We woke up extra early today to take full advantage of the Volcano National Park. We really didn’t know much about it or how much time is needed to really see the enormous place. Our jeep made for a quick drive from our AirBnB up the hills of the island to the entrance. To get our bearings, our first stop was the visitor center. I must admit that I was quite excited to visit this famous park. Immediately, every map and diagram of the volcano and all her lava flows made me want to hit the trail. We talked to a park ranger and got a map and information on day hikes. We watched a short film on the volcano and all her activity. Halema’uma’u crater is just a short drive down from the visitor center. This massive hole is best viewed from Jaggar Museum, and is part of a larger summit caldera of the mountain, Kilauea. The crater is approximately 2,530 ft by 2,950 ft, and is home to the Hawaiian goddess Pele. However, this massive lava lake is not directly visible from Jaggar Museum or from any unrestricted area. Currently the lava is too low in the crater, so the best view is at night. The steam and gasses that pour out of the crater reflect the light of the red hot lava that the whole caldera seems to be on fire. Since this is the best way to see the volcano, the overlook can become quite crowded just after sunset, but thankfully the park is open 24 hours and the views only become clearer and quieter the later at night.
We drove to visit the museum and get our lay of the land for viewing the caldera for when we returned at night. Until then we headed down Chain of Craters Road. Our first stop along this path was a viewpoint of the summit caldera. At Kilauea Iki Crater, and location of a massive eruption in 1959. This eruption was powerful enough to send molten rock to nearly 600 ft in the air. The eruption only lasted 30 some days, but it took 36 years for the lava to cool and solidify enough that park visitors could safely walk across the crater floor. We continued on our drive, stopping along the way to visit old flow fields and take in the breathtaking views. This environment is simply unique, and does not seem of this earth. We drove to the end of the road and looked at wear the land meets the sea. The ever changing rock is constantly being hit by the waves, creating new caves and arches along the fairly new Hawaiian coast. We would return to this dead end later to take a walk to see the flowing lava.
After visiting the park in daylight for a few hours, we headed outside the park to a smaller town called Punalu’u. We stopped for some famous Portuguese donuts then drove to a nearby black sand beach. While on the beach we enjoyed our Guava, Strawberry and Taro flavored donuts and some other snacks we packed. The black sand beach was filled with life. We saw turtles attempting to come to shore. Every once in a while we would see one pop his head out of the wave for some air. Then sitting on the sand we would watch the crabs crawl in and out of the sand. M attempted to capture the crabs crawling with his GoPro but crabby just got curious and crawled out of his hole and onto our camera, out of view.
It was starting to get late so we drove back and found a restaurant open, which was very difficult. Most restaurants closed around 5:00PM which was very frustrating when looking for a bite to eat. We finally found an open place to get some great Hawaiian local food. I even got a Guava Lava Flow, yum!
We then headed down the volcano towards the ocean where the lava was heading. We were told there was a road we could walk down at night to get a better view of the lava. During the day, you cannot see it at all. At night it lights up the hillside. You can see the stream making its way down and it was pretty amazing. We were not close enough to feel the heat or get a really great picture, that would have been a 10 mile walk roundtrip, but it was still pretty cool being that close.
The road we were walking on was pitch black, there was nothing but a paved road, no lights or signs. Which left for some pretty incredible stargazing. We shut off all of our flashlights and walked back to our car, about an hour walk, and took in all the stars. We even saw the southern cross! It was sitting just on top of the horizon and the only place in the United States you can see it. Pretty cool since we were just in New Zealand looking at it shine above our heads.