On our second day at the Big Island we decided to go visit Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park. There is two ways to get there, either drive thru the island to Hilo and to the national park, or take the southern road. You can take the northern road if you want to see Waipio Valley and other sited in northern part of the island, but that take a long time and we already visited there last time we were on Big Island. We knew that most likely Hilo would be rainy and the route was 15 minutes longer than the southern route, we still decided to take that one so we could see something new. The road passes by Maunakea Volcano. From Kailua-Kona it is about two hours drive to Volcanoes National Park.
We drove thru old lava fields which had already started to grow some grass, and thru some newer ones that were pitch black. We saw many old volcanos and also Maunakea, which we did not want to climb up to. Maunakea is one of the rare places in the world where you can reach over 14 000 feet within 2 hours and the risk of altitude sickness is very high. It is not recommended for anyone under 16 years old pregnant or people in poor health. Since we were traveling with a child, going further up was out of the question.
Closer to Hilo it started raining. We knew, that this side of the island is partly in a tropical rain forest so the rain did not surprise us. We have visited Hilo before and it was raining that too. This time, we only stopped for a cup of coffee. The road to the national park soon dives into a rain forest and you will start to see various kinds of plants. That's your sign of the national park being pretty close.
After you arrive to the national park you will first arrive to the Kilauea Visitor Center. I recommend stopping there to get more information about the hiking trails and conditions on trails. We stopped to get rain jackets since it was still raining and we only had kid's umbrella with us. It is very common to get some rain in the Volcano's National Park and once you drive further, the weather might completely change, but it is good to be prepared when you arrive. You should also know, that there is some volcanic gas in some areas of the park and they might be closed for visitor. Check the current conditions before your visit from here and here. For a long time now, the area around Kilauea caldera have been closed. If you are pregnant or traveling with kids, rangers might advice you to stay away from the steam vents and keep car windows closed when passing by them. Sometimes you can see this "vog" also in other parts of the island.
There is many nice hiking trails leaving from close to the visitor center, and a lava tube. These caves are born when hot lava flows under the hard surface. We visited this cave last time on out trip to the Big Island and it was an interesting experience. Keep your eyes open while hiking since many tropical and even unique animals live here.
From the visitor center we drove to Jaggar Museum which is located close to Kilauea Caldera. Outside of the museum you can see the smoke coming out of the Halema'uma'u crater since it has been erupting already from year 2008. In the evenings you might see the glow of the lava. This is most likely the closest you will ever get to on erupting volcano! I think it is very cool and unforgettable experience. When we visited the park there was no visible lava flow in the areas where visitors were allowed to hike, and no lava flow to the ocean. If you are lucky, there is a possibility to see some. Only last year (2015) lava distroyed some houses and closed up a road. For us it is fun sight to see but for locals it is a real life treath.
From Jaggar Museum we drove down towards to ocean. Every ones in a while we stopped to some old craters to take some pictures and see the view. Some of them had almost outgrown by trees and some seem to be newer. There are sings which will tell you the year lava flow went thru the area. Eventually we became to an area where all you can see is black lava. There is only a road in a middle but everywhere you look, you will see just lava. It feels like you just landed on the moon. Bizarre!
The park ends by the ocean where lava flow has closed the road going around the island. You should walk by the embarkment and look down, you will see an amazing sea arch formed from black lava rock in turquoise water. This is where we ended our tour at Volcanoes National Park before returning to Kona for dinner. On our last visit we stopped at Punaluu Beach (black sand beach) but this time we were too hungry to do this stop.
That night we wanted some quick, easy food. We found a place called Broke da Mouth Grindz which offers local foods. This little "hole in the wall" is hidden behind a shopping center but if you like Hawaiian food, it is worth of a visit. Soon after coming to the Big Island we noticed, that is can difficult to find local food and it is often very pricy. Most restaurants offer typical American comfort food. But this little place was pefect! (You can find it in 74-5565 Luhia St. B-2, Kailua-Kona.)
TIPS FOR VISITING VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK:
- Reserve whole day for this visit. The park is big and even if you would just drive around without hiking, it will take a while.
- If you plan to hike and decide to go off the trails, good shoes are a must! It can be difficult to walk on volcanic rocks.
- Bring lots of water, sunscreen and a sunhat. Even at overcast weather the sun can quickly burn your skin.
- It often rains in Volcanoes Park so bring rain coat or spare clothes. Check the forecast before going and if you can, choose your visit according to weather.
- There is no cafes or vehicle services in the park, so make sure you bring some snacks and you arrive with a full tank of gas.
Enjoy this wonderful and unique national park!