Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park


As soon as we landed in Kona, at the Big Island of Hawai'i, we picked up the rental car and drove straight to Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park. This park was established in 1916 and encompasses two active volcanoes: Kīlauea and Mauna Loa. Kīlauea is one of the world's most active volcanoes and Mauna Loa is the world's most massive and active volcano. The park was recognized in 1980 when it was named a World Biosphere Site by UNESCO and later in 1987, it was designated a World Heritage Site. It is located in the south part of the Big Island of Hawai'i. The park encompasses diverse environments that range from sea level to the summit of Mauna Loa at 13,677 feet, where the climates range from lush tropical rain forests, to the dry and barren desert. There are several hiking and camping opportunities within the park for tourists. 

The first thing we did was get to the park's visitor center and ask the ranger for eruption updates. Luckily, there had been an eruption from the Pu'u'o'o vent, but the lava was flowing in the Kalapana area. The main entrance to the park is from the Hawaii Belt Road. The Chain of Craters Road leads past several craters from historic eruptions to the coast. It used to continue to another entrance to the park near the town of Kalapana, but that portion is now covered by a solidified lava flow. The rangers suggested that we should hike over the solid lava from the end of the park road to get to the Kalapana site which was going to be an eight hour hike. Spending eight hours to get there just didn't seem practical.

Chain of Craters Road
This is one of the views you can see at the end of the road
This is why the road is closed. It is now covered with lava
We then went to check out the Thurston Lava Tube.
The entrance to the tube
The lava tube was created when lava had traveled beneath the surface after being expelled by a volcano during an eruption. The lava ceased but left this long cave-like tunnel behind. It was quite fascinating to walk through that tunnel knowing that lava had once traveled through here.

Inside the tube
After this, it had begun to get a little dark, so we decided to head to the Thomas A. Jaggar Museum to see the Halema'uma'u Crater. The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory is located here on the rim of the Kīlauea Caldera. The observatory monitors four active Hawaiian volcanoes: Kīlauea, Mauna Loa, Hualālai, and Haleakalā. Because Kīlauea and Mauna Loa are significantly more active than Hualālai and Haleakalā, much of the observatory's research is concentrated on the former two mountains. 

The observatory has a worldwide reputation as a leader in the study of active volcanism. The Halemaʻumaʻu Crater is a pit crater located within the Kīlauea Caldera and according to Hawaiian Mythology is known to be the home of Pele, the Hawaiian Goddess of Fire and Volcanoes. According to the Hawaii Volcano Observatory the crater is currently active, with lava in an open vent fluctuating from 70 to 150 meters below the crater floor.

Madame Pele

We had heard that the glow of the lava pool inside the Halema'uma'u Crater can be seen after dark, so it was the perfect time to check it out. Since it was our first night here, seeing the lava glow at night was super exciting.

Here is a hazy pic to give you an idea how it really looked at night. It was dark and this is the best I could get with a point-and-shoot so bear with me.

It was way cooler to witness this than any of the picture clicking really. There was a crowd of people who had just come out at night to witness the glow of lava. For a first-timer, it is quite a scene.

This is how the Halema'uma'u Crater looks like in the day

The next morning we decided to do the Kīlauea Iki Trail. Kīlauea Iki is a pit crater right next to the main summit caldera of Kīlauea.  It is beautiful. It takes you through a lush, green rain forest and into the crater. The walk through the rain forest is absolutely gorgeous. It took us about an hour and a half to do the trail and it was by far the best hike we have done, yet. 

My tip would be to do the hike early morning around 8:00 AM or so because the weather would be just perfect at that time. Also, do the trail counterclockwise. It's less tiring, trust me. Carry plenty of water. We carried our jackets and wore long pants but really, there was no need for it. I had heard that there could be bugs so I wore long pants, but a few minutes into the hike, we started feeling so hot. Luckily, we were both wearing Columbia pants so we unzipped the pants from the knees. While you're in the rain forest, it'll feels as if it never really stops drizzling. It's the nice sort of drizzle though; not the type to make your clothes all wet. 

After an hour or so, you'll descend into the crater and the picture above is what the first sight of the crater will look like. You'll basically walk through this pool of hard lava and get to the other side of the crater. The trail will ask you to follow stacks of rocks so you don't end up going on places where you shouldn't be. From a distance, you'll be able to see steam vents. I'm guessing that's a place you shouldn't wander into.

Excuse my crazy posing. Just the way it says on the board, you are to follow the stack of rocks and won't get lost. This part of the trail is fairly simple. I read in a lot of places that you should wear good footwear and long pants and carry a gallon of water each, etc.etc... Honestly, I had a 16 oz water bottle, I wore my tennis shoes and shorts. And by the time I finished the trail, I wasn't exhausted or anything (and I'm not your average fit person). So I think, this trail was very relaxing, beautiful and different from any other trail I've ever done. 

Along the trail, you'll see this plant. It's the Ohi'a tree. There's a legend that Ohi'a was a very handsome Hawaiian chief and Madame Pele fell in love with him. She asked him to come and stay with her forever but he denied because he was in love with this beautiful maiden, Lehua, his girlfriend. Madame Pele was enraged. Pele was known for her angry tantrums and jealousy. When she got angry, she would call forth burning lava to destroy everything around her. Because Ohi'a had defied Pele, she was furious and turned him into this ugly tree so he could never be with Lehua again. When Lehua saw this, she sat at the base of the tree and cried because she had been separated from her lover. When the God's saw her, they felt really bad. But Pele's magic was too strong for them to undo, so they turned Lehua into a beautiful flower on the tree so both the lovers could be together forever. Now it is said that if anyone plucks this flower from the tree, it rains, because Lehua cries when she is separated from her lover. 

I realized that the locals really believe this story to be true, so I didn't dare pluck the flower. I wouldn't pluck any flower, anyway and I didn't need rain on my beautiful trip, either. The locals told stories of how some tourists didn't believe in the story, plucked the flower and it poured on them like crazy. It was quite interesting. 

I would highly suggest doing the Kīlauea Iki trail, the Thurston Lava tube, driving down all the way to the end of the Chain of Craters road and definitely visiting the Jaggar Museum at night. There was another trail that took you to the petroglyphs but I didn't think it was interesting enough. There was no lava flowing within the park so we didn't see anything here.

The park is open 24 hours a day year-round, including ALL holidays. Kīlauea Visitor Center is open daily from 7:45 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Jaggar Museum is open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. The entrance fee is $10 per vehicle, valid for a week.

That's it for now. I'll update on the lava viewing sites tomorrow.
Take care!


  1. wow..nice experience.. the best is the night thr.. well i had a question that wat about the temperature ? is thr ny fluctuation of stable.
    rest the red flower story is quite interesting..

    1. The temperature throughout the island was very pleasant. Same within the park. The lava itself at an average is 2000 degrees Fahrenheit. Because you're right next to the ocean, it's always windy and pleasant so you don't feel the heat. When you go close to the lava it feels hot and by hot I mean how you would feel if you stood next to the Lohri Bonfire. But otherwise, throughout the park and the island itself, the weather was nice (rainy in parts, sunny in parts), nothing drastic.