In June of 2016, my nephew and I embarked on a science expedition to beautiful Mauna Kea, located on The Big Island in Hawaii. The main reason for our trek? Mauna Kea—the tallest mountain/volcano in the Hawaiian chain. Its summit rises to an elevation of 4205m above sea level and it boasts the world's largest telescopic array.
The journey to the top of Mauna Kea is by vehicle only as it is definitely not the type of mountain you climb, at least not for mere mortals like us. We boarded the vehicle in Hilo where it was sunny and hot; everyone in tank tops with the air conditioning cranked. By the time we got to the top, the air conditioning was off, heat on, and we were swathed in blankets and winter parkas. The winding route up the mountain makes most travellers nauseous and dizzy so we were advised to nibble dark chocolate as a preventative. The scientific reason? The theobromine helps with altitude sickness. Okay! Yum.
Of course, going to Hawaii is not all about the telescopes. There's some seriously beautiful terrestrial views too! The landscape of The Big Island varies dramatically and driving a vehicle across the island is the best way to experience this. One moment you're driving through a luscious, green gulch and the next moment you're cruising through a desert-like plain reminiscent of the surface of Mars. From active volcanos and steam vents to tangled jungles, it's a geological wonderland at every turn.
There are only a handful of green sand beaches in the world—so of course, being that this was a science expedition, we had to make the journey to The Big Island's famous Green Sands Beach located at the most southerly tip of the Hawaii. Getting there wasn't easy! The drive involved some serious off-roading in the rental vehicle (not recommended). Once we reached the bluffs, we then had the choice to hike the remaining 3 km to our coveted destination or pay a local Hawaiian to 4-wheel us in. Normally, we're all about the exercise, but we took one look at our prospective chauffeur and couldn't refuse—a teenage Hawaiian girl wearing neon green sunglasses and sitting behind the steering wheel of a chewed up truck with pimped-out suspension. Hanging from her rear-view mirror—a crucifix; we grinned at each other with wondrous trepidation and climbed aboard her bad-ass rig. Best. Ride. Ever.
We don't profess to be stellar photographers, but we think these pics capture the essence of our expedition.
So there we have it—a trip of a lifetime. And the best part is, we did this expedition on a tight budget. We flew economy—3 planes there, 3 planes back (oh how we love flying). We stayed at Arnott's Lodge in Hilo for most of our trip, featuring apartment-type accommodations complete with kitchen utilities, allowing us to make all of our own meals (saved a fortune).
Oh, by the way, we also went snorkelling with Manta Rays in Kona, but took no photos because we wanted to absorb the experience with our naked eyes in real-time. Also, neither of us own an underwater camera, LOL. Next time, for sure!
Expand your holodeck!
-Danielle & Will