Mauna Kea

Island Of Hawai’i

It’s two a.m. when the alarm goes off to get our stuff together and head to the meeting point for a sunrise tour of Mauna Kea’s summit. Hovering over 4,000m above sea level, Mauna Kea, or Mauna o Wākea, is the tallest mountain in the Pacific. And if you count its height from the ocean floor, it is by far the tallest mountain in the world, measuring over ten kilometres from base to peak. The drive up the steadily inclining volcano takes two hours. We cross multiple climate and altitude zones. Before we enter the regional park of the volcano, whose access is owed to indigenous Hawaiians, a pule (Hawaiian prayer) is said to honour the significance of this sacred place.

With its peak high above the clouds, Mauna Kea is one of the best places in the world to observe the stars. Multiple astronomical observatories have been built upon it. Controversy in recent years has centred upon the development of astronomical observatories, in particular the plans (at this point halted) to build the ‘Thirty Meter Telescope’ at the expense of its environment and cultural significance. Mauna Kea is known to indigenous Hawaiians as Mauna o Wākea. In their story of creation, Wākea is the sky father and partner to Papahanaumoku, the earth mother, who gave birth to the islands. The island of Hawai’i, from which Mauna Kea emerges, is their eldest child. Mauna Kea is that child’s piko, or navel, the connection point between the earth mother and sky father.

As the sun rises, its light projects the massive shadow of Mauna Kea itself onto the pink haze of the western horizon. Like a mirage, I mistake it for a giant mountain rising out of the ocean in the distance. This is a place of phenomenal power. In writing this, I extend my gratitude here directly to native Hawaiians for the privilege of visiting their sacred mountain. As a pākehā New Zealander I recognise the importance and urgency of indigenous rights across the globe, and I stand in solidarity in the struggle to protect Mauna Kea. Progress can only begin with addressing the wrongs of the past and learning about how those wrongs persist in the present. To do that, we must listen with care and put people and their environment first. Me ke aloha piha, mahalo.