I want to dedicate this post to one lovely Swiss couple who helped our dream come true!
When you are on The Big Island you have have have to go to the summit of Mauna Kea. It’s a one million year old volcano that has not been active for about 4,600 years and reaches over 13,000 feet in height, which is, I believe over 4km high. It’s the tallest peak in Hawaii and on a clear day you can admire the snowy top from afar. I also saw it from the plane on our way to Maui Island.
You can get there by a four-wheel drive car or take a tour. Anyway, I suggest you rent a Jeep and forget the tour unless you can’t drive. We only rented a little car as we were initially planning to take a tour to the top of Mauna Kea. Bear in mind that you can only get to the Information Centre in a little car, which is about 3 km high and don’t forget to lookout for invisible cows! It’s so foggy up there, you can’t see a thing in front of you! Getting to the very top, there is a dirt road which is much steeper and might be slippery at times. I wouldn’t risk getting up there in a regular car and anyway you are not allowed to do that.
If you are up for a tour, get it booked well in advance. We tried to book it at the last minute and were unsuccessful. But I can confidently say: thank god we didn’t manage to book a tour! It takes about 8 hours, you are in a people carrier with tinted windows all day and stop in places you want and, most importantly, don’t want! Ok, so you get some food… but 8 hour tour is too big a luxury time wise when you are travelling independently and trying to see as many things as you can in a short space of time. Plus, a tour coasts over $200 per person.
So here is what we did and what I recommend you do! We parked our car at the Information Center, put a few layers of warm clothes and walking boots on and trotted off to the main road to hitch hike. Don’t be afraid or embarrassed, lots of people do that! After standing just for a few seconds by the road, a Jeep stopped next to us and a lovely and hyper active Swiss couple invited us to join them! Yayy! Soon enough we were ascending through the clouds, having a pleasant chat and exchanging our experiences about the island.
It was such a happy moment as at the start, when we couldn’t get a tour booked, we were feeling pretty low.
Be prepared for altitude sickness once at the top. I was running out of breath after every few steps. The oxygen there is 40% thinner than at sea level and that makes you feel pretty dizzy and uncoordinated. You sort of get use to it after a while, but still, it always feels as if you’ve been running up hill for a mile or so and need to catch your breath. And it’s freezing up there too! At the Information Center I was bitching about some guys putting skiing jackets on; how cold can it be? And believe me, I ate my words later, when at the summit! So make sure you have something warm and comfortable to wear in your car boot before you take on the challenge of climbing the volcano.
Mauna Kea is incredibly beautiful. The air is fresh and you really feel like you are on top of the world. Apparently, if you measure the volcano from the bottom base in the ocean right up to the top, it would be the tallest peak on the planet, twice as tall as Mount Everest.
The best time to get there is just before sunset. But make sure you leave yourselves plenty of time to enjoy it, because you will have to leave the volcano soon after the sun goes down. The sunset was wonderful, painted in deep yellow and purple colours. The blue sky was as blue as it can get. Watching the sun go down into the clouds was so inspiring.
The best sunset in my life! My hands were freezing, but I couldn’t stop taking pictures. At that moment I was having the time of my life.