Having been unsuccessful in our attempt to get into one of the parking spaces at Mauna Kea Beach the day before, we left the condo even earlier; victory was ours! The set up at Mauna Kea is interesting - you drive through a few condo clusters and golf courses, before passing the front of the hotel and then down aways to the parking lot. Then you walk downhill about 1/4 mile to the beach. It definitely takes a lot of effort to get to the beach but once you do it's absolutely worth it. Mauna Kea was definitely our favorite beach of the trip - fine white sand stretching out in a perfect crescent, calm crystal blue water and waves small enough to be fun yet not overwhelming.
There are a few spots that are shaded by trees but those areas fill up fast. Unfortunately while we had a lovely spot in the morning, while we were in the water a group of about 20 people came and put their stuff nearly on top of ours. All the room on the wide open beach and they chose to be all up in our grill? I guess personal space is not a concern for some folks. Rather than deal with our new neighbors, we grabbed our stuff and sat in a sunnier part of the beach, relying on the umbrella that came with our condo.
Unfortunately, continuing on with the "go in water, get injured" theme we'd established at A-Bay, Alan (nearly) dislocated his shoulder doing handstands in the water. For the rest of the trip lifting his arm in a handful of directions was extremely painful. Having previously gone through shoulder surgery on his other arm for a similar - albeit more extreme - injury, it's never fun to see something like this happen because you don't know what the outcome will be. In this case, it just required a lot of Ibuprofen and resting of his arm.
Check out that awesome sunburn - this is using SPF 50 and 70 sunscreen
After spending a couple of hours at the beach, we drove up the road a couple of miles to get what we were told was the best shave ice on that side of the island. I can't say that I disagree. My goal on every trip to Hawaii is to eat shave ice every day; alas, we were not successful this trip simply because there aren't a lot of shave ice options in the Kohala resort area. We had was turned out to be chipped ice the day before but it was so disappointing that I don't even count it. This was really good - li hing mui is our standby flavor - perfectly shaved topped with sweetened condensed milk. It's not for the faint of heart.
From there we made our way back to the condo to shower and get ready for our trip to the top of Mauna Kea with Mauna Kea Summit Adventures, which I can't recommend highly enough. They pick up from the Starbucks in Queen's Marketplace which was literally right across the street for us so coming and going - especially once they dropped us back off after 10 p.m. - was the easiest thing in the world.
On the drive up to Mauna Kea, our guide Pat (who might also be the owner or President) was extremely knowledgeable about the local area as he has lived in Hawaii for the past 30 years. He has some definite viewpoints that could be considered "political" but we found them charming and interesting. We drove through up the Saddle Road, passing Parker Ranch lands, the Army training base and lava fields, finally reaching the Visitor's Center. Pat told us about seeing one of the volcano eruptions in the early 80s (I think this is when he said it was) from one of his backcountry tours and reporting it to the local civil defense units. What an experience!
At the Visitor's Center (9200 feet above sea level), MKSA provides you with a meal and an opportunity to acclimate to the high altitude. I was worried about this trip seeing as how I nearly passed out on Haleakala back in 2007 and had recently had respiratory problems with my Two Month Plague. While I was a bit slower than others, I just took it really easy and made sure that I was always taking as much air as possible into my lungs and I was fine.
After eating we climbed back into the van for the remainder of the drive to the top of the summit - 13,800 feet above sea level. Once you leave the visitor's center, the mountain takes on a much starker appearance, looking extremely extraterrestrial (or at least, that's what I thought given the images we've seen of Mars and elsewhere).
|Please ignore the obvious glare from inside the bus and the reflection of my camera lens on the photo.|
|As you can see, we had an absolutely gorgeous day.|
Once we reached the top of the summit, we were given a couple of breaths to acclimate once again to this even higher elevation. Immediately it hit me, but I persevered. Alan commented that even he could feel it. We were then given parkas and gloves and while I thought at first I wasn't going to need them, within just a couple of minutes it was FREEZING and my hands would go numb without the gloves. After learning about each of the observatories and their various equipments, we climbed back in the van to drive over to where we'd watch the sun set and look through the telescope provided by MKSA.
We had a gorgeous sunset and then I really started to feel sick and woozy so I went to sit in the van and wait for everyone else to get their fill of the beautiful sky.
|I just love this picture even though you can barely see either one of us.|
Then we made our way back down the mountain to an area around the visitor center where we had an astronomy lesson from Pat that was just astounding to someone that knows absolutely nothing about stars or the galaxy. My public school education skipped right over that part of the curriculum it seems. Through their telescopes we got to see galaxies, constellations (I can now unequivocally point out Orions Belt), and to close out the night the rings of Saturn. It was just magnificent and awe-inspiring. I immediately fell asleep, so I can't comment on the rest of the drive, but I can comment on MKAS - if you're going to Hawaii, definitely book this trip. This, the manta ray night snorkel, and hiking Kileau Iki trail are three experiences you don't want to miss.