Mauna Kea (Mauna a wakea) is a dormant volcano mountain on the Big Island of Hawai’i and is about a million years old; last erupting around 6,000 – 4,000 years ago. Standing 13,802 feet above sea level, its peak is the highest point in the Hawaiian island chain. When measured from its oceanic base, Mauna Kea is over 33,000 ft tall.

Because of its age, Mauna Kea has passed the most active shield stage of life hundreds of thousands of years ago. Its lava is of a high viscosity, resulting in a steeper profile embracing the entire island of Hawai’i. The massive stance of Mauna Kea protects the island from threatening hurricanes and storms.


Average high temperatures range from 40 – 50 degrees, average lows 20 – 30 degrees. The summit can collect several feet of snow annually. Mauna Kea is home to Lake Waiau, the highest lake in the Pacific Basin at an altitude of 13,022 feet. Lake Waiau lies within the Puʻu Waiau cinder cone and is the only high altitude – alpine lake in Hawai’i. The highly endangered endemic silversword plant thrives in the high elevation cinder deserts of the mountain.


All summits of Hawaii’s volcanoes are revered as sacred mountains; Mauna Kea’s summit, the highest in all Hawai’i, is the most sacred. For this reason, a kapu (ancient Hawaiian law) restricted visitor rights to high-ranking aliʻi during ancient times. The summit of Mauna Kea is seen as the “region of the gods”, a place where compassionate spirits reside. Many Hawaiians associate elements of their natural environment with particular gods and goddesses. Poliʻahu, deity of snow, also resides on Mauna Kea. The name Mauna Kea is a shortened version of Mauna a Wakea, a name that connects it to the sky father, Wakea.

mauna kea

Mauna Kea or Mauna a wakea translates to “white mountain” or “snow mountain”, a reference to its frequently snow-capped summit.