Travel Tradition: Stargazing

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Travel Traditions

After a brief hiatus, we’re back with another edition in our Travel Traditions series. And with this tradition, it’s something that is both free and can be done anywhere on any of the Hawaiian islands. How sweet it that!

Picture Worth a Thousand Stars

Allow me to start with one of my favorite (and luckiest) photos on this week’s topic, Stargazing.

Galaxies and Stars above Ka'anapali Beach

Those familiar with the Ka’anapali area might recognize that as Black Rock, and the astronomers in the house are calling out the Milky Way on the left. And for good measure, that bright object right in the center there is not a star, but the planet Jupiter.

I’ve touched on the topic of stargazing on Maui in various parts here and there over the last year or so, so the regular readers have heard this story before. We, like a fair number of people who visit Hawaii, come from a highly populated area where night skies full of stars of this magnitude aren’t readily available. When we came out to Maui for the first time, it totally blew us away, and quickly became one of the top must-do things on each of our trips.

The Tradition

The tradition we have of stargazing really started from our after dinner strolls on the beach, especially walking off some Hula Pie. By the third day of our first trip so long ago, it became it’s own activity outright. While the views from our lanai at the Sheraton were nice for watching the skies at night, we couldn’t think of anything better than heading down to the beach and watching the stars from there and listening to the waves at the same time. Ahhhh.

To our surprise, there wasn’t a lot of activity down by the water at that time of night. Since sunset is typically about 5:45pm-6:45pm depending on the time of year, it’s already nice and dark by around 8-9pm when the stars come out. Where was everyone? Still out having dinner or enjoying the nightlife in Lahaina? Too much sunshine and fresh air putting folks to sleep way too early (we’ve been there)?  In any case, having the entire beach practically to ourselves made us feel like the only ones on the planet. Not to mention the enormous number of stars in the skies making our planet seem that much less significant as well.

Stars above the Sheraton

The Geek in Me

I do admit that I was always fascinated with space and astronomy growing up, but perhaps of where we lived, it never became a big part of my life. It could very well be that deprivation that makes me feel so excited now that I’m all grown up. As amazing and prevalent as the stars above are on a moonless sky over the island of Maui, I of course needed to take it to the next level and get myself all geeked out.

So, in later trips, our tradition went from after dinner strolls watching the skies, to just the two of us laying on the beach admiring the heavens, to me filling up half a carry-on bag with all sorts of toys. How could I resist?

At first, it was just the tripod, my DSLR camera and a book or two about how to take photos of the stars (also known as astrophotography). That worked out pretty well, and I had a blast doing it. I soon encountered a little unexpected deja vu. You see, on our first trip, we took a guided tour along the Road to Hana and came back with some really great photos. The problem was, when all was said and done, I couldn’t tell where half the photos were taken.

So, for the next trip to Hana, I brought along a GPS Travel Recorder that logged the locations of the photos on our second trip to Hana, and all was well. Similarly, I now had all these photos of the night sky over Maui, and I had know way of identifying most of the stars in the sky. Luckily, this really, really cool guy on Flickr, mattie_shoes, had a similar photo as mine (the one at the start of this post) and was awesome enough to identify what I was looking at.

For the next trip, I was a little more prepared. I found this really cool software app for my smartphone called Pocket Stars, that would use the built-in GPS on my phone to show me the exact sky map of what I was looking at while we were out stargazing. How cool was that! Total geek heaven. :)

Even More Toys

Now, most people would probably just stop there. Not me, though. When we were visiting Maui in April for our first chance at seeing the whales, I started looking into binoculars to bring with us. I soon discovered that binoculars were also popular for stargazing (which was news to me) and I would up with a Celestron Binoculars that not only gave us amazing views of the whales off in the distance, but also served double duty for bringing the stars and galaxies in the sky even closer. Granted, these binoculars are HUGE and weigh in close to 6 pounds. They aren’t the easiest to travel with, and were really tiring to use at first, but they’re so cool.

Fortunately, that pretty much wrapped up my little techie shopping spree for stargazing on Maui, at least for now.

Venus over Maui

Other Options

Just to reiterate, you don’t have to geek out like me to enjoy the stars over Maui. At the very least, all you need is your own two eyes and a clear night. If you’re looking for some additional help or even a tour or two, check out these links below.

  • Star book – The Sky Tonight. This star guidebook featuring details and sky maps specifically made for Hawaii’s location (21° N latitude).  We picked up a copy a few years ago at the Borders Express in Whalers Village, which unfortunately is now closed.  Checkout Barnes and Noble in the Lahaina Gateway for a copy, and you can use postal code 96761 to see if they have a copy in stock.
  • Tour of the Stars – Hyatt Maui Regency.  If staying in the area, why not head over to the Hyatt to see one of there guided tours of the night skies.  They have multiple time slots per night, a powerful telescope and a onsite astronomer to lead the stargazing.
  • Guided Tour – Star Gazers Maui. Don’t want to worry about clouds ruining your stargazing activities?  Simple, just drive up to Haleakala 10,000ft above sea level.  That ought to do it. Star Gazers Maui is a guided tour option that will meet you up there and aims to give you the ultimate stargazing experience. They supply hot chocalate, down jackets, a telescope and enough knowledge to keep you entertained for hours.
  • Stargazing Q&A – GoVisitHawaii.com.  Sheila over at Go Visit Hawaii recently shared a Q&A session on stargazing in Hawaii with Becky Sydney, the president of the Maui Astronomy Club. It offers great insight into stargazing when visiting Hawaii, including some of Becky’s favorite astronomy links (be sure to check them out).  If you’re interested in the Maui Astronomy Club or other clubs across the islands, I found this little directory for more info.
  • Astrophotography books.  If you want to try and capture photos of the stars like I do (or better), you can also pick up a few books on astrophotography or search the many resources online on the topic.  I’ve listed the two books I really liked over on my photography website.
  • Flickr Group – Stars Over Hawaii.  There is also a small Flickr group for sharing star photos that were taken from the amazing location that is Hawaii. You can check out photos there as well as add your own if you’re on Flickr.
  • Flickr Group – Astrometry.  This has to be the coolest thing I’ve ever seen on Flickr.  The folks behind this group (from Astrometry.net) have leveraged their massive database of star photographs and data, as well as the Flickr API to automatically identify different stars and galaxies in your photos.  Check out this blog post for more geeky details.

Talk Story

Have any good stargazing stories or tips?  Maybe you have some great star photos of your own. I’d love to hear from you, and if you’re looking for more photos like the ones I posted here, you can find them in our Stars over Maui photo album.

Mahalo.

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About Kris

Kris and his wife Cindy are avid Maui fans, and have visited the island half a dozen times since '06. Over the years, they have made many friends living on Maui or through social media, which keeps them in touch with the island until they can return again.

View all posts by Kris

2 Responses to “Travel Tradition: Stargazing”

  1. robertkudla Says:

    Great post Kris. If memory serves, there is an astronomy club that meets monthly. I’ll try to find it.

    I know on Kauai they meet at Barking Sands montly, and Hawaii they meet nightly on Mauna Kea.

  2. Kris Nelson Says:

    Mahalo. Stargazing has certainly been yet another thing our visits to Maui has brought out in me.

    In reference to the other islands, I think Mauna Kea would certainly be the next stop/goal for me after spending a good part of the night out at Haleakala.

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