Long famous for superb stargazing, the Big Island’s atmospheric
clarity is said to be the planet’s best. Many visitors book a
four-wheel-drive tour from Hilo (or Kona) to Mauna Kea’s
13,600-foot summit, where they can view the amazing line-up of the
world’s largest telescopes, enjoy a spectacular sunset and see
countless stars. So it seems fitting that the new Imiloa Astronomy
Center of Hawaii was placed on this island.
Opened in February of 2006, the center is the newest and largest
of Hawaii’s three planetariums. Its name derives from the Hawaiian
word for “explorer” or “seeker of profound truth.” Located above
the University of Hawaii-Hilo and with spectacular views of Hilo
Bay, its dramatic titanium-clad exterior features three metallic
cones piercing the exterior roof line. They are meant as an
abstraction of three of the island’s volcanoes Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa
During my visit to Imiloa, I relaxed deep into my seat as I
watched the planetarium’s inaugural show, “Maunakea: Between Earth
and Sky,” shown on its state-of-the-art digital theater system.
This 22-minute talk-story film tells the story of the Big Island’s
birth. I learned that the observatories on Hawaii’s loftiest sacred
summit are controversial and that there are more stars in the
universe than there are grains of sand on the world’s beaches,
followed by a dizzying “trip” into a black hole and along the
surface of a Moebius strip.
After the planetarium show, we entered the exhibit hall through a
simulated koa wood forest. There, in both English and Hawaiian,
nearly 100 intriguing educational displays and hands-on exhibits
explain the origins of the universe and encourage exploration of
space. My favorites included a reproduction of Mauna Kea showing
the location of sacred Lake Waiau, where some locals still go after
their baby’s birth to deposit the umbilical cord and acknowledge
Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawaii
600 Imiloa Pl.
Hilo, HI 96720
Hours: Tues.-Sun. from 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
Admission: $14.50 per adult, $7.50 per child ages 4-12, free for
kids under 4.
Commission: 10 percent