A trip to Hawaii is incomplete without a visit to the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Opened for 24 hours and 365 days of the year, this natural landscape showcases the outcomes of thousands of years of volcanic activity, evolution, and migration all of which are responsible for pushing a stripped land from the sea to drape it with many uniquely complex ecosystems as well as with an ancient culture. The park is nestled on the Big Island accessible within 45 minutes from Hilo (east) and 2.5 hours from Kailua-Kona (west). By visiting the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, you get a very rare opportunity to see one of the most active volcanoes called Kīlauea as well as the giant Mauna Loa with their lavas, which mostly only the scientists get to explore.
At the entry point is the Kilauea Visitor Center that acts as an ideal starting point of your visit. Open daily from 7:45 am to 5:00 pm, this is where you explore the park exhibits, a 30-minute film named the Born of Fire, present eruption activity, or a guided walk for a short while with a park ranger. All these reveal about how the volcanic activity resulted in the Hawaiian Islands! Posted on the Ranger Activities bulletin board daily at 9:00 am is the schedule of ranger presentations. In addition, a sales outlet resides here for the Hawaii Natural History Association.
Park Ranger Walk
One of the ranger walks is a must, which takes across the Crater Rim Drive by passing via the tropical rainforest and then reaching up to the breathtaking, very rim of Kilauea Caldera. Inside this, you can spot the pit crater of Halema’uma’u (not a lava vent, but created naturally due to the surface sinking). It is from below this caldera that the lava starts its journey towards the ocean.
This is proudly built at the rim of the Kilauea Crater and has a very interesting history. Today, it is the only public stay option in the Hawaii National Park along with the dining facility, snack bar, and gift shop. It is accessed across the Drive close to the Visitor Center. This 1877 House is also the residence of the Volcano Art Center.
Volcano Art Center
This is a tax-exempt institution that aims at developing, promoting, and preserving the cultural as well as the artistic legacy of the island, people, and environment via the shows of the literary, visual, and performing arts. This is where you can enjoy the displays, special events, and demonstrations that features artwork by more than 300 artists and are encouraged by the Hawaii’s volcanoes. Timings: Daily 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.
Exploring these is no less than a risky adventure. Just drive in a counterclockwise direction on the Crater Rim Drive and you will first come across the Steam Vents. In these vents, the rainwater descends via the ground, which is heated by the hot rocks that are the carriers of lava as well as heat below. This heated water rises up to compress in the chilled air via the fissures. Just do not wait here for long as the steam carries sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide, which can prove dangerous.
Volcanoes and lookout spots
Volcanic aspects to be explored in the park are the pit craters, calderas, cinder cones (of loose material), fumaroles (vent of steam), solfataras, spatter ramparts (on vents), pahoehoe (lava type), tree molds, black sand beaches, lava tubes (tunnels), ‘A’a’ lava flows (lava with broken surface featuring angular fragments), and thermal areas. Do also spot the rift zones as well as the summits of Kīlauea and Mauna Loa, which erupted last in 1983 and 1984 respectively. To explore all these, there are 60 miles of paved roads along with over 100 miles of marked trails in the park.
Hawaiian Volcano Observatory and Jaggar Museum
These two are your next halt on the rim’s edge of the Kilauea Caldera. The views from here are really superb! The Jaggar Museum is the home of the several displays that unveil the behavior as well as the history of the Hawaiian volcanoes.
Walk for three miles from the above and you will spot the vast Halema’uma’u Crater Overlook. From the parking area it is a matter of 10-minute walk and you must always be with the crowds. One you have reached here, you stand at the crater’s rim and you actually spot into the abode of Madame Pele who is regarded as the Goddess of the Hawaiian Volcanoes. This 300 feet deep crater emits some 300 tons of sulfur dioxide everyday; so if you have breathing or heart problems, do not come here.
Chain of Craters Road
This is one of the main attractions in the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Driving down this road will make you see the present volcanic activity. You actually go down towards the coast where the lava crosses it. Just park before the small ranger station and then walk for a mile to spot the lava entering the ocean. This is really great to see! Along the road, there are no services; so, ensure that you have enough gasoline in your tank as well as much drinking water.
$10 per vehicle (a seven-day permit)
$5.00 for pedestrians or bicyclists
As Kilauea’s peak is 4,000 feet high, rain or cold can occur at any time of the year. So, bring long pants, a windbreaker or rain jacket, and closed-toe shoes.