After a long flight and crossing two time zones (the first stop Seattle is 2 hours behind Chicago and Hawaii is 3 hours behind Seattle) we reached Kona Airport in Big Island on 16th April around 21:30. After picking up rental car we drove to our Hotel in the downtown Kona Area. The hotel “Kona Seaside Hotel” is a nice, decent budget hotel but the highlight and the main reason I chose it is the location. It’s in downtown Kona with a walking distance from utility/grocery/gift shops and various eat outs. Pizza Hut, Taco Bell & a local restaurant “Quinn almost by the sea” is very near to it. After a long flight we crashed into the bed as soon as possible.
We got up very early next morning. The highlight of the day was a trip to the pick of the “tallest” mountain of the world Mauna Kea and a star gazing program by a company called “Mauna Kea Summit Adventures”. (http://www.maunakea.com/)
Note: The Tallest mountain Trivia: The summit of Mount Everest is higher above sea level than the summit of any other mountain, but Mauna Kea is the tallest when measured from base to summit. When measuring mountain summits by their height above sea level, Mount Everest is the highest mountain in the world.
As the Mauna Kea sunset & star gazing tour pickup was scheduled in the afternoon, we planned to explore the Waipio valley in the morning. The Waipio valley lookout area was 63 miles (around 1 hour 45 minutes) drive from Kona area. It is located in the Hamakua District. “Waipio” means “curved (pio) water (wai)” in the Hawaiian language. It is also known as “The Valley of the Kings” as it once housed the kings of ancient Hawaii and served as a retreat for Hawaiian royalty.
We booked a shuttle tour named “Waipio Valley Shuttle” (http://www.waipiovalleyshuttle.com/) for a tour down in the valley through the steepest road of its length in the United States and possibly the world. The road gains 800 vertical feet (243.84 m) in 0.6 miles (0.9 km) at a 25% average grade, with steeper grades in sections.
The tour was scheduled from 8.30 in the morning .As it was our first stop ever in Hawaii, to understand the road & traffic condition we started a little early and reached there by 7:45. The company who runs this tour has a nice little cafeteria and a gift store adjacent to tour office which opens around 8:05. Luckily the tour we availed became a private tour for us as no one was there apart from us (after the tour when we were coming back we found they normally have full packed tours, so we got quite lucky).
Our guide was Douglas who is a great guy along with his amazing driving skill and his passion & knowledge of the valley. He kept the door open of the van all the time so we could take a better look and pictures of the valley. The lifestyle of the people living in the valley who primarily operate taro farms, is fascinatingly different & interesting. We came to know about their agriculture and two main products-Noni and Poi. He also took us to the area where they do their weekly wild pig hunting. Overall it was a “up close and personal” tour to real Hawaiian living and probably a better start of the trip could not be happened.
Waipio Valley Overlook
Into the valley
The Wild Pig Hunting Trail
One last look at the valley..
We drove back to our hotel and after lunch walked(0.3 mile) to our pick up point for the Mauna Kea tour. They picked us up by 14:45 in a small bus. We have 12 more people (from all over the world) as our co passengers. The tour guide Chris was very processional and knowledgeable; He provided us information all through out the journey to visitor station (about 9,200ft) not only about Mauna Kea but about Big island primarily through the zones we were passing through. The added attraction was a drive through the curvy old saddle road through heavy rain which was actually an improvisation as some construction work was going on the new saddle road. After arrival at visitor center we have been provided hooded warm jackets, gloves and most importantly, food (decent tasting cheese vegetable lasagna). After 30 minutes he drove us to the pick which was a magical place and probably one of the best sunset locations I have ever been.
Note: For more photos and the full album with higher resolution visit my page in
On our way back (after 15-20 mintes of sunset) we came to a dark spot for the stargazing through telescope. Here comes the most disappointing part of the tour for me (Although I realized that I had set a wrong plan & expectation for this part). My plan was to capture the stunning Milky Way and probably some star trail, but could not do it as,
a) They designed the tour for stargazing through telescope and it was not sensible to jeopardize the set up for everyone by using flashlight while setting up the camera & tripod for the shooting
b) The location was ideal to see Jupitar and various celestial bodies, But not a perfect location to create a good composition of Star Trail and Milky way
c) The sky was not very clear that night which is a must for star photography.
So I realized that things are not going as per the plan after trying 5-7 minutes and quickly joined the rest of the group for the star show through telescope. I must say it was very informative & impressive.During the stargazing they served up tea, coffee, or hot chocolate along with biscotti cookies.
All in all, it was a beautiful magical day and a great start of the trip…