Most people visit Hawaii for daytime activities: snorkeling, sunbathing, or exploring the active volcanic areas of each of the five main islands that attract travelers. For stargazing, Hawaii is also a great destination: each island offers a unique quality to the night sky, and Hawaii’s remoteness and concentrated residential development create dark sky areas that are among the best in the world.
Each of the Hawaiian islands offers something different to visitors – and all have fantastic stargazing spots. Below we’ve detailed some of your options on each of the five main islands, as well as one bonus stargazing ‘spot’ you might be surprised to learn about.
Whether you visit the Big Island (Hawaii), the Garden Island (Kauai), or any in between, you’ll be surprised how much fun can still be had after the sun sets over the beach. Here’s what you need to know about stargazing in Hawaii.
The Big Island
On Hawaii, you’ll find some of the world’s preeminent observatories, perched on the volcanic peaks that dominate the landscape. The Big Island is the youngest of the Hawaiian islands, less than a million years old. In fact, Hawaii is still growing due to volcanic activity as recently as 2018. This means that unlike some of the other islands, parts of Hawaii are vast stretches of lava with virtually no development or light pollution.
On some parts of the island, you can get away from everything and everyone in search of a dark night sky – and you’ll find it.
Best Stargazing Spots on the Big Island of Hawaii
Mauna Kea – Most known for its famous observatories, Mauna Kea and its slopes offer some of the best stargazing on Hawaii. There are several parking areas and roads where you can pull off the saddle road. From there, you can drive up onto the mountain to a good elevation (8,000ft+), and see some of the clearest, darkest skies in the world.
Mauna Loa – Mauna Loa was originally chosen as the site for Hawaii’s observatories. Unfortunately, its lower elevation made it more prone to cloud cover. On a clear night, the slopes of Mauna Loa are virtually empty. You’ll feel like you have the universe to yourself!
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park – After the volcanic activity in 2018 ended, there is no current lava flowing in the national park. This means that the air quality in Volcanoes National Park is at its clearest in years. Campgrounds like Kulanaokuaiki and Nāmakanipaio are the best places to go stargazing in the park.
Other Places to Go Stargazing on Hawaii
There are countless places where you can go stargazing on Hawaii’s Big Island. Ask your host or hotel concierge for their local insight and favorite places.
Many hotels on Hawaii offer stargazing programs right on site, too. At the Fairmont Orchid, local amateur astronomers come to the property on Friday nights. They set up a telescope and offer a view of the sky, plus do a guided talk that teaches about the night sky.
Stargazing Tours on the Big Island
If you want to ensure a great stargazing experience on the Big Island, consider booking with Epic Tours. This Hilo-based company offers stargazing tours combined with other activities – like waterfall viewing and lava tube hiking. Their tours run most nights and guide James brings the group as high up the slopes of Mauna Kea as necessary to find clear skies:
Book in advance to ensure you get a spot on these small group tours (six guests max per night!).
On Maui, you can stargaze from the mountains, the beach, or both in the same night! Maui’s two mountain ranges and connecting isthmus offer many different ecosystems and stargazing opportunities.
Best Stargazing Spots on the Maui
Haleakalā – Haleakalā National Park is Maui’s famous volcano and stargazing spot. Home to a mountaintop observatory, you can also ascend after dark for stargazing on your own (or with a tour). There are several pullouts and overlooks that are perfect spots.
Kalahaku Overlook – The most popular overlook on Haleakalā, this site on the western slopes has unobstructed views and virtually no light pollution. It’s a great spot to watch the sunset too, and then see the stars pop out overhead.
Honomanū Bay – On the northern shore, Honomanū Bay is another good stargazing spot. The bay offers natural protection from the light pollution of nearby communities.
Stargazing Tours on Maui
There are several tour operators on Maui, but Maui Stargazing is the most popular. Their 5-hour stargazing tours will let you watch the sunset on Haleakalā summit followed by over an hour of telescope time.
The Hyatt Tour of the Stars is one of the best-known stargazing tours on Maui. The Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa offers several shows nightly (usually 8:00 pm and 9:00 pm), weather permitting. You don’t need to be a hotel guest to book this tour.
Don’t overlook little Moloka’i as a stargazing destination. This small island receives fewer visitors but makes up for it with limited development and dark skies over the whole island. In particular, Kaupoa Beach on the western shore is well-isolated and you can stargaze while the waves crash on the shore.
Oahu is the most popular Hawaiian islands to visit since the capital (and largest) city, Honolulu, is located there. The island is small enough that you can easily reach stargazing spots even if you stay in the big city. Here are some of the top spots from our stargazing in Honolulu guide:
Diamond Head State Monument – Diamond Head State Monument is the crater of a dormant volcano. Although the gates close at 6 pm, it’s still possible to get an excellent view of the stars from its parking area. It’s also a popular tourist attraction, so expect a crowd to be there.
Mount Tantalus – Mount Tantalus is a massive cinder cone located near the city of Honolulu. Along with providing a great view of Honolulu in general, it also provides an excellent view of the night sky. It’s a perfect spot for those who enjoy both hiking and stargazing.
Hanauma Bay – This beach is a very famous tourist area, and is a great place for snorkeling and watching the marine life. It’s open at night two weekends a month for night snorkeling. This is a good time to grab your telescope and go stargazing. The beach’s lack of light pollution makes it very easy to see the stars.
Lastly, Kauai has its own special opportunity for stargazing. The small, circular island is distant from others and you can go stargazing on basically any of the shores in any direction.
- Salt Pond Park – Located on the southern shore, Salt Pond Park is a popular and easy-access spot for snorkeling, swimming, and fishing during the day. At night, you can stay at the campground and go stargazing.
- Polihale State Park – Polihale State Park is a little harder to reach on the western shore, but as a result, it’s even more isolated. This means you’ll have virtually no light pollution to interfere with your stargazing session while you camp in the park.
- Ha‘ena State Park – On the north shore, Ha‘ena State Park is both easy access and isolated, making it possibly the best option if the skies are clear or you have limited time on Kauai. You can camp right on the beach here, too.
If you’re looking for a guided stargazing tour on Kauai, Stargaze Kauai is your best bet. The guide lives on Kauai’s west side (which has clearer sky prospects), and hosts tours at sites on that side of the island.
On a Cruise
The above sections cover all your stargazing options in Hawaii, right? Actually, there’s one last way to see the stars, and it ranks among the best: from a boat!
While some of the big cruise companies offer Hawaiian cruises, your best bet is on a charter vessel or a small-ship cruise. The most popular by far is UnCruise. Their Hawaiian cruise itineraries allow you to explore the islands and waterways by day (think snorkeling every day), and stay up late to admire the stars at night.
While you won’t have much success with a telescope or shooting astrophotos from the UnCruise ship due to wave action, your eyes can certainly enjoy the wonders of the night sky including the expanse of the Milky Way and even some southern hemisphere constellations (like the Southern Cross!).
Have questions about stargazing in Hawaii or cruising in Hawaii? Let us know in the comments!
Featured photo credit: j.a.woodhouse via Flickr