Hawai’i Volcanoes NP

March 23 & 24 — Hawai’i Volcanoes is one of two National Parks in the Hawaiian Islands, and since we can’t drive our RV here to visit them when we’re on our two-year road trip, we figured we’d better stop in during our trip to Hawai’i this year.

This was our first stop on our 17-day trip visiting four of the islands – four nights each on Hawai’i, Kaua’i, Maui, and Oahu.  Volcanoes NP is on the wet side of the Big Island, so for most of our two-day visit in this park we had to wear our rain gear and the skies were grey and gloomy – not what we expected nor wanted in Hawai’i. This trip definitely started out with bad hair…!

There are two active volcanoes on the Big Island – Mauna Loa and Kilauea.  According to our guidebook, Mauna Loa last erupted in 1984, but Kilauea has been erupting continuously since 1983.  I was hoping to see some hot, bright orange lava spewing up then flowing down the mountain and hitting the sea in a spectacular display of splash, sound, and steam, but no such luck when we visited.  

In the Kilauea Visitor Center we watched a movie that provided a good overview of the NP, then we walked around the steam vents and viewed the smoldering Kilauea Caldera from afar.  As we drove around Crater Rim Drive, we made multiple stops at very interesting, other-worldly lava deserts.  We also went through a rain forest with impressive tree ferns, and here we hiked a short trail that lead to the Thurston Lava Tube.  Molten lava once ran through this area, and when the outside solidified before the inside, it left a 450′ long hollow tube/tunnel that is ~20′ high.

There are extensive hiking trails in Volcanoes NP, but neither of us was up for a lot of grey and gloomy, drizzle-filled hiking.  Still, we did enjoy seeing all the lava fields, steam vents, and fern forests, and the toxic sulfur dioxide gas that permeated the area was a smell we’re not soon to forget.  In fact, accessibility to Volcanoes is very dependent on prevailing winds, and certain areas or even the entire park can close with little notice.  I suppose ash-laden fume clouds could be deemed a bit hazardous to visitors’ health and not so good for National Park marketing efforts!

After two days on the wet, east side of the island, we drove to Waikoloa on the west side where we thoroughly enjoyed some sunshine and the swimming pool in our Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort.  On March 25th, Fred’s birthday, Laura surprised him with a 2-hour helicopter trip all around the Big Island.  We visited Volcanoes NP once again, this time from 250′ above the earth where we got a front-seat look down into Kilauea Caldera.  We could see the white-hot magma in the cone as our helicopter pilot spun us down in for a closer look.  Now that’s getting up close and personal with a national park!