Category Hawaii Travel - TravelQuest International
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Category Hawaii Travel

Think of Hawaii, and multiple images immediately spring to mind: Sun, surf, sand, volcanoes, remarkable scenery, and diverse wildlife. It’s an amazing chain of eight major islands, with so much to do and see on each one. Instead of rushing about, trying to squeeze in a visit to three or four islands on your next Hawaiian vacation, consider visiting just one—Hawaii itself.

The Big Island of Hawaii is the jewel of the Hawaiian archipelago. On this geologically youngest of the islands is a natural wonderland replete with waterfalls, rainforests, pristine beaches, botanical wonders, exotic birds, and colorful marine life. The island is also a paradise for starwatchers. In addition to its renowned observatories, Maunakea (the Hawaiian spelling of Mauna Kea) boasts what is arguably the best astronomical viewing anywhere, revealing deep-sky phenomena in both the northern and southern celestial hemispheres. From the stars above to the sea below, the Big Island is home to many extremes.

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Why Travel to Hawaii?

Our Hawaiian Fire and Skies [https://travelquesttours.com/hawaiian-fire-and-skies/] tour crisscrosses the Big Island, the largest in the Hawaiian archipelago. We take you to a wonderland of beautiful beaches, stunning waterfalls, lush rainforests, and volcanoes. Kilauea, one of the five volcanoes that form the Big Island, rises 4,100 feet (1,250 meters) above the Pacific. While its slopes are etched with rivers of old, hardened lava, Kilauea is also the most active of the five volcanoes. According to traditional Hawaiian beliefs, Pele, the goddess of volcanoes, dwells in Kilauea’s fiery depths.

About 40 miles (65 km) to the north lies Maunakea, a long-dormant volcano that is the world’s tallest mountain when measured from the sea floor, reaching a height of 33,500 ft (10,200 m) from its undersea base. At its summit, a site long held sacred by Hawaiians, is one of the best astronomical vantage points on Earth. Here are 13 working telescopes: nine for optical and infrared astronomy, three for submillimeter wavelength astronomy, and one for radio astronomy.

After descending from the beautiful but desolate peak of the mountain to sea level, we find Kealakekua Bay on the western side of the Big Island. Here you can enjoy swimming and snorkeling at one of Hawaii’s most spectacular coral reefs. Because it is a Marine Life Conservation District, fish are plentiful in the bay and swarm over the well-developed reef that slopes steeply from the shore into the nearby depths.

These are some of the contrasts you’ll find on the Big Island. Rainforests and volcanic heights, barren mountaintops and stunning coral reefs, glimpses of the planet’s molten heart under vast, star-filled skies, and the intuitions of an ancient faith alongside the precise observations of science. These are the dimensions of Hawaii that we celebrate in TravelQuest’s unique Hawaiian vacation. It’s an exceptional exploration of natural beauty, rich culture, and spectacular astronomy that we’re proud to offer travelers in the summer of 2021.

On our drive to the observatories atop Maunakea, we’ll ascend 14,000 ft (4,200 m) in elevation, with acclimatization stops along the way. (Photo by TravelQuest)
In August, the center of our Milky Way galaxy is well placed for viewing from the Onizuka Visitor Center on Maunakea. (Phot by S. Brunier /European Southern Observatory)

Stargaze in a Tropical Paradise

There are plenty of Hawaii excursions on offer, so why choose TravelQuest? Our itinerary is not your standard sun, sand, and surf combination. For one thing, our Hawaiian holiday focuses solely on the Big Island, with stays in Kona and Hilo plus two nights at the historic Volcano House Hotel inside Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. In addition, we’ll help you discover a number of the Big Island’s many natural gems, including Kealakekua Bay, Punaluu Black Sand Beach, and Akaka Falls.

As a special part of our Hawaii travel, we’ll take you to the famed Maunakea observatories. During an afternoon on the Big Island, we’ll drive up to the summit, with several stops along the way to acclimatize to the increasing elevation. One of our stops will be at the Onizuka Visitor Center (elevation 9,300 ft / 2,800 m) to get hydrated and explore its small museum and gift shop. Continuing upward, we arrive at the summit, about 14,000 ft (4,200 m) above sea level. Here you can walk around the spectacular observatory complex, which includes the largest optical/infrared telescopes in the world (the twin Keck telescopes), the largest dedicated infrared telescope (UKIRT), and the largest submillimeter telescope in the world (the JCMT). Please note that we will not be able to go inside any of the observatories. You can also see how construction is progressing on the Thirty-Meter Telescope (TMT), which will be world’s largest when it’s completed later in this decade.

At sunset, looking out over the tops of clouds more than 6,500 ft (1,970 m) below, you may be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the elusive green flash. This atmospheric effect lasts for only a few seconds, appearing just above the disk of the Sun as it sets beneath the Pacific horizon. Then we head back down the mountain to the Visitor Center for an evening of Moon-free deep-sky observing prior to our late-night return to the hotel.

If you’re keen to enjoy another evening of high-elevation stargazing during your Hawaiian vacation, we’ve arranged an optional return visit (for an additional fee) to the Onizuka Visitor Center with a boxed dinner to view the bright arch of the summertime Milky Way. At this time of year, the heart of our Milky Way galaxy is well placed in the southern Hawaiian sky. In the dark sky over the observing deck of the Visitor Center, the bright star clouds and dark dust lanes in the galactic core are outstanding.

The black sand on Punaluu Beach is made from fragments of basalt, a dark, fine-grained volcanic rock. (Photo by Collette Tours/TQ)
The Kilauea caldera is the collapsed summit of the Kilauea volcano, which has erupted regularly between 1983 and 2018. (Photo by TravelQuest)
Within a lush rainforest is breathtaking Akaka Falls, where water tumbles 420 feet (130 m) into a deep gorge. (Photo by TravelQuest)

Stars Above and Fire Below

Our Hawaiian holiday is unusual in that we spend all of our time on the Big Island of Hawaii. From the stars above to the sea below, Hawaii is home to many extremes. It boasts the planet’s most active volcano, the world’s preeminent astronomical observatory, and Hawaii’s largest native population. The Big Island is twice again as large as all the other Hawaiian isles combined. The entire isle is a natural wonderland replete with volcanoes, waterfalls, rainforests, exotic flora and fauna, and colorful marine life. It is also a haven for stargazers and astronomical research, and stargazing at an elevation of 9,300 ft (2,800 m) is sure to be a highlight. As such, our trip astronomer is with us during our Hawaii travels, to help guide our nighttime observing and discusses the research ongoing at the various observatories.

Another highlight is the time spent in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. From Halemaumau Crater and the Thurston Lava Tube, to pit craters, smoking cinder cones, and searching for active lava flows, our two days spent in the National Park promise to be fascinating. We spend two nights at historic Volcano House, spectacularly situated on the rim of Kilauea’s crater. On both nights, weather and volcanic activity permitting, you might have the rare experience of seeing new earth form by your feet while you scan the stars overhead.

Travel to Hawaii creates many memorable moments. Join us and create yours. (Photo by TravelQuest)

Join Us In Hawaii

TravelQuest’s 2021 Hawaiian Fire and Skies tour is a one-of-a-kind Hawaii travel adventure. We combine the magic of Hawaii’s volcanic peaks and amazing biodiversity with unmatched stargazing above the ocean’s far horizons. It’s an itinerary filled with many astronomical and natural wonders. And if you’re interested in extending your Hawaiian vacation after the tour, it’s an easy flight to the other Hawaiian islands for you to explore on your own. Space is limited on this special journey, so contact us today for more information and to make your reservation.

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