Travel Diaries

Hawaii Diaries #15 – Volcanoes National Park

We were up early and eager to head over to Volcanoes National Park. The park and the volcano was the reason we actually came to the Big Island.

Originally, the plan was to spend 10 days in Kauai then come to the Big Island to finish our trip. However, the active lava flows that started in May impacted our Airbnb on the east side of the island and caused us to change our honeymoon plans.

We added Maui to the itinerary but still wanted to see a volcano. You can’t simply come to an island that has volcanoes and not see the volcano. Sure, the place wasn’t fully open and there were also no active lava flows at the time. However, volcano! It would be the perfect ending to an awesome trip.

I was still feeling pretty shitty but definitely didn’t want to miss this awesome experience. Thankfully, my wife volunteered to drive the two hours each way. It was a long ass drive and I was happy to be the passenger today. It gave me time to suck down lozenges and blow my nose repeatedly. Most of all, it gave me time to appreciate the scenery.

Hawaii, the Big Island, has 10 of the world’s 14 climate zones. I’m no science man but that just means there’s a ton of variety on this island. You could definitely tell that in just the drive from our place to the volcano.

The scenery changed from forested to tropical to areas that looked like we were right back in Connecticut. That was all before we even reached the volcanoes and the dark rocky terrain. The scenery changed back and forth multiple times as we got closer to the volcano, an interest trip for sure.

I was’t driving so I checked the internet to see if anything was worth checking out here. That search led me to Paradise Meadows, a cute little farm and store stand with the friendliest people.

If you want to overindulge in samples of delicious chocolate, coffee, shortbread cookies and macadamia nuts then this is the place for you. We tried a ton of free samples before picking up a few bags of coffee and chocolate covered nuts to go. It’s a perfect gift for people back home!

The farm is a cute little place and you can definitely spend some time walking around. There’s also 5 rescued parrots you can spend some time with and say hello. They’ll even say hello back!

The store owners recommended checking out the black sand beach down the road.

The Punaluu Black Sand Beach is a very cool little place. This wasn’t a planned trip so it was an unexpected treat on the way to the volcano. There’s plenty of parking and it’s not too far off the road plus there’s black sand!

The beach is small and not very swimmer friendly due to a rocky coast. However, it is a very pretty landscape with the black sand, clear water and coconut trees.

The black sand looked cool up close – certainly weirder than what you typically see on a beach.

It was definitely a bit rocky as you walked on it. However, the sand itself was fine like any other sand; just black.

The beach doesn’t seem like it’s great for swimming as the edges are rocky. However, the turtles seem to love the area and you can usually spot some if you head out onto the rocks. We didn’t see any just sitting out on the rocks but caught a few swimming.

It was very neat to be so close to the turtles and the water was crystal clear so you can spot them pretty easily. We saw at least three different ones chowing down in the water.

This is a spot that’s definitely worth checking out if you’re in the area.

We got back on the road and headed towards volcanoes national park. You can see the landscape change as you get closer with dark earth on both sides of the road. I assume remnants of former explosions.

The entrance fee is the same as Haleakala, $25 and both are definitely worth the price of admission.

Unfortunately, not everything in volcanoes national park is open due to the recent eruptions. The Kilauea Visitors Center was our first stop. We picked up a map and got an idea of what was closed and open. Closures included a few trails and Crater Rim Drive.

That road has access to Jaggar Museum and some nice views of the Caldera.

Luckily, the steam vents trail located right near the visitors center was open.

Signage greeted us as we got going telling us to beware!

Volcanoes National Park

I just assumed it was one of those melodramatic warnings but there’s definitely some action out here.

The paved trail initially places you away from the actual vents. You can see them but you’re not right on top of them.

Volcanoes National Park

The trail is paved and you pass by a few of these along the way. You can definitely smell the sulfur right from the start since it’s all around you.

Volcanoes National Park

However, you really get the full sulfur experience once you approach the sulfur banks.

Volcanoes National Park

The egg smell is pretty strong here and you can see the discoloration in the earth.

The path passes by a few of these before it emerges near the caldera. There’s a few spots here that are right on top of the vents and it’s definitely right in your face as you walk through.

Volcanoes National Park

It’s a really cool experience to walk through the warm steam as it floats past you. If you’re a glasses wearer, prepare for some fogging and hold your breath if you want to avoid the smell.

Past the steam, you emerge to a view of the caldera; the large volcanic crater. There was no active lava flow in the park when we went nor do I know if this was where we would see it if was flowing. However, the caldera was still very impressive.

Volcanoes National Park

It’s this massive hole in the ground with steam coming out from all areas. The views here were cool but I bet this is something that’d be awesome to see in a helicopter.

Volcanoes National Park

We took one of the open hiking areas back to the visitor’s center.

It led us through some forested areas with some neat plants and more vents. It was interesting to see the kind of plant life that can thrive and co-exist with steam and sulfur in areas like this.

Volcanoes National Park

There were some further vistas of the caldera on the way back. You’d walk past some trees and then there’d be a partition that gave you another cool look at the big hole.

Volcanoes National Park

Crater Rim Drive may have been closed but Chain of Craters road was open to drivers.

Chain of Craters Road is an 18 mile round trip drive all the way down to the water. It descends 3000 ft down to sea level and stops near the most recent lava flows.

The name is due to the number of craters you pass on the way down to the sea. Most of these have a stop although it’s hard to see anything since they’re further in and/or surrounded by trees. Sometimes though, the trees are pretty damn cool.

Volcanoes National Park

The road markings tell you when the lava flow that formed certain areas occurred. The cool thing about this road is that you’re literally riding on land created by lava flow. You can see the hardened lava to the side as you pass through.

Volcanoes National Park

There’s a clear delineation in certain areas where the lava didn’t flow and items like trees are still growing. It’s even odd to see green grasses sprout out of the earth in this place of darkness. It’s crazy that greenery can still exist in an area like this.

There’s cool spots where different areas of earth and dirt meet as well. You can see the dark dirt meet gravel and old dried lava flows.

Volcanoes National Park

As you approach the sea, you start to get some views of the sea and the road that leads through the old dried lava fields.

Volcanoes National Park

You can see the road meander down below passing through dried lava. As you drive down, you can imagine the path the lava took as it flowed towards the water. The landscape around you is a statement to the power of volcano and it can expand land.

It’s a pretty slow ride to the bottom with many stops but we eventually got closer to the fresher lava flows. You can actually pause at stops and climb up onto the dried lava rocks.

There’s a lot of dried lava all around and it’s interesting to imagine how this looked when it was still flowing.

Volcanoes National Park

Volcanoes are powerful things and the fact that they can just create new land or mountains is amazing. These land masses you stand on are formations from lava flows that happened not that long ago.

Volcanoes National Park

I think it looks pretty cool especially once you get close to the sea and see the water behind you. The random patterns add a lot of variety to the land around you and there are various outcroppings you can climb on and check out.

Volcanoes National Park

Again, it’s neat to see some of the vegetation survive in this area as random bushes and small green plants sprout out of the dark earth.

Once you get to the very bottom, you hit a spot where you can’t go any further as the road towards the active lava flow is closed. There is another sight to see here though as the Holei Sea Arch stands near the edge of the land.

Volcanoes National Park

This natural arch formed by the waves crashing against the land is a cool finish to a visit full of sights.

This final parking area has bathrooms and a little store where you can buy Volcanoes National Park trinkets. The most recent lava flow is right beyond this road and while you can walk past the barricade and follow the road to another blocked area, there’s not much to see there. I think there is a rather lengthy hike you can take and follow the active lava flow but it’s quite a trek and when we were there, it would just lead you to more dried lava as there were no active flows. It also takes you far away from anywhere so it could get dangerous if you’re not a prepared strong hiker.

You can see in the picture above where the newer lava flows(dried) begin. These continue for quite some time as the area around the park is massive. However, as we didn’t have a 10+ mile hike on our mind, we headed back to our car and turned around.

Volcanoes National Park is definitely a cool area to visit if you’re at all interested in beautiful, unique landscapes. This was the first time I saw a volcano and it’s certainly a sight especially when you add the sulfur and steam vents.

It was getting late now and we were a bit hungry. However, we also wanted to see a bit more of the island. Instead of turning back and taking the same road back home, we headed east towards Hilo to take a bit of a roundabout way home. It was longer but it would let us see more of the island.

In Hilo, we stopped at Pineapples Island Fresh Cuisine for a late lunch. The food was pretty mediocre but my wife got a fancy drink.

Hawaii was the first island where Yelp/Trip Advisor let me down as a food guide. The fish tacos I had here were lacking fish and taste and my wife’s short rib looked like something out of a college cafeteria.

We headed back on route 200 so we could see the two large mountains on this island. Mauna Kea and Manua Loa are both ~14000 ft tall and split the island in two. They stand on both sides of the road and are two huge beasts. There isn’t much to do on this road so it was a rather boring scenic ride.

The views were cool and the ride got quite creepy at times as a deep fog descended over the road. The various changes in altitude were doing a number on my ears. Remember my cold? My ears weren’t liking the pressure changes because they started to hurt like hell as we got closer to home.

We made a pit stop at a little shopping to pick up some gifts then headed home to rest and get ready for our flight tomorrow. It was a long day with five hours of driving and we had a flight tomorrow.

Was the drive and the actual flight to come here for one day worth it? I’d say so. It’s not every day you get to see a freaking volcano and experience the variety of an island like Hawaii.

Now that Volcanoes National Park was behind us, it was time to hit the sack and hope I’d feel better for our flight tomorrow.

Related : Hawaii Diaries #16 – Flight Home from Hawaii


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