After hiking Kauai’s NaPali Coast, the adventure continued! I headed to the island of Hawaii (the Big Island) and explored Hawaii’s Volcanoes National Park!
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park incorporates two of the five volcanoes on the island of Hawaii – Mauna Loa and Kilauea. This national park is unlike any others I have visited, and rightly so. Where else on earth do you find active volcanoes and one that has been in constant eruption since 1983?
What to do at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park?
First step – I checked in with the Visitor’s Center to find out current conditions. Lava flows have buried roads (i.e., the main road through the park, the Chain of Craters Road, dead ends where lava has buried it). Additionally, the level of lava movement varies dramatically, as does its location. When I was there, there were not any visible lava flows, however, Kilauea put on quite the night show!
Thurston Lava Tube
The hike to the lava tube is less than a mile, and it is a beautiful walk through a Hawaiian rainforest. You’ll know you’ve arrived at the lava tube when you see the cave like entrance ahead…
Imagine walking through a cave like structure, knowing that boiling lava rushed through there over 500 years ago. Molten lava flows like a river, and just like water, it “freezes”, or creates a crusty surface at the top while the lava still flows beneath. Eventually, the lava finishes flowing, and a cave like empty cavity below the surface called a “lava tube” is all that remains.
I was surprised by the size of the Thurston Lava Tube – it was quite massive…no need to watch my head or squeeze in this cave! I had to put on my rain jacket since quite a bit of water was dripping from the ceiling. I even had to stash my camera to keep it dry. Nonetheless, this lava tube is a must see if you head to Volcanoes National Park!
Kilauea is an impressive sight, and it is well worth staying past sunset to see the ominous glow of the orange and yellow volcanic gases. It is a shield volcano, not a conical volcano, so you can literally drive to the top and look down to see the 400 foot wide depression, the caldera. Within the Kilauea Caldera is the Halema’uma’u Crater, which is the main vent (and where you can see gases from the boiling lava glowing at night!).
Pu’u Huluhulu Cinder Cone Hike
Perhaps it was the misty weather, or the race against sunset, but the hike to Pu’u Huluhulu Cinder was desolate. It was a surreal experience, with most of the three mile journey marked only by “ducks”, or stacks of rocks placed by other hikers or rangers to designate the direction of the trail over the crusty lava flows.
The hike begins by crossing lava fields, and lots of evidence of destruction from the 1969-1974 Mauna Ulu eruption. There are many steam vents visible in the distance. I really had to pay attention to my footing in order to avoid stepping into large cracks in the crusty lava.
After crossing the lava fields, an actual trail becomes visible. It is narrow and slightly overgrown, and leads up 150 feet to the summit the Pu’u Huluhulu. From there, the views are magnificent! Even though it was overcast when I was there, I could still look out and see steaming vents and get a sense of the vastness of the national park. It was not clear enough to see the Pacific Ocean, so perhaps I’ll need to book another trip to Hawaii!
Happy trails, and happy Hawaiian hiking!