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Mauna Kea Stargazing and Moonrise


I recently went on a short trip to the Big Island with a group of Hawaii photographers (Tom Anderson, John Hook, Samantha Hook, Dallas Nagata White and Ed White). The weather was cold and rainy on Oahu, so on a whim, we decided to fly out to Big Island for the weekend to shoot some landscapes. The weather forecast was looking better there.


The flight was nice and empty.


We arrived in Kona on a Friday night, checked in to our condo rental, got bundled up, and drove out to Mauna Kea. The important part of that last sentence is “got bundled up.” When you go to Mauna Kea, wear a lot of layers. Dress like you’re going snowboarding. Especially at night.


The drive to the summit of Mauna Kea from Kona should take about two hours. You don’t need to go all the way to the top though for stargazing.


On the way up, we took a few breaks to take photos of things. And wizz.


I’ve never seen that many stars before.

When you go stargazing, you want to be in as dark an environment as possible. That’s why a remote place like Mauna Kea is so great. For one, the Big Island doesn’t have much city lights. And for two, the summit of Mauna Kea is 13,803 feet above sea level. Even if you’re not at the summit, you’re going to be way up there.

But remember this too, the moon is bright and will wash out stars. Make sure you find out when the moon rises and time your stargazing accordingly. We drove up in time to get maybe 30 minutes of stargazing and then catch the moonrise.


Just like how sunrises are stunning, so are moonrises. They can even take on a golden hue if you are in a dark enough environment. We saw the glow as it started to rise above the clouds.


When it rose, the moon was super bright. It wasn’t even a full moon on this day either.


We drove further up the mountain to get a better look.


The moon lit up the rolling clouds below us.


Clouds looks o fluffy when you see them from up above.


Looking south we could see Mauna Loa peeking above the clouds.

I should remind you now, that it was FREEZING up here. I think we spent close to an hour stargazing and moon watching. After just ten minutes or so I couldn’t feel the tips of my fingers which meant I couldn’t feel the buttons on my camera. So it turned out that fingerless gloves, as cool as they looked on me, were not the call for this night of stargazing on Mauna Kea. Dress warm and bring real gloves.


I know this looks dubious but it’s not. As we drove down the mountain, John pulled over to inspect this road kill (we did not hit it.).


John an Tom got closer to figure out what it was. Turns out it was a sheep.


And then an epic selfie was created. Which, if you want to see it, came out like this.


Being that we were all here on a mission to shoot landscapes, we turned our attention to the road and noticed this view.


When we got back to Kona we unpacked our gear. John Hook and Dallas Nagata White are professional photographers on Oahu (I am a total amateur) so I was interested in learning how they travel.


We filled up all the sockets with battery chargers.


Tom got to selecting and editing a photo.


Dallas and I checked out what he was working on. Tom only recently discovered a passion for photography. But he shoots everyday and his pictures are ridiculously good. He tries to post a photo a day on his Instagram account


On this night we all got to gather around his laptop and give our unsolicited advice on how he should post process his photo.


Ed (Dallas’s husband) shoots with a dSLR but has become more interested in taking photos with his phone. His goal is to prove that it not the camera that takes good photos. Have a look at his photos ( and you’ll see what he can do with that thing.


The next morning we woke up and found that our view from the lanai was amazing.


We were about to start day two of our Big Island photo adventure which would involve lava.

Photos from day two coming soon…

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This story was last modified on May 18, 2013. (Originally published in January 2013.)

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