Mauna Kea kuahiwi ku ha'o ika malie
(Mauna Kea is the astonishing mountain that stands in the calm)
We just had a three day party at Uncle Bob's house with some wonderful couchsurfers from France and England as well as our friend Graham (he is one of the Canadians who picked us up hitchhiking last week).
When Graham picked us up we told him about Mauna Kea and the awesome volunteer program (link here). We are encouraging everyone we meet here to do this because it is such a unique opportunity to learn about astronomy in this special place. I didn't know if he would but he showed up at Mauna Kea on Saturday night and got a ride with us back to Hilo Town that night and partying ensued.
Mauna Kea means "white mountain" because it is often topped with snow and ice. At the peak (approximately 14000 ft) you are above 40% of the Earth's atmosphere. There is a tropical lake fed by permafrost near the summit called lake Waiau. The ancient Hawaiians would bring the umbilical cords (piko) of their children here for good luck. The lake itself was considered the "umbilical connection" to the earth.
The ancient Hawaiians revered this place as the domain of the gods. It was known as Mauna O Wakea or Mountain of the deity Wakea (the sky father). It is the tallest mountain in the world (not the highest peak) and it seems absurd that you can just drive your 4x4 all the way up.
I could go on! This is a place rich in spiritual history and scientific discovery. The telescopes on Mauna Kea are of the highest quality and plans are moving forward to build the largest mirror yet. At 30m across it will be three times that of the largest mirror currently. The larger the mirror, the more light can be collected and therefore we will be able to see farther back in "time". We are seeing things billions of light years away now, so this means we will be even closer to seeing back to the "big bang".
I think this is the most exciting and rewarding thing we have done on Hawaii and we plan on volunteering as much as we can before we leave. The people we have met up there, rangers, employees and other volunteers have all been so wonderful.