In February, my husband and I found tickets to Hawaii that were less than $20/person, round trip. As it would be our last opportunity before the arrival of our baby boy in June, we jumped at the chance.
Once on the Big Island, we kept hearing about a must-see dormant volcano, Mauna Kea. From its base, it’s 33,000 feet tall, making it taller than Mount Everest . Much of the volcano is under water, only 13,802 feet of it is above sea level. It is one of the only places in the world where you can drive from sea level to almost 14,000 feet in about 2 hours. This extreme elevation change poses a threat to anyone in poor health, pregnant women, children under 16, or those who have respiratory problems.
Because I was expecting we were not allowed to go past the Visitor Information Center which was at 9,200 feet. Even though we could not go all the way to the summit, 4,602 feet further and only accessible by off-roading vehicles, I was pretty excited about this excursion.
As we made our ascent up the volcano I rolled down my window to see what we could expect of the night sky. First, I was alarmed to be met with bitter and bone chilling cold, in Hawaii; we had just been on a hot beach! Next, I was met with disappointment because there were hardly any stars visible in the clear sky. Was this a wasted excursion?!
When we got to the Visitor Center, the temperature was close to freezing and it was pitch black. We could not see in front of us; a midnight blackness enveloped us even though it was only around 8pm. As we made our way to the star viewing area, Kelan turned on his phone so we could have some light to guide us through the complete darkness. A volunteer urgently told Kelan to turn off his phone as only dim red flashlights were allowed on the premises. They did not allow any kind of light that would interfere with the star gazing, wanting to maintain the darkness.
When Kelan and I finally got situated and looked up, we were both completely stunned by what we saw. We stood in silence, gazing up in disbelief. Neither of us had ever seen anything like this breath-taking sky. Every millimeter of the sky was filled with millions of stars. They were bright, radiant, brilliant, and more numerous than I can put into words. Every few minutes Kelan would see a shooting star, as if it was a small matter.
I reflected to Kelan that it was incredible that only a few thousand feet below I couldn’t see these same stars. They were just as bright and as innumerable, but we couldn’t see them because of light pollution from two cities that were 34 and 55 miles away. It took us being thousands of feet up at the world’s 8th most isolated peak, in almost freezing temperatures, surrounded by a darkness I couldn’t explain, for us to finally see the light of these stars. I can’t even imagine what we would have seen at the summit.
You see, being in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, where there is minimal light pollution makes this peak one of the best places in the world to view the night sky. As such, 11 countries have funded 13 observation facilities on this peak. This peak is so high that while the Hawaiian beach was 80/90 degrees, this peak was covered in snow.
Sometimes we have to be in dark, cold, isolated places, to finally see the light that has always been there. In the darkest of night, the light is at its brightest.