This is a 19 mile one-way drive that you should not miss. It descends from 3'700 feet (1128m) down to the sea level with its wild coast. It ends where lava has covered about 10 miles of the road. There you will see the Holei Sea Arch and you can walk a bit a long the street and see the abrupt endings. You will see big lava flows from the 1969-1974 that came down the steep slopes. There is as well the Pu'uloa Petroglyph Trail (1.5 mile loop).
This is a highly recommended trail to do even if you do not have a lot of time. It is a four-mile (about two-hour) hike. It takes you first through the native rain forest with some good views down to the crater. Then you will have to descend 400 feet into the crater where you can cross lava flows (from 1959) and it even has some steaming holes left. It is a great way to see how nature slowly claims back the vast land as you will come across a lot of little trees growing back. The path takes you by the Lava tube as well.
Bring some water as it will be very hot down in the crater.
If you are interested in walking all the way out to the lava then get a somewhat early start. Because when it gets dark, it gets dark. Also make sure to bring lots of water and a flash light, just in case. The sun radiating off the lava is very hot. Unfortunately I did not get to see the lava up close because of a late start.
The Volcano National Park is the biggest attraction on the Big Island, as it should be. The Park is well maintained and is magnificent. I've been to the Grand Canyon and Yosemite before, and I can say in all honesty, the Volcano National Park is
right up there with these two well known parks on the US mainland. No trip to the Big Island is complete without a visit to the Park. If you don't have three days to explore the area, be sure to get there in the morning and drive around the park before buses arrive around 11 a.m. The drive down the Chain of Creator Road is a must. The landscape there is unforgettable.
Currently, the main crator at the Park is erupting! (Spring 2008) Only the goddess of Volcano (Pele) knows how much longer it will last. The sulfur level is very high near the park. Be careful!
Please consider visiting the area where the lava enters the Pacific Ocean. The hike is only 20 minutes. Easy hike. On the way back, you can stop at Lava Tree State Park in Pahoa. These two attractions are free! Not inside the National Park, that's why.
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.
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