The highlight of Chain of Craters Road (one of many!) is Halema'uma'u Cater. According to the Hawaiians, this is the home of Pele, the volcano god. To the rest of us, it's a nice half- mile stroll to look into an enormous, steaming crater. Halema'uma'u is actually a crater in a crater, residing at the base of Kilaeua Crater, but to the naked eye on land, it seems likethe biggest crater in the park. A must see!
Nothing shows the unstoppable nature of a lava flow like going to the end of Chain of Craters Road in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Here, the local authorities desperately wanted to keep the road open. but what could they do? Until June of 2007, molten hot lava poured over this road from a fissure in Kilauea's side. So the road remains closed, ended abruptly by the equivelent of black puss from a zit on the face of the earth -- except much hotter and very very unstoppable.
To get to this place, you have to walk about half a mile from the place where you park your car. Wear sunscreen or some protection, as the walk is completely unshaded.
When I first laid eyes on the volcano it surprised me that it wasn't like Mount St. Helens or Mount Vesuvius. The volcano is actually a shield volcano, broad sloping mountain with what they call "calderas" in which the lava rolls out of instead of spews forth. There are two types of lava in Hawaii. The first kind ropey and smooth in texture and it is known as "pahoehoe". It looks like pancake batter. The other type which is rough, sharp called "clinkery" is known as "a' a'" The Hawaiian name is apt because if you fall or slip on the a'a lava that is what you will be saying, "a'a! a'a, a'a"
There are many areas to see. It's probably best to start on the Chain of Craters road, but a note of caution: the volcano is still active, so portions of this road can be closed to volcanic activity so it's best to call before setting out. For Lava flow info: 808-985-6000
Visit the Kilauea caldera. It is 400 ft. deep and 2 1/2 miles across at the widest point. What I found fascinating and a bit unnerving was the steam emanating from its cauldron.
A bit of folklore here, make sure that you do not take any of the rocks from the park. Madame Pele considers every rock one of her children. If you take one of her "children" legend has it that you will be plauged with bad luck until her child returns. It must be true because the rangers frequently receive packages of rocks from visitors who have taken rocks home, experience bad luck and then mail them back to the park service asking the Rangers to return the rocks back where they belong. I can personally attest that this is true. One of my girlfriends, despite warning, took some rocks to build a gas barbecue in her backyard. Upon her return home she had her brakes go out, all four tires blew out within a period of a week, her washing machine overflowed ruining her new floor, and she was fired from her job. She promptly boxed the rocks up, enclosed five dollars and a note telling the rangers where she had taken the rocks from.
Deservedly the most popular hike in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is the jaunt across Kilaeua Iki Crater. It is a spectacular hike along the bottom of a crater that bubbled and boiled in 1959 and then hardened into a flat half-eaten bowl of chocolate pudding (or so it seems). A round trip of about 3 hours, including a 400 foot descent, a mile-long crater-bottom stroll, a 400-foot climb and a rim walk, it is easy enough to be finished by a 9-year-old but beautiful enough to entrance a worldly adult. I recommend doing it in the morning and starting from the lava tube, descending first. THat way you walk with the spectacular opening in front of you and the sun behind you the whole way -- you get the best vistas without being blinded or even having to turn your neck! I imagine doing this hike in the middle of the day would be a blistering experience!
Until June 2007 (just a couple of months before our visit), lava flowed directly into the ocean. THat flow has since stopped, but it's still fun to hike over the recently formed blacktop to see the primeval coastline of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. THis must be a view similar to the one seen atthe formation of these islands or even atthe formation of the earth, when the water below would have been the primordial soup of molecules just waiting for the spark needed to initiate life! How exciting!
Our three hour hike over the lavascape was well worth the journey. It's an intense hike and the markers are difficult to see. Lava flow changes so make sure to check before going our trip was in November 2006. Start off at least a couple hours before the sun starts to go down. By the time you get there it will start getting dark and you will be able to see the lava well. Start heading back before it gets dark. Walking in this stuff is way more difficult than you think and in the dark it will take hours. Bring at least a liter of water/person, sturdy shoes (hiking boots are best), flashlight (at least one/person), hat, light jacket, and compass. Make sure to stop by the Kilauea Visitor Center before your hike to talk with the rangers on the current conditions such as wind direction, air quality and distance of flow.
Once you get there and see the magma spilling into the ocean creating more square footage of earth it will be an unforgetable sight.
This park is built around the site of America's most active volcano. Unlike other volcanoes the Hawaiian volcanoes are not as prone to violent eruptions rather they tend to have events where they ooze lava. These can be periodic large lava flows or just the constant small flows that are constantely happening on the Island.
A visit to Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park is a must for any visitor to the Big island. And if you are staying on the Kona side, I wouldn't recommend trying to make the drive to the park and back in one day. There is just too much to see and do within the park to be able to make the roundtrip.
Entry to the park is $10 per car and the entry ticket is good for 7 days! First place to stop is at the visitor's center on your right just a short way into the park. It is a very nice center with a large shop, lots of interactive displays, guided hikes, videos, and lectures from park rangers. You can get the latest update on where the lava is flowing here.
There is a road that goes all the way around Kilauea Crater with lots of places to pull over and view the crater. We stopped at the steam vents, the Jagger Museum, the Halema'uma'u Crater, the Thurston Lava Tube, and made the drive all the way down Chain of Craters Road.
The lava flow moves all the time. When we were here in June of 2006, the only way to view the flow was to drive the 16 miles down Chain of Craters road and then hike 1.5 miles over very rough A'a lava. It just amazes me that it still flowing after 14 years. I have a seperate tip about the hike out, as it isn't even Kilauea that is erupting, but a completely seperate volcano called Pu'u 'O'o outside the park.
This has become a popular activity so expect crowds. You hike out to the lava flows before sunset and then stay and see the lava flow at night. Wow! The creation of land right before your eyes!!
The hike is not for little ones. It is over very rough A'a lava flows for about 1.5 miles (the distance changes as the lava changes it flows) each way. When we went, the flows were getting further from the road.
Bring water, good shoes, and a very good flash light for each person for the walk back. Water because it is bare lava you are crossing that is black and gathers the heat, even with a breeze blowing we were hot and thirsty. Good shoes because it is very rough and uneven ground, especially the A'a lava. There is no real trail, just a bunch of folks wandering in the wilderness.
And when I say crowded, I mean a hundred cars parked along the road when we arrived at 4:30, a good 2 hours from sunset.
The Volcanoes National Park is probably the most distinctive National Park in the United States. It is possible to actually drive around the crater of what is essentially an active volcano. You can not only smell but almost taste the sulphur in the air. As you walk over the tubes of lava flow, you can feel the hot steam rising from crevices underfoot. In the evenings, the unearthly glow of molten lava is visible through these cracks.
At the end of the Chain of Craters Road, you must pull over and stop. The road blocks and old Lava flows prevent you from driving any further. You have two options, either walk to the lava flow (you MUST check with the Ranger to see if it is safe & what you need to prepare yourself for the long walk) or walk to the viewpoint about a mile away. If you arrive when it is almost dark, you MUST have a flashlight so you can safely make your way back over the uneven and dangerous old Lava rock.
Is it worth the trip? YES! I don't have a good zoom, but was impressed with how close I could see the lava entering the ocean. It was fascinating!!!
The Petroglyphs of Hawaii are ancient Polynesian rock carvings.
Kilauea volcano contains Hawaii's most extensive collection of Petroglyphs.
It is a 1 1/2 mile round trip walk to view the Petroglyphs. You walk around a circular wooden boardwalk around them. There are thousands of Petroglyphs, representing everything from birth to death. The holes bored in the rock were usually cut by the parents who placed the umbilical cords from their newborns there for good luck. The area is very peaceful and worth your time if you want to see a direct expression of ancient Hawaiian life.
I highly recommend taking some of the ranger or naturalist guided tours here at Volcanoes National park. We took one tour and I wished we'd have had time to take more. They give you a real appreciation for the features here and point out things you don't notice when hiking on your own. Our guide was a young naturalist with a British accent and an older man who is a volunteer here. They pointed out areas of vegetation that is favored by the NeNe Geese which were colonizing the lava areas. They also explained the different types of lava. And our hike ended with a nice view of Kilauea volcano with a scope to see the steam coming out.
This is a wonderful park. You need to allow several days to really see it all. We went here 2 different days and still didn't see it all. There are many trails which can be quite different. Kilauea is the earth's most active volcano and when we were there, it was erupting. They told us that conditions for viewing change so to phone 985-6000 for an update. We went to the end of the Chain of Craters road one evening and one of the younger people in our group hiked out to the current flow. This road just dead ends at the huge lava flow that covered the road. While he hiked, we set up a telescope and were able to see a line of 6-10 orange spots of the lava coming down the hillside. When our young man came back about 2 hours later, he said he had hiked to the flow and actually stuck a stick in the lava.
The steam vents and sulfur vents with yellow or white crystals that form at the mouth of the vent are quite interesting along some of the trails. You can also hike across an inactive crater which is interesting.
A very different area is the dense ohi'a forest with tree ferns that leads to the Thurston Lava Tube. The tube was created when the surface of the lava cooled and turned hard but underneath it, the hot lava kept on flowing 28 miles to the sea. Eventually the lava drained out leaving an empty tube. You can go into part of this tunnel which is very damp and dark. The tree fern forest leading up to the tube was a good place to see native birds such as the Apapani, Amakihi and I'iwi.
Volcano National Park is a must see National Park. There are so many amazing things to see here from the craters to the lava tube to the petroglyphs to the exotic forest to the live lava flow.
The hike to the lava flow was a tough and long journey. We had to hike 3 miles over a lava field (difficult terrain to hike across) which took over 2 hours. However, when we finally reached the lava flow it was truely amazing and well worth the trek. It is really amazing to see the lava flowing out of the ground, solidifying and dropping into the ocean. The lava flow changes every day, so it is best to stop by the National Park Information Center as soon as you enter to find where the flow is on that day.
A trip to the Big Island would not be complete without visiting this amazing place.