The Big Island:
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Our adventure began on "The Big Island." The names of the islands are a little strange. The state is named Hawaii, but the largest island is also called Hawaii. To avoid confusion, they call this island "The Big Island". Although it's called "big", it does not have the most population and is not where the capital city (Honolulu) is located.
We flew from Phoenix through Dallas and Honolulu to Hilo, Hawaii. Not the most direct route, but a smooth flight. Arriving at 5:30 p.m., it was twilight by the time we rented a car and drove up about 40 miles into the mountain to the 'Volcano Inn' where we stayed three nights. This was right outside the entrance to Volcanoes National Park, the site of the active Kilauea Volcano. The most recent eruption started on January 3, 1983, shifted to a vent called Kupaianaha from 1986 to 1992, then shifted again. Currently, there are no surface lava flows (safer for locals, but disappointing for visitors). The lava travels down the mountain slope through a lava tube and erupts undersea next to the shore, creating a steam plume that can be seen for several miles. But that could change and has over the past several years. Check the Eruption Status from Volcano website for updated information.
A view from the top of the volcano caldera
A view from the Kilauea Trail
(We're on the rainforest trail above the crater. The second half of the loop trail crosses the crater floor containing steam vents... cool!)
We checked into our room that evening at the Volcano Inn, located just outside the entrance to Volcanoes National Park. We stayed in the Honu (sea turtle) room. We loved it. Next morning after a hearty breakfast at the Inn of scrambled eggs, a hamburger patty with rice and mushroom gravy, a fresh papaya half, pineapple, and guava juice (this was a Hawaiian menu - - it was very good), we headed out for a day of hiking.
The Road Guide we followed is available online. We first drove the 11 mile loop drive around the Kilauea Caldera - - a huge volcano crater containing a series of craters within it. There are several steam vents indicating the molten heat that exists an estimated 2 miles below the surface, but you can hike several trails through the Caldera. The Halemaumau Crater is the home of Pele, Goddess of Hawaiian volcanoes. There are many legends about Pele and native people still come to this site to make offerings. When Mark Twain visited there in the 1860s (He was a journalist who had recently tired of the gold fields of California and traveled here to do a series of articles for the San Francisco Union, Twain was not well-known then as a writer), he looked down into a sea of molten, fiery lava and described it as looking like hell. It has cooled down since then. But Twain's observation was a reminder that this chain of islands was and is still being shaped by active volcanoes along with a little added coral growth.
After nearly circling around the Caldera in the car, stopping to visit a museum, shopping at an art gallery (we bought a beautiful Koa wood covered sketchbook), and exploring the Volcano House (built on the crater rim -- original was there when Twain visited), we stopped to take a loop hike around the north rim of the Kilauea Iki Crater and then down and across it - this is a small crater within the Kilauea Caldera - total trip was over four miles. We traveled through a rainforest along the rim, then descended into the lava. There were still a lot of rifts and steam vents that were putting out scalding vapor. The climb back out to the parking lot was steep and strenuous, but Annette was working to get Larry in better physical condition. This was the first of several hikes that day.
Next it was down the mountain on the 'Chain of Craters' road, still within the national park, to the seashore to get as close as we could (by car) to the lava plume. Most of the 20 mile drive is through or near lava beds. Near the shore the dropoff from cliff to lower crests gave views of successive flows that spilled down to the sea. Down on the lower shelf of land, we stopped to hike out on old lava flows where native Hawaiians pecked out petroglyphs.

The easy, 2-mile, round-trip hike leads to Pu'u Loa, the largest concentration of petroglyphs (more than 15,000) in Hawaii. What makes this area so interesting is its purpose. Early Hawaiians from all over the islands came by long canoe after the birth of a child. It was their custom to bring the umbilical stump (piko) of a newborn baby, carve a hole in the rock, place the piko in the hole, and cover it with a stone to assure a long life. Some families use a circle around the hole to indicate a family area of multiple children and/or generations. The tradition continued into the 1800s when missionaries arrived and frowned on the practice.

A petroglpyh from the Pu'u Loa site
We continued our drive on the 'chain or craters' road along the coastline. We stopped a couple times to videotape the pounding surf, explore the Holei Sea Arch from a distance, and watch the steam plume rise several miles away. There were lots of signs warning about the dangers of the volcano, loose rock, and unstable cliffs. Annette carefully crawled out to this very 'stable' point for a good shot of surf.
Our final hike late in the day was at the end of the road along the coastline where recent lava flows had overrun the park road on their way to the sea. The visible steam plume was six miles away across an intervening span of recent, rough lava beds. We scrambled out over a mile, hitting several locations where sections of the roadway were still visible. The lava here was rough and hard to walk on because of the uneven footing. It was also late afternoon, so visibility was deteriorating. If we had come prepared with more water and bigger flashlights, we would have been tempted to hike in close enough to see the glow of the lava tube after dark. But this time, we heeded caution and took a few pictures of the rugged terrain, the isolated roadway sections, and trekked back to our car. Stopping at the temporary hut at the edge of the lava, we talked to a ranger. She told us of a couple in November, who ventured out and got caught in the heavy rains. When it rains, the lava is covered in a dense fog because of the heat contained in the porous rock. Rangers knew they had someone out there at the end of the day because there was one car setting along the roadway, but with the deep fog, they were unable to start a search until the rain stopped and visibility cleared. Two days later, the wet, tired couple were found about a mile from their car.
As the skies darkened we headed back up the road to a meal at the Lava Rock Cafe and then on to our room and an early sleep. We had hiked over eight miles of rugged terrain that day.
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Created by Annette Lamb and Larry Johnson, 12/00
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