By Jennifer Bravo
NHA Senior Destination Manager

Nat Hab’s Jennifer Bravo, creator of our “Hidden Hawaii” itinerary, atop Mauna Kea

Hawaii is a land of many enchanting faces. It glitters and glows even as it smokes and smolders. Bees and butterflies dance with silk-soft flowers, which burst through walls of black razor rock. Island roads wind through serpentine canyons and scale mountains, revealing new and surprising worlds around each bend.

Hawaii sits alone in the ocean, a chain of little islands like a galaxy of tiny planets in a sea of shimmering light. On a visit to three Hawaiian islands as part of Nat Hab’s new Hidden Hawaii Nature Adventure, I witnessed the full spectrum of this magical destination, replete with wildlife and nature adventures. Our small group marveled at aerial views of majestic waterfalls and flowing lava from a helicopter. We snorkeled with placid sea turtles and gentle rays, lurking eels and one very surprised octopus. Whales rose from the depths. Rainbows fell from the sky. We even made fast friends with pod of highly social spinner dolphins, so many we couldn’t begin to count them.

But one place in Hawaii sums up all the wonder for me.

The highest point in the islands is Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii. From its base beneath the ocean to its 13,796-foot summit, Mauna Kea is the tallest mountain in the world. It boasts the clearest sky and best visibility of any place on earth, and so houses a cluster of high-tech observatories utilized by scientists from NASA and all over the world.

The road to the summit crawls up a barren landscape of scrub brush and volcanic rock, dotted with cinder cones and blanketed in sulfuric haze from nearby Kilauea, Hawaii’s most active volcano. The Shangri-La effect is stunning, as Mauna Kea overlooks its island neighbors from above the clouds. The gently rolling sea of cotton balls makes the surrounding islands appear to float in midair.

Sunset from the summit of Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawaii

We arrived just before sunset, a dramatic affair of fiery colors dancing a sultry hula in the troposphere. Dazzled as the sun drifted down, we raced to the other side of the summit just in time to see a glowing tangerine moon rise rapidly in the purple-black sky. Jupiter sparkled directly above it like some cosmic disco ball. We peered through high-powered telescopes and sipped hot chocolate in the surprisingly chilly darkness as our astronomer guide regaled us with stories of the stars, explaining the role they played in the lives of seafaring Polynesians, and in their discovery of the islands.

I felt like a discoverer myself as we were traveling around Hawaii, marveling at its kaleidoscopic beauty and mind-bending biodiversity. I lost count of the sights that gave me goose bumps. I dream of the intoxicating aromas of Kona coffee, of passion fruit and gardenia and hibiscus….and yes, even of volcanic sulfur. But I have never felt so alive as in that singular moment, staring down at the string of emeralds that is the Hawaiian Isles, from Mauna Kea, my throne at the top of the world.

Can’t wait to get to Hawaii now?  Join us on one of our 2014 February or March departures! Check out the itinerary here: