Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park

Having been on the Big Island for four days now, I finally set foot in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, one of the biggest reasons for me visiting the Big Island. Though I researched the park before coming to make sure it was accessible due to the eruption of Kīlauea Volcano that damaged countless homes, I still wasn’t sure what to expect.

I learned 90% of the park is open, though a few popular places such as the Jagger Museum and the Thurston Lava tube are still closed due to instability. I was also surprised to learn that the lava flow was mostly northeast of the park in Leilani Estates.

In addition, the eruption drained the lava from the collapsed Pu’u ‘O’o Crater, so hiking at night to see the lava glow wasn’t an option. Though slightly disappointed by this, it made the logistics of when and where to go a lot easier!

Kīlauea Iki Overlook

I began the morning at Kīlauea Iki Overlook where I mistakenly took the loop counter clockwise. Had I started on the other end away from the big descriptive board, I would have found a $2 booklet that explained the nature, including steam vents and where other eruptions began, marked by numbered posts.

Regardless, the trail features a variety of jungle with overlooks as well as a long section passing across the crater floor, a hardened lava pool. I was thankful to be able to complete the 4.4 mile loop, which also passes briefly through a parking lot, as it just recently opened.

Kīlauea Iki Crater In Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park

Chain of Craters Road

From Kīlauea Iki Overlook, I continued south on Chain of Craters road all the way to its end at the Puna Coast. This was a pretty good option as it took me to two nearby and popular attractions before late comers would arrive. Having said that, the park wasn’t too busy either way.

Holei Sea Arch

The first attraction, at the end of the 10 mile road, was Holei Sea Arch. The giant arch is just a short walk from the parking lot and the 60 foot cliffs provide nice views of the arch and the coastline being pummeled by Pacific waves.

Holei Sea Arch in Hawai’i Volcanoes National park

Pu’uuhonau Loa Petroglyphs

From the arch, I worked my way back north, stopping at different trails and overlooks, the first being a trail to the Pu’uhonau Loa Petroglyphs. The 1.4 mile roundtrip hike leads visitors across a lava field to hundreds of petroglyphs carved in the lava floor. The symbols, which range from dots to circles to stick figures, may be viewed from a raised boardwalk which weaves through them.

Mauna Ulu Flows and Pit Craters

My next several stops were quick pullouts for views of pit craters and the Mauana Ulu lava flows which lasted five years from 1969-1974. Most of these pullouts were on the opposite side of the road, so while it is easier to stop in the southerly direction, I found everyone was doing that, so I had the road to myself going north.

View from a pullout in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park

Napau Trail

My final hike of the day 2.5 miles was on the Napau Trail through the Mauna Ulu eruption to Pu’u Huluhulu. It is amazing to think that over those five years, lava built up to create a 3,200 foot peak, Mauna Ulu, that was previously flat land. Mauna Ulu is higher than the nearby cinder cone, Pu’u Huluhulu, that scientists used to as a lookout to watch the Mauna Ulu active lava flow. I still can’t believe it flowed for five years.

This trail also included a booklet in a stand on the left of the road leading from the parking lot to the trail. I almost missed it as I wandered around the short loop to the right first. Normally I’m not into interpretive trails, but massive expanses of lava can get a little dull after hiking them all day, so it made certain spots more interesting.

Napau Trail in Hawai’i  Volcanoes National Park

Six hours of hiking in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park was amazing, but was also enough for the day. I saved the Volcano House and the Crater Rim Drive and hike for the morning. ETB

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Beth Bankhead

Former public finance professional turned travel photographer and blogger.

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