For someone who likes the outdoors and national parks, when you’re on the island of Hawaii, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a no brainer. Because the entire family was along for the adventure, we decided to stick with some of the more touristy things, and not make the trip to the park a hard-core hiking adventure.
Along the way to the park as a bonus, we stopped at Punalu’u beach for a break, to eat lunch and to check out the black sand beach. The main attraction is the black sand beach, and the turtles that some times are there (we didn’t see any). The surf was really high and there was NO ONE in the water.
Our first stop in the park was the visitor center, where we were just in time for the park movie. Then we were on our way to our hike for the day, the Kilauea Iki loop, which also included a stop at the Thurston Lava Tube. This hike was a 4 mile round trip, with 400 ft. elevation gain. This hike includes two of the park’s distinct environments, sub tropical rain forest and volcanic crater. The hike starts out along the rim of the crater, in the rain forest lush with tropical plants and birds. It circles around the rim, and then descends into the Kilauea Iki crater via switch backs.
Once inside the crater, the landscape changes dramatically to hardened black lava, much like a very, very old extremely frost-heaved parking lot on a gargantuan scale. This was in fact, the site of an eruption in 1959, complete with spewing lava fountains. After the eruptions, the lava lake settled and cooled, and from what scientists can determine, is still cooling. We walked across the floor of the crater, stopping at the steam vents and other interesting sites for photos. We then headed back to the rain forest, where the children were waiting in the shade. The whole trip was windy – but that wasn’t a problem – I can’t imagine how suffocatingly hot that crater would have been if there was no breeze.
The trail then went up the headwall of the crater by a series of switchbacks, which topped out at the trail to the Thurston Lava Tube. When the tube formed, the outer layer of lava hardened, but the inner part was still flowing. Once all the lava flowed out, it left long tube-like cave. Part of the Thurston Lava Tube can be walked through, so we made the diversion down and through the dark tunnel and then up and out the exit, back on the trail to the parking area where our car was parked.
We hopped back onto the park road and by accident ended up going past the visitor’s center and out to the Jagger Museum and the Halema’uma’u crater of the Kilauea volcano. Since we were there, we checked out the museum and crater. Of course, the crater itself is off limits, so we took a few photos from afar. For some webcams views, check out the webcams from the USGS site.
We set off down the Chain of Craters Road, an 18 mile scenic drive within the park, checking out viewpoints along the way. The drive is interesting as the landscape is scarred by lava flows. We stopped to hike out to the see the ancient Hawaiian petroglyphs and stopped one more time at the end of the road at the Holei Sea Arch, along the rough lava cliff coastline. We were also able to see some of the dark gas clouds coming from the very active Pu’u O’o vent, which was behind a ridge and is not accessible by park visitors or the general public. By this time, it was starting to get dark, so we headed back up hill toward the park entrance.
Leaving in the dark was by design, as I wanted to go back to see the Halema’uma’u crater in the dark. In the dark, you can see the volcanic gases glowing, whereas in the daytime, all you see is white gas clouds. Back at the Jagger Museum, sure enough, we could see the glowing gases. It was definitely a cool thing to watch. Satisfied with that, it was time for the two hour drive back to Kona.
Volcanoes National Park was a very interesting place, and a place where I’d like to do some more hiking on another trip. For this trip, it was a blessing to enjoy the unique landscape with the whole family.