Gemini Observatory

Exploring the Universe, Sharing its Wonders

Gemini North Summit Tour FAQ

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What are the different types of observatory tours? Which is the right tour for me?

  • Educational: graduate, undergraduate, and (sometimes) high school tours.
  • Media: journalists, photographers, videographers, etc.
    Note: all media applicants must receive a permit from the Office of Mauna Kea Management
  • Science: visiting astronomers, Gemini users, etc.
  • Staff/engineering/National Gemini Office requests: tours initiated by Gemini Staff, and for other related organizations as a professional courtesy.
  • Other (public tours): we currently don’t provide tours for the general public. However, please see Alternate public tour options below.

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Alternate public tour options

I don't fall into one of the official Gemini tour categories. Are there other options?
Yes, there are several possibilities you might try (while not necessarily visiting Gemini):

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Tour participants

  • How many people can I bring on a tour?
    The smaller your group, the greater the likelihood that we can accommodate you. Six or fewer are ideal numbers.

  • I have more than 6 people. Can I still get a tour?
    Yes, we can accommodate up to 10 people without additional restrictions.

  • What are the restrictions on having more than 10 people?
    The Office of Mauna Kea Management (OMKM) requires a permit for any group of more than 10 people. If your group is more than 10 people you must submit a request and receive approval for your visit.

    If you receive approval from OMKM you may bring up to 12 people to Gemini if your tour is approved by Gemini. This number includes everyone –– chaperones, drivers, translators, etc.

  • I have more than 12 people. Can I still arrange for a tour?
    Provided you have received approval from the Office of Mauna Kea Management, it might be possible to have a larger tour with special arrangements. However, this can often present significant logistical hurdles, including safety, staffing, and scheduling that require more lead time.

    To ensure full consideration for large tours, requests should be made AT LEAST one month in advance of your expected tour date.

  • Who can go on a Gemini Tour?
    Anyone in good health aged 18 or older (16 & 17 with a signed waiver)
    No one who is pregnant
    No one who has been scuba diving within 24 hours of the tour.

  • I have a medical condition. Is it safe for me to travel to the summit?
    All travel to an elevation above 9,000 feet should be cleared with your medical professional BEFORE coming to the summit.

    Health issues of particular concern:
    Pulmonary (heart issues) –– It is NOT recommended that you go to the summit area
    Respiratory (breathing issues) –– Check with your doctor and inform your tour guide
    Diabetes (blood sugar issues) –– Check with your doctor and monitor yourself closely.

    Anyone experiencing fainting, vertigo, or currently experiencing the effects of a cold, flu, or allergies, etc. should NOT GO to the summit.

  • Are minors allowed?
    Only those of ages 16 & 17, each with an additional signed waiver from their legal parent or guardian.

  • Can my 15-year-old come if he or she is really close to their birthday/ or have a doctor’s permission?
    Although some areas of the summit are open to 13-year-olds and older, Gemini does not allow anyone under the age of 16 to visit our summit facilities.

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Tour schedule

  • How much time does a typical tour take?
    A typical tour takes 45 minutes to an hour at the telescope facility. However, you should plan on at least 6 hours from start to finish with travel time, acclimatization, etc.

  • What is a typical schedule like?
    Assuming Hilo is your point of departure (please allow additional time if coming from other locations):

    10:30 Get Gas (there are no gas stations once you leave town)
    11:00 Depart Hilo
    12:00 Arrive at Hale Pohaku (HP) (lunch if prearranged)/Visitors Information Station(VIS)
    12:45 Safety briefing at HP or VIS
    1:00 Departure for the summit
    1:30 Arrive at Gemini
    2:30 End of Tour/ on your own.

  • Is it possible to arrange a tour at other times?
    Yes, with additional permissions and advance lead time, it is possible to arrange a tour between 10:30am and 3:30pm.
    In addition to the tour, remember that 2.5+ hours of travel and acclimatization is necessary before the tour begins.

  • Can I arrange a visit on a Monday or a Friday (or days before and after a holiday)?
    Yes, however, we have limited staff on these days, so we restrict the number of visitors to the telescope.

  • Can I get a tour on a weekend or holiday?
    Generally, this is not possible. Due to safety issues, we must always have two staff members present to accompany anyone (or a group) at our summit facilities. Under special circumstances (and with plenty of lead time ie several months to plan) we can sometimes make exceptions.

  • Can I visit the telescope at night?
    Evening visits are not granted without special permission from our nighttime operations staff and are very limited in capacity.

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Approximate travel times to Hale Pohaku/VIS area (times do not reflect traffic):

  • Hilo: 50 minutes
  • Kona: 1.25 hours
  • Waikaloa Village: 1 hour
  • Waimea: 50 minutes
  • Volcano: 1.5 hours.

Remember: add 1 hour of acclimatization + 30 minutes travel time to the summit from the VIS, also 30 minutes travel time on the return to the VIS.

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*****Important: You must provide your own transportation for all tours.*****

  • Can I get a ride from the Visitors Station or Hale Pohaku to the summit area?
    Unfortunately, Gemini uses government vehicles, and we are not allowed to provide transportation to non-Gemini staff due to liability reasons.

  • I don't have a 4x4 vehicle. Can I drive up without one?
    This is NOT recommended. The access road, while well maintained, is a very steep dirt road, and can be difficult for a vehicle that does not have a low gear ratio and good traction, especially on the way down. Also, many cars that are not equipped to handle altitude get stuck and must be towed down at significant danger and expense.

  • Where can I rent a 4x4 drive vehicle?
    Most rental companies have restrictions about taking their cars to the summit of Maunakea. You should check with your rental company.

  • Is the road dangerous to drive?
    As with any mountain road, there are inherent hazards that should be taken into account. The road is well maintained and graded twice a week.

    Potential hazards include:

  • narrow, rough surface
  • hairpin switchbacks
  • ice or black ice
  • high winds
  • low visibility due to fog and/or low sun angle
  • steep grades (use low gear when descending)
  • maintenance vehicles (or other slow-moving trucks)

  • Is there anywhere to get gas on Maunakea or on the way to Maunakea?
    Fuel is not available on the mountain (or on Saddle Road) visitors will need to fill up before leaving their destinations.

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Visiting Maunakea

  • What should I expect while at the summit area?
    There is a wealth of information at the Visitor Information Station (VIS) website. Please take some time to fully explore the site.

  • What are the safety hazards/concerns?
    Gemini addresses major safety issues in a comprehensive safety guide & waiver and briefing that is given to all visitors to the Gemini facilities on Maunakea. Additional information can be found here.

  • I don't have the Gemini waiver yet. Is there something else I can read?
    Yes, the following two documents will provide some basic information: VIS "Hazards" flyer, p.1 | VIS "Hazards" flyer, p.2

  • Is there a video I can watch that will tell me about the hazards?
    Yes, the VIS has produced this informative 8-minute video.

  • What's the weather like on the mountain. How will I know if the road will be open?
    Your tour-guide\host will be able to tell you the current conditions at the summit area, and you can also check on the forecast, current conditions, and current web cam views.

  • I need to get a permit from the Office of Mauna Kea Management. Where can I get one?
    There are two types of permits. Please click on the appropriate link for your group.
    Film & Media permits
    Group permit form for more than 10 people

  • Where is the nearest gas station?
    Hilo or Waimea (Kamuela)

  • Where are the nearest medical facilities?
    In Hilo, at least 1.5 hours from the summit.

  • Where is the nearest store?
    There is a gift shop at the VIS where water and some snacks may be purchased.

  • Are there restroom facilities available?
    There are facilities at the VIS, and Hale Pohaku. There are also portable potties on the summit area if you are not on a facility tour.

  • Are there any restaurants on the mountain?
    There are picnic tables at the VIS (and limited food for purchase), but no public dining facilities.

  • Are there meal options for Gemini facility tours?
    Meals are available for purchase but must be requested before your visit. (see meal option section)

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What to bring?

  • What should I bring?
    It's a 6+ hour trip to a remote mountain location, with little in the way of creature comforts or supplies (like gas), or medical help (which is over an hour away). Plan accordingly. A list of things to consider follows:

    ***Close-Toed Shoes are required***
    Sun protection – hat, sunglasses, lip balm, sunblock
    Winter gear – hat, gloves, heavy jacket, boots
    Safetywater, snacks, required medications, flashlight (nighttime visitors)

  • It's Hawai‘i, come on, do I really need to bring cold weather gear?
    Yes, temperatures at the summit are, on average, 35˚ F colder than at sea level. Even if the daytime weather is ideal, it can change rapidly. In addition, the inside of the dome is kept at the expected nighttime temperature (generally freezing). 

  • We have a large group (more than 6), should I bring an extra vehicle?
    It is HIGHLY recommended that you have at least one extra vehicle in case someone in your group gets altitude sickness and needs to be taken to a lower elevation. This way the rest of your group will not need to leave as well.

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Meal options

  • Can I get meals at the summit?
    There are no meal options at the summit for visitors.

  • Where are meals served?
    Official visits can arrange for meals at the Hale Pohaku (HP) facility located a short drive above the VIS.

  • How much are HP meals?
    Currently, lunch is $12.00, and dinner is $19.00 (subject to change).

  • What forms of payment does Gemini accept? When do I need to pay?
    Please make all payments at the time of your visit with either a check made out to the Gemini Observatory or cash in the exact amount (your tour guide will not be able to make change).

  • Are there vegetarian, vegan, etc. meal options?
    Yes, however, these requests need to be made at least a week in advance.

  • What is the food like?
    It is cafeteria style, usually with two entrée options, and sometimes a salad (or even soup). There are also help yourself ice-cream and soda fountains.

  • Can we eat at a different time?
    Breakfast is served from 6:00 - 8:00am
    Lunch is served from 12:00 - 1:00pm
    Dinner is served from 4:30 - 6:00pm
    Any changes to this schedule require significant logistical hurdles, and will not be changed without sufficient reason, and forewarning.

  • Can I bring my own food to Hale Pohaku to eat?
    This would be like bringing your own food into a restaurant. Please consume outside food at the VIS, not in the dining area of HP.

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Forms & Waivers

  • Can I turn in my waivers when I arrive for the tour?
    No, all safety waivers MUST be submitted before you leave sea-level or the tour may be canceled.

  • How do I submit my forms?
    Here are some options:

    *Scan and email the signature page(s)* - PREFERRED
    Fax to 808-974-2589: Attn: Summit Tour w/ Date of tour
    Drop it off at the front desk of our base facility (670 N. A‘ohoku Place Hilo, Hawaii, 96720) prior to your departure for the tour
    Mail it to us (must be received a week in advance) at the above address.

  • I don't have a scanner or fax machine. I'm coming from Kona, and I don't have time to mail it. Can't I just give it to you when I see you?
    No. All safety waivers must be read, signed, and turned in prior to any trip to the summit, where tour members might feel the effects of high altitude.
    If you have a smartphone, you may take a clear, high-resolution (send it full size) picture of the signature pages and email that. You might also try the business office of your hotel, or Office Max, Kinkos, etc.

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Tour Cancelations

  • My Gemini tour has been canceled. What are my options?
    Depending on the reasons for cancelation, a number of alternatives may be open to you. You might try taking a tour of one of the other observatories, going to the Visitors Information Station, or if the summit road is closed, you could also go to ‘Imiloa.

  • What are some of the reasons my tour might get canceled?
    • failure to turn in signed safety waivers for everyone on time
    • summit access road closed to the public (usually due to inclement weather)
    • change in engineering schedule, which may prohibit summit visitors
    • change in staffing availability, due to illness or other unplanned circumstance
    • a severe case of mountain sickness, necessitating emergency transport down the summit.
  • I need to cancel my tour. How do I do that?
    Please contact us immediately and we will see if it is possible to reschedule.

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What happens next? (after form submission)

  • What happens after I submit my form?
    You will receive an email acknowledging receipt of your request. If your request is in one of the regular categories of tours the request will be submitted for approval. Once the tour has either been approved or rejected, you will be emailed with instructions on how to proceed.

  • I am hoping for a "piggyback" tour since I don't fit into one of the allowed categories. What happens to my request?
    You will receive an acknowledgment email that your request has been received. One of our staff will try to match your request with an existing tour. If a match is found you will be emailed with instructions on how to proceed. If a match is not found you will not receive any further emails from us.

  • How long does it take to find out if a tour has been approved?
    We usually process all requests within one week of receiving them. However, if the requested tour is several months away, it might take longer (up to a month) to process.

  • I need to know if the tour is going to happen so I can plan my trip. Is there any way I can check on the status?
    Once the tour request has been submitted it is in our system and we will process it when we are able to do so (sometimes uncertain scheduling can make processing difficult). You may choose to wait till we are able to send you an approval email or continue with your plans as if it will be approved with the understanding that it might not.

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Gemini address (how to find us)

  • What's the best way to contact you?
    Once you have received confirmation about your tour, you may respond via email, or call us using the phone number provided in the confirmation.

  • What is your address?
    Gemini North Operations Center
    670 N. A‘ohoku Place
    Hilo, HI 96720, USA

  • Where should I meet you for the tour?
    Depending on the instructions you receive in your tour confirmation, you will either meet us at the Gemini base facility in Hilo or at the Visitors Information Station or Hale Pohaku before the tour –– in order to receive your safety briefing before going to the summit.

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Information usage

  • How will the information on this form be used?
    The information you submit will be used to process your tour request and determine if a tour can be given. It will be kept on file for our records.

  • Do you sell any of the information to a third party?
    No, except as required by law, the Gemini Observatory will not share or sell your information.

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  • What qualifies as a media tour?
    Any visit request that comes from a recognized print or online publication, news outlet, TV show, or internet blog.

  • I represent a very small publication with limited funds. Do I really need to get a OMKM permit?
    Yes, in all cases you must go through the process of getting the appropriate permits to film on the summit. In some cases, some of the stipulations might be waived, but you would need to talk to the people at OMKM to find out.

  • When and where can we film? Can we interview scientists?
    Please list the specifics of your requirements in the box provided in tour request form. The Public Information and Outreach office contact you and provide you with the specifics..

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  • Why was my tour rejected?
    The reason for rejection will be sent to you in an email.

  • I requested a "piggyback" tour. Will I get a rejection letter if it's not going to happen?
    No. In order to give you the best chance of getting on a tour we will leave your request open until the date of the tour. In essence, since we do not offer public tours you start with a no-go. That decision might be reversed if a match can be made. Otherwise assume you won’t be going.

  • What can I do to optimize my chances of getting a tour?
    We try to accommodate educational, media, and professional tours whenever we can, but there are a few things that you can do to better your chances.
    • 6 or fewer people on a tour
    • Tuesday-Thursday are the best days of the week (except days before and after holidays)
    • daytime tours are more likely to get approved.
  • My tour was rejected. Can I fix any issues and submit another request?
    Yes, you may submit another request. However, there are some instances where a tour will not be granted (as should be noted in your rejection email). The more flexible you can be with dates, the more likely we will be able to accommodate you.

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Gemini North Summit Tour FAQ | Gemini Observatory


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