Wait, what? Winter wear in Hawaii? Not many people realize that Hawaii’s tallest volcano, Mauna Kea, tops out at just under 14,000 feet and even gets a few snowfalls a year. Bearing the cold might not sound like much fun considering you went to the islands for the sunshine, but trust me, the payload of these activities are well worth the price of a small shiver.
Sunrise and Self-Guided Bike Descent at Haleakala, Maui
Haleakala, which means “House of the Sun,” is an active volcano and Maui’s highest peak at just over 10,000 ft. The summit is a very popular place to watch the sunrise, and before the sun comes out the temperature is quite chilly (I recommend a few layers and gloves). But it’s a very beautiful sunrise given that you are above the clouds, and the way the light is spread as the day dawns is truly spectacular.
You can drive to the top just to see the sunrise, or you can hop on a bike tour that will shuttle you up and let you ride down the volcano. I must say we had a ton of fun doing this, starting above the clouds, zipping through switchbacks, and feeling the temperature rise as I descended back down towards sea level (shedding the layers felt really good). There are a lot of bike tour operators that can give you somewhat of a similar experience, but I recommend this self-guided version because, unlike others, it allows you to ride down the mountain on your own and at your own pace.
I passed many a line of bikers on my way down who had to ride in a single file line along with a dozen others behind a guide regardless of their ability levels, which certainly did not look like as much fun. I liked the ability to make my own decisions and stop at any vista or restaurant I chose on the 25-mile ride back to the bike shop.
Sunset and Stargazing at Mauna Kea, Hawaii Island
Mauna Kea’s summit soars up to 13,796 feet above sea level, from which you can experience temperatures in the 30s and watch the sunset. It isn’t much warmer at the visitor center (9,200 ft), but it is literally one of the premier places in the world to stargaze. On my visit, my guide estimated there were anywhere from 3,000 to 4,000 stars visible, and I don’t think he was exaggerating one bit. It was extremely difficult for me, a casual observer of the sky, to pick out familiar constellations due to the sheer number of stars that are typically not present when looking up from, say, my back yard.
It is imperative that you go on a tour that is led by someone with celestial knowledge (such as this one). My guide set up a telescope and let me view another galaxy through it, one located 2.5 million light years away. If you know anything about the light we see from stars, you know that means the light we saw from that galaxy is from 2.5 million years ago, before humans as we know them existed on earth!
A few more fun facts about Mauna Kea: NASA tested its Mars Rover there because the terrain was the most comparable to that of Mars; It gets a few snowfalls a year, which attracts locals to the top to sled and snowboard. They also fill the back of their pickups with snow and bring it down to sea level to make snowmen on the beach; The summit hosts the world’s largest astronomical observatory, made up of 13 telescopes operated by eleven countries.
Night Swimming with Manta Rays, Kona, Hawaii Island
A wet suit and shots of
whiskey adrenaline will do the trick while you’re in the water, but you might want a pullover for the boat ride back after spending an hour floating in the water at night amongst a few dozen manta rays. The friendly beasts are far from shy, swimming right under you thanks to the bright light attached to your flotation raft that attracts the plankton they eat. The manta rays do somersaults in an effort to maximize their plankton intake, their bellies coming within inches of our snorkel masks. Curious? This video is pretty accurate, and I can recommend these guys to show you a good time.