It was at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park where I found my love for the Big Island. Seeing the lava glow from Kilauea crater was one of those transformative moments. At that time I immediately felt respect for Pele the Hawaiian fire goddess.
Established as a National Park in 1916, much of the early development was the result of private enterprise, much like how Glacier National Park got its start. A number of businessmen built structures and a hotel along the rim to draw in visitors. One of them, Lorrin Thurston, lobbied for 10 years to get the area named a National Park.
My wife Whitney and I first came through Volcanoes National Park at night and drove directly to the Jagger Museum, the highest overlook of Kilauea crater. Because of the 2018 Kilauea eruptions, the Jagger museum is now closed. Enjoy these photos because the landscape has really changed since our first time there.
The glow emanating from Halemaʻumaʻu crater within the Kilauea caldera is where Pele lived in Hawaiian mythology. What a sight to have the earth lighting up the night sky.
My wife Whitney couldn’t tear me away from the glow. I took photo after photo and stared at it for an hour or more. Such raw power and so few places to see such a thing – I wanted to drink it in.
The Kilauea eruption’s lava flows covered 18 miles of land, destroyed 700 homes and added 875 acres to the island of Hawaii. Over 20 fissures shot lava into the air to the northeast of Volcanoes National Park.
60,000 earthquakes later, the summit crater’s floor collapsed and the diameter more than doubled in sized, as shown in this 3D model at the visitor center.
Today there’s a crater lake of hot, sulfurous water at the bottom of the crater. This is the first time in recorded history where water could be found in the crater. In a hundred years, will it resemble Oregon’s Crater Lake?
It looks more like Canyonlands National Park than the volcano I rememeber! Compare this view to what we saw before the 2018 eruptions.
Good views of the crater can also be seen at the Volcano House – the only public lodging in the National Park. Here you can visit the overlook, the restaurant or the gift shop.
A short walk through the lobby brings you to this view of the Kilauea caldera.
The outside overlook is a good place for a family photo, too.
In addition to the caldera view, you can see the Steaming Bluff and steam vents, which is one of our next stops.
Be sure to visit the gift shop for all your Volcanoes National Park trinkets. I always go for a magnet, but I’m quickly running out of space on my fridge.
Back outside, along Crater Rim Drive, you’ll find the Steam Vents (aka the Steaming Bluff). Groundwater seeps down to the hot volcanic rocks in this area and turns into steam. The ground just a few feet down is so hot that tree roots can’t survive. Only shallow-rooted plants can grow here.
What happens when your camera catches some of that steam.
This Ohia Lehua plant was catching a lot of steam and looked good with the little droplets caught on it. This is the official flower of the big island of Hawaii. It is often the first plant to grow on barren lava fields.
Wise words from our friends at the National Park Service.
The steam was so thick we were worried we’d lose my Uncle Brian. To our relief, he managed to return to the minivan safely.
The steaming bluff overlooks the caldera’s edge.
Also near here is a short hike to see the strange Sulphur Banks (Ha’akulamanu).
Volcanic gases seep out of the ground along with steam. These gases are rich in carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and hydrogen sulfide. So, of course, it smells like rotten eggs.
This hike is easy and completely wheelchair accessible due to the paved path and boardwalk.
Some sulfur gases deposit pure crystals at Sulphur Banks. Other sulfur gases form sulfuric acid which breaks down the lava to clay.
Next stop along the Crater Rim Drive is the Thurston Lava Tube. These underground passageways are capable of transporting great quantities of lava long distances underneath the surface. When the supply of lava stops at the end of an eruption, or if it gets diverted elsewhere, it leaves behind an empty cave.
Access is through a short walk through a lush forest and down the steps.
Hawaiʻi is crisscrossed by countless lava tubes. Usually, they have to be explored with headlamps. But this one is so popular, the park has added auxiliary lighting. The lighting is on from 8 a.m to 8 p.m every day.
If you’d like to see visit another lava tube, see my post about the Ape Cave lava tube near Mt. St. Helens.
At 18.8 miles, the longest road in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is Chain of Craters Road. It is incredibly scenic as it winds from the lush tropical forest to the barren wastelands created by Pele.
Back in 2016 when we first visited, we did in it in style. My reservation (a Kia Rio) was upgraded to a convertible Camaro at no cost to me! I couldn’t believe my luck. We had a beautiful warm and sunny day to explore the park.
Most recently my wheels were a Dodge Grand Caravan minivan, which was okay with me since it was foggy and rainy. Convertibles are pretty terrible when weather dictates that the top has to be up.
All along the Chain of Crater Road in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park are stops to observe (and walk on) lava fields. Since 1986, lava has flowed repeatedly over the road. Hundreds of acres and nearly 9 miles of road have been overcome by flows.
You can start to see those little Ohia Lehua trees I mentioned earlier start to pop up in these lava fields.
The fields are vast and look especially interesting with the inclement weather we’re experiencing today.
This lava is from a 1969-1974 eruption of Mauna Ulu. This reflection off of the lava is created from the outer layer of silica, surface glass. It is especially shiny today since rain has passed through.
Vegetation is sparse here since it’s hard as hell to grow on lava and there isn’t a lot of rain here – usually.
Our next overlook is near Kealakomo. From here you have a good view of the lava field and can follow with your eye it’s path to the coast.
It’s easy to forget your elevation when driving in the lava field. After this overlook, it’s a rapid descent to the coastline.
Before we get to the coast, there is an ancient site worth checking out. Puʻu Loa is the largest petroglyph field in the State of Hawaiʻi. It’s been here awhile – Puʻu Loa is geologically dated between 1200-1450 A.D.
23,000 petroglyph images are here, mostly “pukas” in which a portion of the umbilical cord of a newborn was placed to ensure long life. Pu’u Loa means “Hill of long life.”
On a sunny day, this is a hot and sweaty hike of about 3 miles round trip just to reach the petroglyphs boardwalk. Bring some water, a hat, and some sunscreen!
The end of the road brings you to the raging and wild coastline of southeastern Hawaii. No white sand (or black sand or green sand) to be found here, just craggy black lava getting endlessly battered by the sea.
More lava flows to be found here. I assume you like lava since you’re visiting this park. Peeking into the various crevices you can find some really cool formations, like this one that still looks like liquid.
Or this one that looks like an old man’s wrinkles.
Truly, like lying on your back and pointing at clouds.
The very end of the road is yet another lava flow, this one from 2003.
You’ll have to get out and walk a little ways to reach the part where the road meets the lava.
It’s my blog and I can act stupid if I want to.
Without question the reason you’ve driven all the way to the end is to see this, the Holei Sea Arch. The sea arch is about 90 ft. high. This impressive sea arch was cut into the cliff of an ancient lava flow, about 550 years ago.
The photo below is from my visit in 2016. Today the vantage point has been moved 1,000 feet away from this overlook because this cliff has become unstable.
With the ever-changing nature of the park, especially after the 2018 eruptions closed so much of it, a lot is sure to change. Visit the official park website for the latest information. The news releases section is a good place to see if anything out of the ordinary (or disruptive to your trip) is happening at the park.
Thanks for the pictoral tour of your hike. Beautiful!
Thanks for stopping by! Trying to make Brian famous…