Outdoors Big Island - Hawaii Volcano National Park

Blog Post created by kharada46 on Jul 10, 2015

In my last post about our Big Island adventure I discussed Outdoors Big Island - Skyline Eco Adventures Akaka Falls, which truth be told is an activity the wife chose.  My main demand was that we visit Hawaii Volcano National Park.  You have to, it's what you do when you go to the Big Island right?  And while there were no active surface flows, ocean entires, visible lava lakes or the rarer fountain eruptions to view, the experience was quite eye opening.  Why?  Typically my previous visits were just a lot of driving and a little walking to see some craters or lava flows, but no actual exploration on foot.  This time around we just scratched the surface of exploring this amazing park and are itching to get back to take on longer hikes... and hopefully the weather will cooperate next time.


Our first stop in the park was the Jagger Museum overlooking Halema'uma'u Crater within Kilauea's caldera.  It was very rainy and misty when we got there, but luckily after a short bathroom break the weather had begun to clear up enough for me to snap the above picture.  Unfortunately the Chain of Craters Road beyond the museum is closed, so we headed back in the other direction.  We skipped the Thurston Lava Tube because of weather, but did stop at the lower Kilauea Iki lookout and took a stroll down part of the Devastation Trail.


Beginning the trail on this end, you immediately enter a forest of native Ohia Lehua trees and will be surrounded by the beautiful songs of Hawaii's critically endangered and endemic honeycreepers.  There's really nothing quite like this on Oahu.  Haven't experienced anything like it on Maui either for that matter.  Above is a shot of an Ohia Lehua blossom.


While walking along the path, you may even come across the extremely delicious Ohelo Berry.  This endemic plant is used to make my favorite preserves, which are found throughout the Big Island, but are hard to find on the other islands.  Ohelo Berry has a flavor profile similar to cranberry, but more fruity and sweet without the harsh tartness/bitterness.  I'm not sure if it's legal to pick the berries within the park, so we didn't, but if you do, Hawaiian practices state that you're supposed to throw a few in the direction of Kilauea before partaking as an offering to the Goddess Pele.  Failing to do so will anger Pele and may bring misfortune to you. 


At some point along the path the forest abruptly ends and you find yourself in the cinder field leftover from the 1959 eruption of Kilauea Iki.  Somewhere nearby is another hiking path that branches off, but we decided to stop here to admire the interesting floral reclaiming the cinder fields.


Not wanting to risk getting caught in the rain that seemed like it was heading in our direction, and also to ensure we had time to see the other sites we wanted to see, we decided to turn around and head back to the car.  I sorely want to explore this area and the Kilauea Iki Trail in-depth and can't wait to return to the area.  But after this we decided to head down to the coast.  It's a 45+ minute drive from this point, and that's without stopping.  This gives you an idea on the sheer size of the park.


Of course we did stop along the way to take a couple of shots here and there.


On the way down to the coast you'll come to an area with parking on both sides of the road and a sign on the left side (when facing the ocean) talking about Pu'u Loa.  This is an area you're going to want to stop at if you have time because it is home to well preserved petroglyphs.


As you can see it's a 3/4 mile hike to the petroglyphs.  It's a fairly easy hike all things considered, but the hike traverses very uneven lava flows with some moderately sharp inclines/declines.  Wear proper footwear, sunscreen, and bring plenty of water.  It's HOT here.


The trail isn't clearly marked, but we figured out that if you fall the rock piles in the above photos, you'd eventually reach an area where you can see the boardwalk encompassing the petroglyphs and will be able to easily navigate the rest of the way.





The boardwalk area is well maintained, pretty short and includes 2 benches.  The boardwalks are meant to keep you away from the petroglyphs to help preserve them, but there is an area a little before the boardwalk that has a bunch of petroglyphs too.  After the hike we hydrated, jumped into our car and headed the rest of the way down to the coast.




Once you reach the end of Chain of Craters Road, you'll see a snack shop, some restrooms, a ranger station and some parking.  Before that, however, you may see some Nene Geese (Hawaii's state bird and an endangered specie) roaming around the lava fields.  Best thing to do, though is park your car in the parking area and walk over to them.


Since the lava isn't entering the sea, the main attraction down on the coast is the Holei Sea Arch.  You could technically hike to what used to be the town of Kalapana too if you'd like.  At this point, the wife and I decided to head back up to get back to Hilo in time to get to Two Ladies Kitchen before they closed for the day and grab some dinner before returning to the park for some night viewing.



Of course you may need to stop on the way back up to take in views you didn't notice on the way down


And just as planned, we returned at early dusk.  The parking was a nightmare, as was the crowds.  People were smashed in like crazy and kept bumping my tripod making long exposures like the above difficult, but it was worth it.  Got some pretty great pictures!


So, as you can see, Volcano NP is an amazing place to visit with tons to do.  It's some place I am definitely dying to return to as I've said before.  If you decide to visit, just bear in mind that the weather is highly variable here and it's much cooler here.  In fact, night time was miserably cold by Hawaii standards, dropping into the 50s with gusty winds.  Kilauea's Caldera is actually at a high elevation, even if it doesn't look or seem like it.  At Jagger Museum, you're at an elevation of about 4,000 ft.  By comparison, the highest point on Oahu, Mt Ka'ala is about 4,000 ft high.  Some come prepared and stay in the Volcano House for a night or 2 to maximize your time in the park and negate the need to travel to and from your hotel.  This is especially true if you're staying on the Kona side of the island as it's a 2+ hour drive!


Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park (U.S. National Park Service)