Shoot for the Stars

Clients can tour the sky with Star Gaze Hawaii

By: Marty Wentzel

Dedicated star gazers think nothing of driving to the 13,796-foot summit of Mauna Kea volcano to marvel at the night sky. But for less serious astronomers like me, agents can suggest the warmer, closer alternative provided by Star Gaze Hawaii, which presents celestial sessions at sea level.

Star Gaze Hawaii owner Wayne Fukunaga offers his programs at several Kohala Coast Resorts, where the skies are clearer than to the south. The program I attended took place at Mauna Kea Beach Hotel’s tennis courts, the darkest part of the property come nightfall.

My companions included an elderly client from Oregon, who explained his presence this way: “The last thing I thought I’d be doing on my vacation is star gazing, but I saw the brochure and said ‘why not?’”

“We get a lot of people who have never peered through a telescope before,” Fukunaga told me. “Then there are the clients who haven’t looked at the stars since they were kids.”

Fukunaga, on the other hand, has been studying the skies since his boyhood on the Big Island, and his devotion to the subject was evident right away. As people asked him questions, he answered so enthusiastically and articulately that it was hard not to get caught up in his passion.

During a 20-minute slide show enhanced by dramatic music, Fukunaga laid the groundwork for what we would see up above. We watched mythical characters take shape in the constellations and looked at eery and entrancing images taken by Fukunaga atop Mauna Kea, which he visits twice-monthly when the moon is dark.

When it was time to do our own stargazing, Fukunaga used a powerful green laser pointer to help us pick out constellations with the naked eye.

“The Big Island is superior to other islands for viewing thanks to its high percentage of clear, calm nights,” he said.

He drew our attention to the Southern Cross, explaining that Hawaii is the only U.S. state where you can see the kite-shaped constellation. We spied the likes of Orion and the Pleiades, while the occasional satellite and shooting star enlivened the scene.

The presentation ramped up a notch as we looked through Fukunaga’s 11-inch Celestron telescope, easily accessed by step ladders. More powerful than the average backyard ’scope, Fukunaga’s gear brought the Moon’s mountains and craters into remarkable focus. Star clusters, nebulae and galaxies that exist 5,000 light years away felt like they were within arm’s reach.

Fukunaga has cornered the market as the only company on the Big Island providing oceanside star tours, and his down-to-earth programs appeal to a universe of clients. As the Star Gaze Hawaii motto puts it, “Our business is looking up!”


Star Gaze Hawaii
75-1027 Henry St. 111A, PMB 417
Kailua-Kona, HI 96740

Regularly scheduled guided tours of the sky take place from 8-9 p.m. at resorts along the Big Island’s Kohala Coast, including the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel and Hilton Waikoloa Village. Commissionable rates for the program are $25 per adult, $15 per child ages 5-11 and free for younger guests. Participants receive a handout package with a cardboard planisphere, astronomy postcards and photos, a fact booklet and red LED flashlight keychain. Kids get a coloring booklet, crayons and an activity sheet. Customized sessions are also available.