The Kipukapuaulu Trail is a short, but little visited, trail just off Mauna Loa Road. Because it is little visited, this well-forested area is one of the best places to find some of Hawaii’s endemic bird species. The flowering trees are favored by the relatively common I’iwi and Apapane, two of the remaining species of Hawaiian honeycreepers. More commonly seen, however, are introduced species such as Japanese White-eye and Kalij Pheasant. The trail also is a good place for seeing the introduced and highly destructive Small Indian Mongoose.
The large devastated region dropping off of Kilauea's southwestern rim is the wastelands of the Ka'u Desert. The desert is bordered on the east side, roughly, by the Hilina Pali Road. From that road's end at the Hilina Pali Overlook, the Ka'u Desert Trail takes off making a wide, long sweep southwest and then back northwest, returning to Kilauea Crater after almost 19 miles. Water can be obtained 4.8 miles out from the Overlook at the Pepeiao Cabin - nowhere else. Camping or use of the shelter requires a backcountry permit from the Park Headquarters.
Off of HI 11, southwest of Kilauea, just before the highway leaves the Park, there is the Ka'u Desert Trailhead. The trail here is actually the Footprints Trail - an extension of the Mauna Iki Trail (which bisects the Desert in about 8 miles over to the Hilina Pali Road). The trail eventually leads to Mauna Iki - a small version of the giant volcano to the north (Mauna Loa) - but the most interesting part of the trail lies about one mile in where footprints from a warparty can be seen in the ash dating back to 1790. This is all the warriors left behind. The trail gives you a taste for the desert surrounding you and lying beyond in all directions. The story is told in full detail here: http://www.nps.gov/havo/history/archeology/footprints.htm
Kipuka is an island of vegetation surrounded by lava flows. Just off HI 11 and the NW side of Kilauea crater, up the Mauna Loa Strip Road, is Kipuka Punaulu. In this native forest, you can hear and catch glimpses of rare native Hawaiian bird species. There is a 1.2 mile nature trail with self-guiding signs to help explain what you are seeing.
For more adventure, think of hiking to the top of Mauna Loa, 13677 feet/4169 m high, Hawaii's second highest peak. Mauna Loa Trail takes off from the end of the Strip Road at Lookout Shelter - 13.5 miles up from HI 11 at 6626 feet/2031 meters. Water is key to this hike. Start with plenty and know you have to carry a lot. There is a cistern 7.5 miles out at Red Hill Cabin - 10025 ft/3059 m - where you spend the first night out. Then 11.6 miles to the Mauna Loa Cabin, where there is another water cistern - check water availability from the Park HQ before moving out - atop the summit crater - Moku'aweoweo Caldera. If peakbagging is your game, Mauna Loa Cabin - 13250 ft/4039 m - is on the east side of the crater, but the true summit is on the west side, 4.5 miles away from the cabin. Moku'aweoweo is as vast as Kilauea and has considerable volcanic activity. Backcountry permits need to obtained and advance registration from the Park Headquarters. Note permits for the climb are on a first-come basis, not in advance of your visit. Only 16 hikers are allowed per cabin per day. Altitude can be a problem on top, especially since it is gained so quickly. Warm clothing, camping gear including a sleeping bag good to 0 F and a water purification system should be brought along with sturdy boots for the wicked lava you will walk up and down. It is quite an experience apart from the normal beach trip. The stars are just as wild and close from Mauna Loa as from the observatories atop its sister volcano to the north - Mauna Kea. See: http://www.nps.gov/havo/visitor/ml.htm for detailed info on the climb. Lastly, snow can extend down to Red Hill Cabin in the winter months.
The Nene is Hawaii's state bird. Here in the Park, the Nene has its main remaining sanctuary. You will see warning signs along the Park roads warning you to look out for them, though the birds can be difficult to spot when you are looking for them. Nenes have evolved as a species unique to Hawaii over the eons. A narrow side road branches off the Chain of Craters Road at the 6 mile mark - the Hilina Pali Road. Travel this road for 6 miles and you come to the picnic/camping area called Kipuka Nene. A kipuka is an island of vegetation surrounded by lava flows. Nene 'Island',thus, sounds like a good place to see the birds? If you have come to Kipuka Nene, then you should drive the extra 4 miles to the road's end atop the Hilina Pali. The view from the overlook is wide-sweeping - to the south, the ocean, about 1-2 miles away with the Hilina Pali cliffs dropping almost 1500 feet directly below you; to the northwest, the vast Ka'u Desert, devastated land from Kilauean lava flows, the slopes of Mauna Loa rise beyond. For more on the Nene, see: http://www.nps.gov/havo/resource/nene.htm
Along a portion of the crater rim drive, co-existing with the Thurston Lava Tube, is a beautiful tree fern rain forest that you should take a moment to appreciate.
The dense tree fern rain forest jungle in the vicinity of and along the path to the Thurston Lava Tube is typical of the high-rainfall vegetation at this elevation in Hawaii.
Stop and listen to the bird calls. If you are patient you might catch a glimpse of some of the rare Hawaiian birds that make this jungle their home.
The Apapane is a bright red bird that can often be seen in the treetops, feeding on insects and nectar from the fluffy red ohi'a blossoms which it resembles.
If you see a small, yellowish bird busily hunting insects in the forest canopy it is probably an Amakihi, one of Hawaii's most common native birds.
Since this is a rain forest you will probably need a raincoat or poncho to keep you and your camera dry. It was kind of misty and lightly raining the day that I visited this spot. One nice thing about the moisture, it keeps many of the tourists in their automobiles leaving this area to those few willing to get a little damp.
When we were here, this hotel was closed for remodeling. It might have needed it - my sister visited...more
11-3802 Twelfth St/PO Box 205, Hawaii, 96718, United States
Good for: Business
The park ranger told us about this place and we passed it also on the ship's tour. I did not know...more