I’ve been to Hawaii twice before this trip, but this was the first time I had to turn the heat on in my hotel room. At 4,000 feet elevation, the little hamlet of Volcano was unusually cold for a late March morning. We awoke to a steady rain, which didn’t bode well for our day of exploring the area around Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. After a hardy breakfast at the Lava Rock Cafe, we headed over to the park.
Just as we arrived, the sun came out and the day warmed up quickly. This gave us a chance to hike around the steam vents that line the rim of the Kīlauea crater. On my previous trip, we were able to do a nice loop hike from the rim down into the Kilauea caldera and back up to the rim. Because of the lava lake that formed in Kilauea’s Halema’uma’u Crater a few years ago, the entire western two-thirds of Kilauea is now closed-off; you can’t even drive all the way around on the rim road and hiking below the rim was not possible. There was, however, a lot of toxic steam spewing from the crater and nearby just off the road. There are walking trails nearby to explore so we took our time walking around photographing the steam escaping from the earth, rocks covered in sulfur, and the flora, including wild orchids and other plant life.
We drove around the park and stopped at the overlooks and other areas of interest. In Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, there are other craters to view and hike into as well as a large lava tube to walk through. Further down the Chain of Crater’s Road there are numerous hiking trails that go for considerable distances and have expansive views of the ocean below.
Just adjacent to the Park Station is an art studio featuring local artists – they carry beautiful works of art from watercolor and oil paintings to wood carvings and hand-blown glass. It’s well worth a look.
Next we headed down the Chain of Craters Road. Near the bottom is a pullout where you can park and hike about a mile out to some very impressive petroglyphs, carved in the rocks 600-900 years ago. At the end of the trail there is a boardwalk that meanders through the highest concentration of petroglyphs but keep your eyes open on the way out as you can see some scattered next to the trail.
Our primary goal for the day was to head down to the coast to view the lava flow coming from the Pu’u’O’o Crater. At the time of our visit, the flow was no longer dumping into the ocean, but we were told by a park ranger that you can get a nice view of the lava flow from the end of the Chain of Craters Road by the ocean. We considered walking across the old lava fields to get a close-up look at the lava flowing down from the Pali (cliffs), but decided against it as it was a 10 mile round trip slog across the old lava flows, and we just didn’t have the right gear to do this. This was especially important as we intended to view the lava at night, which meant we’d be hiking across the treacherous terrain in the dark by headlamp. Instead, we decided to drive to the end of the road and walk just a short distance into the lava fields to get some long-distance shots of the lava. We lucked out with the weather as it was not raining down by the ocean. We started walking right after sunset. We walked maybe a couple of miles before finding a nice high rock to set up the camera and get some long distance shots of the lava.
After our photo shoot of the lava flow, we headed back to the car and drove back up the Chain of Craters Road to the Kilauea rim to get some spectacular views of the glow of the lava lake in the Halema’uma’u Crater. It was raining lightly, but steadily, which helped intensify the tremendous red glow blasting from the nearby crater. You couldn’t see the lava itself, but the glow reflecting against the crater walls and the low clouds made for a spectacular sight.
By this time, it was 9:00 pm and we were pretty beat, still suffering from jet lag. We made the short drive in the rain back to our hotel in Volcano for our last night at Kilauea.