Hawaii Tours to Hawaiian Islands, Stargazing Hawaii - TravelQuest
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Hawaii Tours

The chain of eight major islands that comprise the state of Hawaii is a popular destination for holiday makers. The islands are easy to get to, there’s plenty to see and do on each island, and it’s a great place to either just relax or partake in assorted festivities. But there’s more to a Hawaiian vacation than sun, sand, surf, and parties. If you want to explore the islands to see and do something out of the ordinary, you should seriously consider joining a Hawaii tour.

TravelQuest’s Hawaiian Fire and Skies tour is definitely out of the ordinary. Our trip focuses exclusively on the Big Island, a natural wonderland of waterfalls, rainforests, botanical wonders, exotic fauna, and colorful marine life. Of course we’ll visit some of the Big Island’s scenic gems including Kealakekua Bay, Punaluu Black Sand Beach, and Akaka Falls. We’ll also explore volcanoes and lava flows, plus we’ll visit a premier astronomical observatory and do a little stargazing from 9,300 feet (2,800 meters). This is not your typical Hawaiian tour.

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Tour the Big Island

Kilauea, one of the five volcanoes that form the Big Island of Hawaii, rises 4,100 ft (1,250 m) above the Pacific, its slopes etched with rivers of hardened lava. According to traditional Hawaiian beliefs, in Kilauea’s fiery depths dwells Pele, the goddess of volcanoes. Meanwhile, about 40 miles (65 km) to the north lies Maunakea (the Hawaiian spelling of Mauna Kea). This long-dormant volcano is the world’s tallest mountain when measured from the sea bottom, 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, with a collection of 13 telescopes peering into the cosmos.

These are the kinds of contrasts you find amidst Hawaii’s rainforests and volcanic peaks: 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. From the stars above to the sea below, the Big Island 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, which means there is more than enough to see on a tour of Hawaii.

Standing near the summit of Maunakea, a couple waits for sunset, hoping to catch a glimpse of the green flash. (Photo by Aram Kaprielian/TQ)
In August, the center of our Milky Way galaxy is well placed for viewing from the Onizuka Visitor Center on Maunakea. (Photo by S. Brunier/European Southern Observatory)

Stargaze in a Tropical Paradise

There are plenty of Hawaii tours on offer, so why choose TravelQuest? Our itinerary is not your standard sun, sand, and surf combination. For one thing, our tour of Hawaii 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.

As a special part of our Hawaiian tour, 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 mere 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’d like to enjoy another evening of high-elevation stargazing during your Hawaii tour, 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.

Walking through the beautiful Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden. (Photo by Aram Kaprielian/TQ)
Strolling across an old, hardened lava flow in Hawaii’s Volcanoes National Park. (Photo by Aram Kaprielian/TQ)
The west side of the Big Island is known as the “Kona side.” We’ll spend our final Hawaiian evening here. (Photo by TravelQuest)

Why TravelQuest for Hawaii?

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. 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 from the Onizuka Visitor Center 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 all of our tour in Hawaii, to help guide our nighttime observing and discuss 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.

We’ll visit the magnificent Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden and Akaka Falls, where water tumbles 420 ft (130 m) into a deep gorge. An additional treat will be our half-day sail aboard our 60-ft custom catamaran to Kealakekua Bay, where we’ll swim and snorkel around one of Hawaii’s most spectacular coral reefs. This is a protected area, so fish are plentiful, swarming in multicolored clouds over the reef as it slopes down steeply into the depths. Of course, no trip to Hawaiian tour is complete without a traditional Hawaiian luau, which we’ll enjoy during the evening after our swimming and snorkeling excursion.

In Kealakekua Bay we’ll swim and snorkel around one of Hawaii’s most spectacular coral reefs. (Photo by TravelQuest)

An Unforgettable Hawaiian Tour

TravelQuest’s Hawaiian Fire and Skies trip is a one-of-a-kind tour of Hawaii. Our journey combines the magic of the Big Island’s volcanic peaks and amazing biodiversity with unmatched stargazing above the ocean’s clouds. It’s an itinerary filled with many astronomical and natural wonders. And, if you’re interested in extending your tour in Hawaii, it’s an easy flight to the other Hawaiian islands for you to explore on your own. If you’d like to join us on our next Hawaiian adventure, contact TravelQuest for more information.

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