Kilauea Crater is at the edge of the leeward-windward rain divide. The windward side gets deluges of rain during the year leading to dense jungles of vegetation. The leeward side - especially towards Kona - is parched in the other extreme.
Walking from atop Kilauea Iki, you start in heavy tropical foilage but quickly descend to devastated ground where life either must begin again.
this website will take you on a virtual hike across Kilauae Iki.
Kilauea Iki is a smaller, subsidiary crater standing just east of the main Kilauea caldera, separated by the narrow Byron Ledge. The Pu'u Pua'i and Kilauea Iki Overlooks off the Crater Rim Drive provide great views into this realm of Pele. Eruptions in 1959 left the crater floor and areas directly southwest devastated. The four mile - 2 hours - Kilauea Iki Trail drops 400 feet and takes you from rainforest across he hissing crater floor.
Steam vents are formed when ground water penetrates the ground to deep enough depths to encounter rocks of sufficient temperature to create steam.
Just driving along the road, looking out into the fields and woods, one is apt to see a number of roiling clouds of steam boiling up out of the ground. They are particularly common in the summit area and along the rift zones where magma (underground lava) is near the surface.
There are several nice steam vents that have been selected and marked for tourists to participate in a close encounter with them. It is fun to get out and move close to one of the vents to feel the fleeting caress and feathery touch of the warm moistness of the steam in the light breezes that usually blow near the summit. You can gaze down into the pits from which the steam rises and wonder, like I did, just how deep those holes and cracks really are.
Air temperature and humidity affect the visibility of the steam escaping from these vents and from the craters that you will be visiting. So the amount of steam seen may vary considerably from day to day.
This 11 mile drive encircles Kilauea's summit caldera and craters, passes through rain forest and desert, and provides access to well marked scenic stops and short walks.
The best place to start the tour is at the Kilauea Visitor Center. Films shown throughout the day provide an introduction to the park and volcanology. Ask at the information desk about ranger-guided walks, hikes and other programs.
Located nearby is the Volcano Art Center, housed in the historic original Volcano House built in 1877. It hosted many 19th centur visitors to Kilauea and is now a gallery for local artists and craftsmen.
A walk out to the overlook of Halemaumau Crater convinces even the strongest skeptics that Kilauea is an active volcano. The gases released at the crater make an immediate impression on one's sense of smell and taste. The high amounts of sulfur dioxide (SO2) are hazardous to young children, pregnant women, and the elderly and these people should avoid the area.
THURSTON LAVA TUBE
Is located in a forest of tree ferns that feels a bit like Jurassic Park. You can walk about 500 feet into the cave-like tunnel, which was formed when the outer lava cooled and the inside lava drained away.
KILAUEA LKI LOOKOUT
The overlook of Kilauea Iki pit crater is one of the most spectacular views in the park. Kilauea Iki is in the foreground. Puu Puai cinder cone is on the opposite rim of the crater. Byron's Ledge is a horst between Kilauea Iki pit crater and Kilauea caldera. A keen eye can find Halemaumau. snow-capped Mauna Loa forms the skyline.
There are two main roads in the park. This is one of them - the Crater Rim Drive takes you along a portion of the summit caldera (large pit crater) of Kilauea. The road starts at Kilauea Visitor Center. The places we went on this road include the Steam Vents, the Jaggar Museum, the Kilauea Iki Overlook and the Thurston Lava Tube. The Lava Tube and the Kilauea Iki trail were done by my grandson, but I did see the Steam Vents (photo 2) and the Jaggar Museum.
Kilauea Iki, meaning "Little Kilauea", last erupted in 1959 producing a lava fountain which reached 1900 ft high. Huge amounts of lava were released which formed a lake of fire in the crater to a depth of 414 ft. You can now hike a 4-mile trail that begins at the visitor center and goes right across the crater floor. The overlook of Kilauea Iki crater is one of the most spectacular views in the park.
Start your driving tour around the Crater Rim. Just around the corner from the visitors center is the Sulfur Banks. Get out of your car if you can stand to smell the offesive odor.
Steam vents are also nearby.
Hawaii Volcano Observatory overlooks Halemaumau Crater. Scientists monitor vital signs for an eruption from here. Have a look around inside at all the old photos. Nice views from over Uwekahuna Bluff.
The Crater Rim Drive is an 11-mile road that encircles the summit caldera of Kilauea Volcano. The drive passes through desert and rain forest and provides access to scenic viewpoints and a variety of interesting short walks, including several past steam vents and one through a lava tube cave. For those with more time, there are several longer hikes, including one that encircles the entire caldera.
Crater Rim Drive no longer exists in its entirety. What once ran the circumference of the caldera now only services the Visitors Center area. The drive has been closed off to vehicles and is only accessible in part by hiking. Along the road there are impressive sites! Make sure you stick to the gated in areas as hoping the fence will get you dead.
Thurston Lava Tube, also called Nahuku, is located through a forest of tree ferns. You can walk about 500 feet into a tunnel which was formed when the outer lava cooled and the inside lava drained away.
Lava tubes are a common feature of the creation of the volcanic landscape. As molten lava flows down the side of the mountain, the surface cools. The lava then flows underground, through these self-made tubes. The distances that the lava travels are extended since the tube's roof effectively insulates the molten lava, keeping it fluid for a longer time. When the eruption stops, lava drains from the tube, leaving it an open chamber.
Waldron Ledge used to be a stop off look out where tour buses parked. Since the road was closed to vehicles, hikers can access the area and utilize the look out. You can even have a nice lunch here. When we went, there was no one in sight so it was nice to have it all to ourselves.
Try yelling out something at the top of your lungs towards the wall of the caldera!!
Byron Lookout was once a popular stop over decades ago but since the eruption and road closure, the look out is nothing but a cement slab with railings now. You can still gain what you can from it by hiking in. It overlooks the Pu'u Pua'i cinder cone.
Decades ago when the Crater Rim Drive was still open, many came to witness an up close and personal event. The danger was great yet people lined up for ten miles out of the park just to see this.
The cinder cone known as Pu'u Pua'i (poo oo poo-ah ee) or Gushing Hill spewed hot magma from its northern side. Today, you are able to hike right up to it with no problems as you can see.
An entire day or more could easily be devoted to seeing and exploring all of the fascinating nooks and crannies at this dynamic and active national park.
Crater Rim road, an 11-mile road that circles Kilauea Caldera is an absolute must do. It is off this road that you will see the steam vents, the crater overlooks, the Thurston Lava Tube, and other areas.