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Map and directions for the Mauna Kea VIS Site
Another site that allows a amateur astronomer to take advantage of the pristine skies of Mauna Kea is located next to an electrical substation just a couple hundred yards east of the Mauna Kea VIS. Here you can enjoy a truly spectacular sky above the tropical haze and VOG of lower elevation Hawaiian locations. Far from the modest lights of Kona or Hilo there is almost no light pollution and the tropical inversion layer often keeps the clouds and rain well below this mountain site. While the site may see some early evening use by sunset watchers and possibly a tour van doing a star tour for their guests the majority of the night will offer an escape from the crowds across the road leaving the observer alone to enjoy the universe.
This location is across from the Mauna Kea VIS and accessible up a small gravel road passable by just about any vehicle. In the saddle between two small pu'us (cinder cones) there is a large flat area adjacent to a small electrical substation. This site offers excellent dark skies at 9,200ft (2,800m) with open western and eastern horizons. Mauna Kea blocks the northern horizon to an elevation of about 18 degrees with Polaris sitting right over the summit. Pu'u Kalepeamoa to the south (a small cinder cone) block some of the southern horizon.
The Substation site has some advantages and some disadvantages...
The VIS is more sheltered as it is below the small ridge and offers a somewhat better southern horizon.
The site is easily found by turning off the main road just below and opposite the entrance to the Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station. A break in the guard rails provides access to a short gravel road that proceeds straight up the hill to the saddle and the substation.
Star trail image taken from the Substation site looking towards the mountain. Visible are the lights of Hale Pohaku, switchbacks up to the summit and a golden swath in the sky painted by the Keck AO LASER.