The Big Island – Hawaii – Day 5


We had planned a day and a half inside Volcano National Park, but because we got there fairly early and stayed in the park all day (until past dark), we basically got everything done we wanted to do. Park entrance fee is $30 per vehicle for a 3-day pass.

First stop should be the visitor center if you’re there during operating hours. A park ranger has a booth outside and answers questions. There is a nice little museum within walking distance and from there you will probably see a walking path that takes you out the beautiful Ha’akulamanu Sulphur Banks – the trail is paved and has informational panels explaining the fun facts about the area. One example is the Ohi’a lehua (a native Hawaiian tree) that is able to hold it’s breath during times of high sulfur in the air – WOW! You can make this a 1.3 mile loop trail (Halema’uma’u Steam Bluff and Sulfur Banks trail) or for a longer hike you can go all the way out to Kilauea Overlook via the Crater Rim Trail.

There are also several steam vents right next to the road, but with the structures built around them to keep the masses safe, they aren’t very attractive.

My favorite hike of the day was the Kilauea Iki Trail and Crater Rim Trail (3-4 miles). Pay the $2 fee for a copy of a small book that has about a dozen explanations for various points along the trail. One of the cool things we learned was that during the last eruption lava sprayed like from a hose from the opposite side of the crater all the way to the trail we were walking on. This trail was great because it started with great views of the bottom of a crater from the lush green area above.

Kilauea Iki Trail and Crater Rim Trail

The trail then descended to the bottom of the crater and the trail leads you across the crater floor which is the top of previous lava lake. While the trail is flat in some places, there are also some cracks, crevices, hills and valley. It was fascinating and well worth the time.

Kilauea Iki Trail and Crater Rim Trail

When we planned the trip Thurston Lava Cave was still closed due to Covid. We were surprised to learn it has recently re-opened. If you want to do the cave, you may want to do it as part of your hike of the Kilauea Iki trail since it is so close, it’s fast, and the parking lot here is small and often full. We didn’t realize how short it was and wanted to go back to the car for our gear: flashlights & gloves. We drove by because the parking lot was full and then decided to turn around and try again – luckily we found empty spots on the way back. It’s a short walk to the cave entrance.

Thurston Lava Tubes

The cave is lit and is tall enough that you never need to bend down, and the floor was pretty flat and easy to traverse. To walk from the front to the back of the cave only takes a few minutes and wasn’t nearly as cool as the other caves we’ve been in. So we should have just completed it without returning to the car.

Thurston Lava Tubes Exit

We weren’t very impressed with the Devastation Trail which includes the Pu’u Pua’i Overlook. Pu’u Pua’i means “gushing hill” and it is a cinder cone formed in the 1959 eruption. It was interesting to look at the cinder cone, but the trail isn’t that interesting and just leads between two parking lots. I recommend parking at the upper parking lot and walking about half-way to get to the view below and then turn around.

Devastation Trail

The Nene or Hawaiian goose, is endemic to the Hawaiian Islands, the official bird of the state of Hawaii, and the rarest goose in the world. One of their favorite foods is the ohelo berry that grows on lava. They were quite friendly, probably hoping for a human handout. Please don’t feed the animals!

The Hōlei Sea Arch is at the very end of the Chain of Craters road. This is a fun road to drive to see the different lava flows down to the ocean. There are several lookouts, but we were running out of sunlight so we didn’t stop. They’ve had to create new roads after each lava flow (and in places you can see remnants of the old roads). There is a small parking lot and restroom facilities and a small structure to purchase snacks (currently closed due to Covid). The place where we parked seemed to be just above where the arch is, but for some reason they make you walk down the road to a pretty distant viewing area. They have it roped off so you can’t get any closer – I’m guessing they’ve had some injuries or deaths and had to take action.

Hōlei Sea Arch

Before heading back up, we took a 1.5 mile out and back hike to the Puu Loa Petroglyphs. None of my family think Petroglyphs or Pictographs are as cool as I do, but they reluctantly came along. I find it fascinating when we find any sort of evidence of life from people who lived so long ago and to try to understand how they lived and what they believed. It is believed that the holes were used to place the placenta of their newborn with a rock on top – they believed if the umbilical cord was gone the next morning it meant good health and long life.

Puu Loa Petroglyphs Trail

So I know the below picture isn’t great, but I didn’t bring my DSLR on this trip, so all pictures are from digital cameras or our underwater camera. We went back up to the crater’s rim to see the glow of the lava in the steam and mist above. It was really cool to see, even though we really wanted to see the lava directly. As far as we know, there isn’t currently any accessible places to see the lava except for maybe a helicopter tour.

We got around 30,000 steps today with all the short and long hikes that we did. We had a great day, but we were all super tired. When we went to see if any stores or restaurants were open in Volcano Village, we found only one high priced restaurant. We recommend you bring groceries with you or be prepared to spend a chunk of change.

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