We decided to do another day trip to the other side of the island to explore the Volcano National park. Even though we had flown over it by helicopter, we thought it would be worth visiting on foot. This would be our fourth visit to the the windward side of the island and unfortunately the fourth time we would experience rain there. We passed by vast areas of old and newer lava flows and got some really nice views of the coast along the way. We took the southern route along highway 11 to get to the park.
Punalu’u Black Sand Beach
Our first stop en route was at Punalu’u black sand beach. It was pretty windy there. Huge waves were coming in and crashing into the lava rock that extends into the water. We wandered around for a bit checking out the very course sand. There was one turtle napping on the beach, he wasn’t very exciting to watch. Some people even thought he was dead, but we assured them we saw him open his eyes and move his head.
The next stop was at the famous Punalu’u bake shop. It is the the bakery with the southern most location in the U.S.A. They make all kinds of sweet breads and buns. The most popular and easily recognizable are the purple ones made from taro root. They also make mango and guava flavoured bread. They have macadamia nut shortbread cookies and lots of other yummy baked goods. Here’s their website, www.bakeshophawaii.com
Exploring The Park
Once you get to the park the visitor center has lots of information as well as a walking tour each day that is accompanied by a park ranger. We drove to the main points of interest in the park. The first one was an area of steam vents and a lookout over the Kilauea caldera. Then we drove to the Kilauea lookout were you get an even more impressive view of the crater.
You continue to drive along the rim of the crater passing by acres of old lava flows. As soon as you get close to the park area you can start to smell a slight odor of sulphur. The strength of it depends on the conditions of the day. The air quality is monitored by the park and you can find out the intensity before heading there. If it’s really bad don’t go if you have any lung conditions such as asthma. The name for this volcanic vapor is Vog. By the time we got to the crater rim the smell was getting pretty intense.
We got out of the car at one area called the southwest rift. You can see a huge crevice going off in the distance. On the other side of the road you can walk to an overlook to see a different view of the crater.
When we reached the lookout everyone including us was coughing. We took a few pictures and started to make our way back to the car. It was not something you could tolerate for very long. We were starting to get a headache and feel a bit dizzy. As we got back to the car the rain had really started to come down.
We were a bit disappointed that we were not going to be able to do any of the walks or hikes within the park. The rain was too heavy to stop at any of them and the visibility was very poor anyways. We then drove to what is called the Chain of Crater road. There are several different small craters to view along the way. This drive takes you down to where the lava meets the sea.
There are huge shelves of lava that protrude out into the water. Eventually they break off because of their own weight and from the waves working at them from underneath. Recently a shelf of land over 35 acres in size broke and fell into the sea.
There are areas where you can see the older and newer lava flows. The darker ones are the newest. The lava sometimes cools and resembles old tree trunks.
This is the area that for years people have been coming to see the lava flows. At times you see fiery hurls of lava shoot into the air and at night you could see the glow of it flowing down to the water. Sadly while we were here the lava was no longer flowing in this direction of the park. The only way to visibly see lava at this time is by air.
Walking On Acres And Acres Of Lava
It was neat to see where the lava flow came and devoured up the road. We especially liked the road closed sign!
A break in the rain came so we decided to do some exploring across the lava. You really have to concentrate on every step while walking across it. You could easily twist an ankle. Being right on top of the lava provides a great opportunity to look at the patterns and detailed colour in the volcanic material.
You can walk for hours along this huge plain of lava. If you are going to do a large hike across it you need to bring along any necessary supplies in case of an emergency. Especially a flashlight and back up batteries. If you get stuck here after sunset you will be in total darkness.
We got about 20 minutes into our walk and the skies decided to let loose again. It’s like it comes out of nowhere. The sky was so clear and sunny that when we started we didn’t even bring the umbrellas. By the time we got back to the car we were soaked through our clothes. We’re really starting to to dislike this side of the island!
Apparently if you walk further into the lava you will get to see all kinds of interesting objects protruding from it, like cars and remnants from yards and houses.
The Legend Of The Volcano Goddess Pele
There’s a long time legend warning visitors that they need to respect the volcano goddess Pele. She will get angry with anyone taking lava rock from her. You will have bad luck soon after removing it from the park. The park is continuously receiving volcano chunks that have been mailed back. They usually contain some story about the misfortune the person experienced soon after taking the lava rock. We decided we were not going to test our luck.
Thurston Lave Tube
The last stop in the park was the Thurston Lava tube. This was formed when a river of hot lava cooled and crusted over while the interior still flowed inside. Eventually the lava drained out leaving behind a cave like shell.