Explore Hawaii

Mauna Kea

Mauna-a-Wākea (Mountain of the Sky-Father) is named for the Hawaiian god of the sky. Nowhere else in the archipelago is the sky as prominent as it is here, on the tallest of Hawai‘i’s summits. At 13,796 feet, breathing alone can be a challenge. A cold, cindery silence marks the alpine setting, and a brilliant blanket of tropical snow crowns the mountain during winter. The sacred home of Poliahu, Hawaiian goddess of snows, was not to be traversed lightly. Yet the ancients climbed Mauna Kea’s rarefied heights to gather one of the most valuable materials of their culture: dense basalt for making ko’i, the stone adzes essential for house-building, canoe carving and nearly all of the hewn items of Hawaiian life. The largest adze quarry in the Pacific is tucked high on the shoulder of Mauna Kea. Viewed from below in the crimson light of dawn, Mauna Kea’s summit, Kūkahau‘ula (revealed red snow), exudes the mana of the major Hawaiian gods.