Stargazing in Hawaii (part 4 of 4)

Here is part four of the travel diary about my trip to the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Day 11: Wednesday, August 1

Eight hours of sleep at a more oxygenated altitude erased last night’s headache. I enjoy my final meal at HP – a giant stack of meatballs with curly fries – and drive back down to the JAC offices in Hilo. This is my first visit to Hawaii, so I’m tacking on two days of sightseeing before flying home. First, though, I’ll spend one night in Hilo to catch up on lost sleep. Uncle Billy gives me the same room as last time at his Hilo Bay Hotel.

Following a suggestion from, I head out for dinner at Cafe Pesto on Kamehameha Avenue, described as “a reasonably nice restaurant with a view of the bay [and] a wide range of food, everything from pizzas to furikake-crusted ono.” The restaurant is packed, but there’s still room at the bar. I order a pizza Luau (“Kalua pork, local sweet onions and fresh Hawaiian pineapple”) and a passion-mango margarita. The kitchen is right in front of me, and while waiting for the pizza to arrive, there’s plenty of entertainment in watching the cooks (all male) and waitresses (all female) prepare and serve the food. The promised view of the bay exists only beyond a small parking lot and a fairly wide boulevard. On the other hand, was spot-on about the food: my margarita and my pizza are “reasonably nice”: inoffensive, catering to a wide audience, but lacking in real flavor. The pizza crust is particularly bland.

Days 12 and 13: Wednesday and Thursday, August 2 and 3

The islands of Hawaii are the exposed peaks of an undersea mountain range, formed (and still forming!) as the Pacific plate slowly moves across a hotspot in Earth’s mantle. Mauna Kea rises 10,200 m (33,500 ft) above the Pacific Ocean floor. The top 4,200 m (13,800 ft) are above sea level and form about half of the Big Island. (Mauna Loa accounts for the other half.) The Big Island, called Hawaii itself, is the southernmost island and the most recent one to emerge from the Pacific. Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa are now dormant, but a third volcano on the island’s south side, Kilauea, is still active. Lava continues to ooze (and occasionally erupt) from one or more vents on Kilauea, making the Big Island a little bigger every day.

My two days of sightseeing take me to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which covers most of Kilauea along with the southern slopes of Mauna Loa. I’m not going to say much about my visit to the park except to note that Volcanoes is stunningly beautiful, with landscapes of a kind that I’ve never seen anywhere else. My first view of the Kilauea caldera, with the smoking Halemaumau crater in the middle, is a sight I won’t soon forget. I got up at 4am on Thursday to be back in the park before sunrise. In the dark, you can see the fiery red glow from the boiling lava lake at the bottom of Halemaumau reflected in the billowing smoke. Another highlight was the frozen lava flow right across Chain of Craters Road – definitive proof that the forces of nature far outclass the forces of mankind. I trust the pictures (click to enlarge) and videos below convey some of the beauty and wonder I experienced on my two days in Volcanoes.

Sulfur crystals deposited by sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide seeping out of the ground.
The Halemaumau crater in the Kilauea caldera.
At night, the glow from the lava lake in the Halemaumau crater is reflected in the smoke cloud.

Since 1986s, lava from the Puu Oo vent has been flowing across Chain of Craters Road.
Once solid, the lava takes on many different shapes. Here it looks like coiled ropes.
The Devestation Trail runs through a former forest, destroyed in a 1959 eruption of Kilauea.

Day 14: Saturday, August 4

I’m back home after three pretty uneventful flights from Hilo to Honolulu, Salt Lake City, and finally Detroit. We took off from Hilo into cloudy skies. As we broke through the clouds, we had a clear view of the summits of Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea. Perched atop the latter, I could just make out the JCMT and some of the other telescopes. I couldn’t have wished for a better end to my trip.

1 thought on “Stargazing in Hawaii (part 4 of 4)”

  1. Wow! Amazing trip, leaving aside the fact that you didn’t get too much useful info for your project, but at least the scenery was fantastic! Your video going up to the telescope and the one you took with the sunset were really mind blowing and the ones with the solid lava followed close behind. I’d sure love to get there at some point :)

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