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By day, city planner Raymond Young fixes his focus on issues of
the land. But when night falls, he lets his gaze drift upward
during stargazing sessions with Astro Tours Hawaii, taking clients
along for the ride.
On a recent evening I met Young in his backyard, where his
observatory perches on a hill above urban west Oahu, 25 miles from
Honolulu. Across the plains to the east and south, Honolulu city
lights spread out like a glimmering blanket, but to the north and
west, it was dark.
“Those are undeveloped preservation lands, so conditions here
are optimal for celestial studies,” said Young. “I grew up in
Honolulu, but I’ve slowly been moving farther and farther out of
town so I can practice astronomy in unpolluted skies.”
Using a lighted pointer, he introduced me to the constellations
visible to the naked eye and talked about their significance, while
Hawaiian owls added haunting hoots from nearby woods.
An astronomy buff since childhood, Young fulfilled a dream by
designing and building his own observatory in 1993.
“I always wanted to share the sky with others,” he said, “so I
started inviting friends over for evenings under the stars.”
In 1996, he turned his hobby into a visitor-friendly business by
launching Astro Tours Hawaii, creating a Web site for the venture
“But even when I don’t have any customers, I’m still out here
every night,” he said.
We walked into the observatory, its high walls blocking the
glare from neighboring houses. Compact and cozy, it provides room
for as many as six people at a time, with comfortable seating.
Young flicked a switch and the retractable roof slowly opened.
Goose-bumpy New Age music heightened the drama as the astral
spectacle appeared before our eyes.
On this particularly clear night, we studied planets like Saturn,
Jupiter and Mars. The Milky Way shimmered, nebulas glowed, star
clusters sparkled and the moon showed off its impact craters and
Young’s gentle nature and soft voice created a peaceful presence
during this awe-inspiring tour of the heavens. His state-of-the-art
computers communicated with the telescopes and gadgets with
mind-boggling precision and speed. We peered through equipment with
lofty names like Maksutov Cassegrain, and he even let me take
command of a scope, steering it to certain orbs of interest.
Young has covered the walls of the observatory with
photographs, charts and illustrations to which he refers while
talking about the mysteries of the night sky.
“Hawaii is a great place for astronomers because it’s close to
the equator, so we can look at both the Northern and Southern
hemispheres,” he explained.
And while Young’s setup pales in comparison to the international
observatories atop the Big Island’s 13,796-foot Mauna Kea volcano,
“my house is a lot easier to get to,” he joked.
Along with his Web site, Young has been promoting Astro Tours
Hawaii by placing flyers at the nearby JW Marriott Ihilani Resort
and Spa. He keeps his guided tours small, so all of his guests get
plenty of time at the telescopes and binoculars. For special
occasions, however, he hosts Star Parties for groups of 30 to 40
people, who spread out blankets on the lawn and take turns in the
observatory. Just as he would for friends who stop by, Young and
his wife provide snacks and warm drinks to keep clients warm on
cool tropical evenings at the 1,100-foot elevation.
While his product appeals to all ages, Young’s tours have
especially attracted the attention of the older travel market.
“A lot of retirees are expressing an interest in astronomy,” he
said. “They have expendable income, and they want to set up their
own telescopes. They ask me lots of questions, and I’m happy to
But Young particularly enjoys it when families sign up for a
“I like introducing people to the stars when they’re young, the
age I was when I first got hooked,” he explained. “When you see a
comet or a planet or a constellation, it’s just so mesmerizing.
It’s a constant source of beauty throughout your life.”
Evening stargazing tours get under way nightly at 7:30 p.m.
Rates are $28 per adult, $18 per child ages 6-17 and free for kids
under 6. Group rates are available. Transportation is included with
a four-person minimum.
Commission: 20 percent on groups of 10 or