Volcano National Park – Days 2 and 3
Jaggar Museum is perched on the edge of the Kilauea Caldera – 2 miles wide and 3 miles long. From here you can see into the active crater, Halemaʻumaʻu. The level of lava in the crater varies widely day to day, from several hundred feet deep to almost overflowing. In the morning we could see the lava within a few feet of the surface.
A Ranger told us it was possible see the Puʻu Oʻo vent, site of the current eruption, on a clear day. The forecast for the next day was rain so we decided to hike the Napau Trail (sometimes called Mauna Ulu Trail) to get a view of it. The moderate, well marked trail passes a variety of lava formation, lava trees and both types of lava. Once flowing lava cools it can turn into 2 different types of volcanic rock, depending on how it cools. The folded, ropy or smooth lava is called pāhoehoe. The crumpled and jagged type is called aʻā.
We ate lunch at the viewing point on the top of Puʻu Huluhulu cinder cone, watching the smoke coming out of Puʻu Oʻo, while Mauna Ulu loomed off to the right. The guidebook indicated that “you might be tempted to walk over to the top and peer into Mauna Ulu Crater. If so check your insurance and see Adventures.” The Adventures section of the book listed many of the dangers of the hike and mentioned that it was an “ʻokole squeezer.” So of course, we had to do it. The lava shattered beneath our feet, like that thin white ice you used to love breaking as a kid. The views from the rim down into the crater were spectacular and you certainly could die very easily if you got too close to the edge where the lava was undercut. But all in all, it was not that scary; it just requires a little common sense. Round trip it was about a 4 mile hike. Back at the parking lot we spotted a nēnē, the critically endangered Hawaiian goose.
After the hike we drove back to the visitor center to check out steam vents and sulfur rocks. We had dinner and hung out in our room for a while and then back to look at Halemaʻumaʻ crater in the dark. The lava was almost at the rim of the crater and was spewing fountains of lava several feet into the air. The timing of the trip turned out to be perfect – the ranger giving a talk said that it was higher than it had been in years.
VNP Day 3
We went to view the Thurston lava tubes, which are large enough to walk through standing up. The Kīlauea Iki trail starts nearby and is considered the one “must do” hike in the park. A little over 3 miles, it takes you from an ancient rain forest down into a barren crater and back up through the rain forest. It was raining for part of this hike and the skies were gray, so pictures from the day do not do justice to just how spectacular it was.
VNP accommodations and tips
Some people spend an hour or two at VNP. The guidebook advises at least 2 days. We stayed in the town of Volcano at the Volcano Inn. It was a gorgeous place with amazing landscaping. Our corner room had glass on two walls allowing unobstructed, almost 270 degree views of the grounds. They serve an excellent breakfast. Basically there is not a lot to do in Volcano. It is even difficult to find staples and supplies. The volcano is the attraction. If you need bars, stores or shopping to complete your vacation a one day visit might be best. We spent 3 days and still didn’t get to see and do everything we wanted to.
The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO) has a great website with up to date conditions on flows, eruptions and web cams. https://volcanoes.usgs.gov/observatories/hvo/
VNP is better than most National Parks I have been to, with regard to excessive rules, regulations, restrictions and signs. The staff is laid back, there are marked trails if you worry about getting lost, but you can also wander across the lava fields and get close to the action if you so desire. There are plenty of warning signs, but they leave the decision up to you. Only the most dangerous areas are roped off.
The Guidebook referenced was “The Big Island Revealed” by Andrew Doughty. It was referred to us by a friend who had been there before and is the only guidebook I have ever found useful.
Thus ends The Big Island story. Coming up next in a few days – Kauai!