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By Jane Cassie
Images by Brent Cassie and James L. Wing
For Travel Writers' Tales

Boots, sweaters, mittens -it looks like I've packed for a ski trip instead of Hawaii Island. But no worries-I didn't forget my flip flops. With eleven climate zones to cover, I've come prepared. And during this touring week, I'm captivated by these night light perspectives that span from the island's shoreline to the highest peak.

Beneath The Waves With Manta Rays
Lights are positioned, the stage is set-now for the cast. No, this underwater act is not your typical lu'au. While some submerge for a front row spot, others, like me, watch it while nursing a cocktail. The Manta Ray Bar and Grill at Sheraton Keauhou Bay offers the best of both worlds -umbrella drinks with a balcony view.

[1 Manta talk at Sheraton Keauhou Bay]

Before I'm through my first libation, the aquatic curtain rises and two mantas take centre stage. One is the size of a surfboard, the other a small space ship. They fleet in the shallows, whisk by like marine bats and perform their aquatic ballet just beyond my deck rail.

[2 Manta Ray Diver]

After attending the resort's Manta Talk, my fears are alleviated. I've learned about their traits and grazing grounds. Unlike other rays, they don't have life-threatening stingers and like Pavlov's dogs, they gravitate here when the night lights shine. The illumination draws out hordes of plankton, their primary food source. And with some weighing close to two thousand pounds, it's one popular seafood buffet. Like space-age aliens, they also possess a built-in sixth sense -electro-receptors that detect when someone is horning in. Well, they don't have to worry about this intruder. The next show will soon begin. And from my patio perch, while viewing the lights, I order another umbrella drink.

Powerful and Prevailing Pele
We're photographing the distant fiery plume of Halema'uma'u Crater from the deck of Thomas A. Jaggar Museum, in Hawaii Volcano National Park, when the 3.5 magnitude shake occurs.

"The Volcano Goddess must be edgy tonight," our guide says. "And when Pele's hot and bothered, she can really blow her stack.

The open pit in Kilauea Caldera is the world's longest continuously-erupting volcano. On March 11, 2008, a new vent opened in this massive basin and ever since, has been spewing steam, gasses and ashes. It now measures 131 meters (430 ft) wide-larger than a regulation-size football field. And tonight, Pele is performing one of her touchdowns.

[3 Night glow of Halema'uma'u Crater]

From our chilly observation deck at 3,500 feet, she radiates in stately splendor. Smooth rippled "Pahoehoe" (pronounced pah-hoy-hoy) that once flowed from the giant maw has long-since hardened and look like tendrils of her flowing hair. Razor-edged "aa" (pronounced ah-ah) that had spewed with her fumes, dot the barren landscape like tears she once shed. But her true beauty comes from within. Plumes of cotton-white ash envelope an effusion of fiery tones -flaming reds, burnt ochre, hot pinks percolate together and seethe from the deep. Without a doubt, this hot goddess still knows how to light up the island's night sky.

Amazing Star Gazing
I'm a sucker for stars and sunsets. And the 13,796 foot, snow-draped Maunakea is a great place to see them. Thirteen world-class observatories think so too. Although we could do the heaven-bound trek on our own, Hawaii Forest & Trail covers the essentials-trusty vehicles, campout dinners and astronomy guides that know more than Captain Kirk.

[4 Maunakea summit with world-class observatory]

"But don't we need clear skies?" I ask, as we cleave upwards through driving rains. Greg Brown, is confident. "This scenic wonder won't disappoint. It is, after all, a sacred haunt to Wakea, the sky god, Papa, the ruler of Mother Earth and Poli'ahu, the snow goddess who put out Pele's fires."

By the time we summit, the gods are glorifying. Above the white powder-puffs is a sky of blue and a brazen sun. I watch it set in silence, captivated by the symphony of color-bands of pink, streaks of amber, shots of violet. It seems to go on forever and when light transitions to dark, the stars provide an encore.

[5 Maunakea sunset]

There are few places on earth where you can see the Northern Hemisphere and the Southern Cross, without changing your stance. Add in Alpha Centauri, Andromeda and Jupiter. Don't forget the Milky Way, moon craters and neighboring galaxies. From this sensational summit, these night sights are as close to the heavens as you can get and are both literally and figuratively true highlights on Hawaii Island.


IF YOU GO: Where to Stay for Manta Rays:

Sheraton Keauhou Bay Resort & Spa
78-128 Ehukai Street
Kona, HI 96740
Phone: (808) 930-4900

Where to Stay for Powerful and Prevailing Pele:

Kipuka Cottage
11-3798 Nahelenani
Volcano, HI 96785

Where to Stay for the Amazing Star Gazing:

The Fairmont Orchid, Hawaii
One North Kaniku Drive
Kohala Coast, HI 96743
U.S. & Canada Toll-Free Reservations
Tel: 1 (800) 257-7544

For more information:

PHOTOS - Brent Cassie except for image 2:
1 Manta talk at Sheraton Keauhou Bay
2 Manta Ray Diver: Photo Credit: James L. Wing
3 Night glow of Halema'uma'u Crater
4 Maunakea summit with world-class observatory
5 Maunakea sunset

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