Monday, June 7
This was our first chance to go to Costco. I know, how boring, but very economical. We picked up a case of bottled water, some other staples we would be using, since we were eating more than half the meals in the condo, and gas. I should tell you now that gas is more expensive on the islands than most other places in the U.S. The range in town was $2.02 to $2.21, but Costco gas was $1.99. What a steal! From here we were off to Waikoloa and the Kohola Resort area. If you have seen any TV with picture of people swimming with dolphins on the Big Island it is at the Hilton Waikola Resort, and this resort is huge. We wandered around for about an hour. We walked and took there boat transports that wander through the buildings. All I can say is Wow! They have waterfalls and little lakes, a tram system and tons of shops. Further up the main road is the Mauna Lani Resort area, which is similar in size to the Hilton area, with both time-shares and 4 star resorts on the grounds. They also have a set of nice walking trails that wanders through a large field of petroglyphs carved into the lava. We ended our day of resort wandering at the Mauna Kea Beach, where I had my first experience with snorkeling. This beach was perfect for a first snorkeling experience. Quiet, but enough fish to make me feel like I'd done more than just gone swimming.
This ended our second full day on island. We had dinner at the condo and hit the hay.
Tuesday, June 8
We started our day with a little snokleing at a nearby beach. This area has a rock barrier that protects the cove from the surf. So the water is fairly calm, and it is a popular snokleing area. We were out enjoying the fish life for about 45 minutes. It was a great way to start the day. The parking lot still hadn't filled up yet as we were leaving. Later in the day there is no parking available, so we did well to go early and miss the crowds. Our plan for the day was to tour the town of Kailua-Kona, do some shopping and have lunch, before our big adventure...a star gazing tour on Mauna Kea (13,796 elevation).
Star gazing on Mauna Kea was one of the reasons we wanted a 4-wheel drive vehicle, but the more we thought, it seemed like a better idea to go with a professional. If I could remember all the wonderful information the owner of Mauna Kea Summit Adventures gave us on the way and during our tour I would share it with you, but there was so much to take in all I have is the pictures and some memories of the view. We met the 15-passenger van and our guide (whose last name was Wright, also) in a shopping area parking lot at 3:15 pm. He checked us in and loaded us all up. We went down the road to the Waikola Resort area to pick up our last 3 passengers. Our guide has been doing these tours for 18 years. He came over to the island to work as a ski patrol. Yes, I said Ski. They get enough snow on Mauna Kea to ski in the winter. Well, he got to know the mountain quite well, and thought that there was a lot to see up there even without the snow. So, he began a tour company. When it started he knew very little about astronomy and the local history, but now, he knows (really knows) what he is doing and saying. The road you have to take to get to Mauna Kea is called Saddle road and as both our "Guide" and our rental car agreement said its not a great road to drive on. We were actually asked not to take a rental car on this road due to the conditions, which was another reason we felt good about taking this tour. He shared lots of great information with us on the trip up. The drive to the visitors center (9,200 ft) took a little over an hour. You are strongly encouraged to hang out at the Visitors Center for at least 30 minutes to acclimate to the altitude . We stopped for about an hour and had dinner (included with the tour). We were also given big jackets (-30°) to wear on the summit and there was a talk about safety before we departed. Then it was up the mountain. The road beyond the visitors center is why you need the 4-wheel drive. It is unpaved and rises 4,500 ft in about 8 miles. Once you reach the summit the roads are paved. His van (which was specially made in Pittsburgh) had no problem with this road. We stopped at 2 locations on the summit to see the view and all the observatories. This is a primo location if you want to observe the heavens so astronomers from all over the globe bid for time at the more than a dozen observatories on Mauna Kea. Due to the altitude they cannot stay on the summit for very long and are required a week acclimation period at the visitor center level. Something to note, you cant just walk up to the observatories and knock on there doors and expect to look in their telescopes. Some of them give tours, but at the time of day we were there several of them were repositioning. Just the buildings themselves are pretty cool. Our tour guide set up a telescope on the summit (which is not a part of the usual tour). We were able to all get great views of Mercury, Jupiter and Saturn (rings and all) before we had to tear down. These planets set early and we wouldn't have been able to see them if we hadn't viewed them from the summit. From there, we headed back down to the Visitors center to do some more stargazing. As it turns out we can actually see more at 9,000 ft than at 13,000 ft, because of the lack of oxygen to our optical nerve at the higher altitude. (Hmmm, looks like I did remember something) Back at 9,000 ft we set up the telescope again and were able to view several stars and constellations before the moon took over the sky. I have two comments here: 1. I have never seen a sky like the sky was at the Visitors center. I couldn't see my hand in front of my face and there were more stars than I have ever seen in my life. 2. It was really neat to see the Southern Cross, which is something those of us who live in the north don't get to see unless we leave home. We finished the tour with some hot cocoa and then a quiet drive home. Returning to the shopping center parking lot around 11:30 pm. What a great day.
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