My first day staying in Volcano Village, I spent exploring west of town on the Ka’u Coast and then ate lots of macadamia nuts at the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Visitor Center before spending a peaceful hour in Liliʻuokalani Park and Gardens in the late afternoon. I spent the entire second day in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.
Volcano Village Farmers Market
I began my third day there as well after stopping for breakfast at Volcano Village farmers market. My travel guide recommended arriving early to get the best treats. Sunrise at 6am coupled with the last of my jetlag, I was at the market around 7am, and it was packed with locals…not a parking spot in sight.
I entered the pavilion and browsed many tables of food before I ended up with fried wontons for breakfast. I don’t think I’ve ever had wontons for breakfast. Anyway, the popular choices were the crab with cream cheese and smoked ahi, both of which I ordered. In addition, I got a few wontons that included a typical native pork dish. Since all were savory items, I picked out one sweet option too, banana-peanut butter. Delicious!
Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park
Having gorged on a deep fried breakfast, I went the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park with some walking to do. I doubt if I ever got up to a brisk pace, because the Crater Rim, Steam Vents, and Sulphur Banks trails were all fascinating to me.
The Crater Rim Trail
The Crater Rim Trail follows the north ridge of Kīlauea Caldera for about a mile before it reaches the closed area from the recent eruption. It travels past high grasses, ferns, and fields of orchids with intermittent views of the Halema’ uma’u Crater inside the Kīlauea Caldera. Steam rises from vents on both sides of the path and amazingly doesn’t smell. I’m not the biggest fan of groomed or paved trails, but this one is spectacular. The beautiful views of the caldera almost enticed me to retrace my steps rather than to cross the street to the Steam Vents and Sulphur Banks trails.
Steam Vents and Sulphur Banks Trail
These two trails combined are only about half a mile one way. Of course the names of the trails provide the best description. Steam vents sidle the path that passes by a colorful cliff of muted yellow, green, pink, and orange. While this area emitted that rotten egg odor, it wasn’t too bad. Perhaps the light breeze and sprinkle dampened any smell. Regardless, I enjoyed all these trails before stopping by the Volcano House.
The Volcano House is a hotel in the park with a gift shop, coffee bar and restaurant. Many of the rooms, the coffee bar, and the restaurant overlook the crater. The coffee bar has a wonderful area with couches and oversized chairs perfect for relaxing and enjoying the view.
Mauna Loa Road
Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park has other areas to explore away from the main area. As a result, I traveled just a few minutes down the highway to Mauna Loa Road (different from Mauna Loa Observatory Road).
Lava Tree Molds and Kipikapuaulu Park
Near the base of Mauna Loa Road are some lava tree molds as well as Kipukapuaulu Park. The lava tree molds are holes in the ground left from trees that molten lava surrounded. These molds are different from the lava trees seen at Lava Tree State Monument (discussed later in this post). Any geologist will enjoy seeing all the different lava features on the Hilo side of the Island.
It only takes a few minutes or so to see the molds, so I made a quick stop along the scenic drive. The next stop along the way to Mauna Loa Lookout is Kipukapuaulu Park, also known as bird park. The 1.1 mile interpretive Kipuka Puaulu Trail loops through lush forest home to many birds and even a lava tube (at #6). While it wasn’t my most favorite stop, it was a peaceful place to stretch my legs.
Mauna Loa Lookout
The rest of Mauna Loa Road simply winds 11 miles up the mountain to the lookout at 6,662 feet, not even half way to Mauna Loa’s Summit. This road is less traveled by visitors and is a nice drive on a clear day. My drive was clear up until the last few miles when the hillside and forest were enveloped in clouds. As a result, the views were rather obstructed from the pavilion and bathrooms.
I walked partly up the 17 mile Mauna Loa Trail toward the summit in hopes of clear skies somewhere, but to no avail…all clouds. But not to worry, just driving back roads is peaceful to me. What goes up, must come down, so I returned down Mauna Loa Road to the main highway in the direction of Hilo to visit Lava Tree State Monument.
Lava Tree State Monument
The Lava Tree State Monument, located south of Hilo in the Puna District, is free to visit. A 0.7 mile trail loops through a forest of lava trees, strangely shaped molds of lava formed when hot magma engulfed the tree trunks.
The Monument reopened at the end of 2018 after the devastating Kīlauea eruption. It is located near the Leilani Estates where many houses were recently destroyed from the hot lava. Just down the way from the monument, hardened lava has made the road impassable.
After taking the stroll through the State Monument, I headed North, just past Hilo to Rainbow Falls, Boiling Pots, and Kaumana Caves State Park. These free attractions are very near to each other, and may easily be visited in succession, though Rainbow Falls is best visited on an early sunny day to see its namesake.
Rainbow Falls is rather commercialized with bathrooms and a paved viewing area. I personally liked the view of the 80 foot cascade from afar rather than from the platform above. It’s still worth the walk up the stairs though, as there is a short, quarter mile hike through the forest.
The Boiling Pots and the Pe’epe’e Falls are just upriver from Rainbow Falls. The Boiling Pots got its name from storm water whose turbulent flows in terraced lava pools appear to be boiling. A paved parking area provides a large overlook onto the river that is sometimes quiet and sometimes raging. It was calm during my visit.
Kaumana Caves State Park
Not far from the Boiling Pots is Kaumana Caves State Park. The Kaumana Caves, formed by lava, are part of a 25-mile long cave system. Most of it travels under private land so only 2 miles are available to the public which to me is plenty long. The entrance is across the road from the parking lot. A metal ladder leads down into a collapsed skylight where visitors may explore either side of the tube.
Looking down into the skylight, the left side of the cave is easier to maneuver than the right. While the large entrances provide some light, just a short way into the lava tube requires a flashlight. To the left, with a headlamp and my iPhone flashlight, I only went until the terrain became rather rocky (maybe ten minutes), and to the right I went until I had to duck (not far at all). At least to the left, I walked far enough for the entrance to be out of sight without any light filtering in. It felt a little creepy alone. I would have liked a sidekick or at least a stronger light.
Mauna Kea Protest
The Kaumana Caves culminated my adventure for the day around Volcano Village and Hilo, and was my last place to visit on the Big Island with the exception of passing by the tent city at Mauna Kea Road, where protestors are blocking entrance to the summit to keep a telescope from being erected on sacred land.
The next stop on my Island hopping tour is American Samoa. To be continued…ETB