attractions big island things to do

Stargazing at Mauna Kea on the Big Island

You’ve never see so many stars!

When was the last time you saw the Milky Way or even a shooting star?

Do you remember when there seemed to be so many more stars when you looked into the clear night sky? Sadly, as time passes and cities continue to grow, light pollution blemishes our view, causing stars to seemingly fade away, never to be seen again.

Person taking pictures of the stars at night
Taking in millions of stars at Mauna Kea on the Big Island.

We have good news. When you visit the island of Hawaii (The Big Island), you can rediscover the stars in their full glory. No doubt, there are advantages to being so far away from the ambient glow of major cities. On the Big Island, the sky is so clear and black that even the faintest of stars can be spotted.

Popular stargazing spots on the Big Island.

Try spending an evening lying on a beach, gazing at the stars with the waves crashing on the shore—it’s a refreshing, humbling experience you’ll want to experience again and again. Even the moon looks a little closer when seen from Hawaii’s largest and youngest island!

Viewing the stars from the stark darkness of a lava field will give you the eerie feeling of seeing them from the surface of the moon. Be sure to wear proper shoes when walking on the lava, however. Bring along a flashlight so you can find a nice flat area to sit down.

If you feel like taking your stargazing to the next level, few places on earth are better for watching the heavens than the summit of Mauna Kea. Thirteen giant telescopes are operated at the summit, where there’s practically no light pollution. The mountain’s 9,300-foot elevation level is where you find the Ellison S. Onizuka Center for International Astronomy, named in honor of Hawaii’s first astronaut. The center shows fascinating videos about astronomy and provides two telescopes to aid stargazers.

You’ll need a 4-WD vehicle to traverse the steep unpaved road if you want to proceed past the center. Keep in mind that you will not be permitted to look through any of the telescopes at the summit, and only the Keck observatory has a visitor’s gallery to view the telescope itself during the day. Staying at the summit after nightfall is also not permitted.

Telescope at the top of Mauna Kea volcano
One of the thirteen giant telescopes on Mauna Kea summit


From Kailua- Kona drive on highway 190 toward Waimea. Turn right on Saddle road. Make a left on Mauna Kea Access Rd. Continue on Mauna Kea Access road until reaching Onizuka Center. Take a break there until acclimating to the high altitude. Then continue until you reach the top of Mauna Kea.