km north of Perth, Quicke — also known as "Space Gandalf" for his distinctive white beard — introduced generations of visitors and locals to the wonders of the universe through his "astro tours" from the Kimberley town.

He later rose to national and international prominence on the ABC and BBC Stargazing Live specials, appearing alongside Professor Brian Cox.

He was diagnosed with cancer in 2023.

In a statement, his family said he was "survived by a legion of people whose lives he touched". 

"He brought the universe to us all and translated it into a language we all understood," the statement read.

"He was watched by millions of people around the globe and carried out his life work with inspirational spirit and freedom."

Greg Quicke and Carolyn Oldham standing on salt lake

His enthusiasm for the stars and philosophy took hold as a young man working in the Kimberley.

"You think about astronomy and often it's presented as stuff that's out there," the self-taught astronomer explained to ABC Radio in 2017.

"But my take on it is that we're on a planet. We're moving through space. 

"These are things I can take out of your head and I can put them at your feet."

A man stands on a ladder beside a telescope

Born in 1961, he grew up surrounded by tall trees in the mill towns of South West WA, where his father was a forester. 

He recalled a free and nature-based childhood.

"Magnificently tall trees that I spent a lot of my childhood underneath or at the top of," he told Richard Fidler's Conversations in 2018.

"We loved the windy days because you'd get up top and it'd be swaying six feet from side to side and we loved a bit of adventure," he said.

"We'd climb out onto some of the branches about 150 feet up and hang upside down by our legs and bounce up and down."

Greg at low tide

The Kimberley was calling

But he soon fell in love with coastal Broome, arriving on a motorbike in 1982 after dropping out of a marine biology degree in Queensland.

Quicke then became a pearl diver and mechanic.

His interest in stars took hold after he observed the Kimberley's big tides and spent plenty of time in a swag gazing at the night sky.

As he shared his new passion with friends, they suggested he run tours showing others the beauty and wonder of the universe.

"I started talking about the stars, about what I'd noticed about how we're moving amongst them ... and they told me to keep talking," he said.

After handing out a few flyers advertising an astronomy tour in 1995, he was soon running events seven nights a week in Broome.

An estimated 100,000 plus people have listened in awe, over 28 years, to his softly spoken explanations about the night sky.

A manin a beard with a brightly coloured Chinese dragon behind

Captured by Broome's spirit

Quicke regularly featured in Broome's annual Shinju Matsuri, carrying the head of Sammy the Dragon, a 30-metre parade dragon through the streets.

"The spirit of the place is just amazing," he said of Broome, declaring it one of the country's most beautiful places.

"There's something unique about the place," he told UK Comedian Bill Bailey while the two star gazed together in 2023.

"Everything here seems bigger, the colours are bigger, the tides are bigger, the barramundi are bigger too.

"It's almost like our hearts have an opportunity to be bigger here as well."

Bearded smiling man beside giant telescope

Rise of Space Gandalf's star

But it was his appearances on the ABC and BBC which saw him gain international acclaim.

His distinctive flowing white beard, big hat and philosophical approach quickly led fans around the world to dub him #SpaceGandalf. 

The author and TV presenter stayed grounded however; surfing whenever Broome's famous Cable Beach could push up a swell, or riding a motorbike on the open road.

He was exhilarated to experience the total solar eclipse in Exmouth on an island in April 2023.

"This day has been huge ... My body spent, my heart full, I crash into a deep eclipse fuelled communion with the other worlds," he wrote to his 12,000 Facebook followers.

Astronomer Greg Quicke looks up into sky

Bill Bailey, visiting Broome for the first time as part of his Wild West Australia ABCTV series, asked him if he had "found his niche in the world" by sharing the galaxy with others.

"It brings me a lot of joy," Quicke agreed.

"Everyone thinks it's all about stars but it's not — it's about people."

"Standing alongside someone who sees Saturn's rings for the first time it's like, wow! I could do that forever!"

Quicke is survived by his parents, a sister and an adult daughter.

His family has asked that their "sacred time be respected".

A memorial service will be held in Broome at a date to be announced.

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  • Astronomy (Space)
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  1. Go Stargazing at the top of Mauna Kea

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  6. "Mauna Kea observatory" by sunnaquair #hawaii #astronomy #CFHT Places

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