There is plenty to see in the area of the volcano including MacKenzie State Park with it's amazingly high lava cliffs and Lava Trees State Monument where you get to walk through a tropical jungle with some of the most interesting lava formations on the island. Just take a side street and explore. There is just SO much to see! But today we are focusing on the volcano.
The first thing you need to know is that this will be the most affordable part of your visit to this island. It is only $10 per car to enter this park and that is good for 7 days. There is SO much to see in this park that it's $10 well spent.Sadly most of Volcano House was under construction when we visited this time with only a small convenience store and the back balcony open for touring. But this is a really lovely place to visit and an even lovelier place to stay. If you do stay the night at Volcano House be aware that while it's not inexpensive, about $300 a night for a volcano view....and you really want that view, it is totally worth it. Built in 1846 it is full of wonderful history and is a great point to touch down at the end of the day of discovery in the park. As I mentioned, it was just renovated so it's even more beautiful now than it was when we stayed there in 1998 and it was pretty fantastic then! As you can see, the view from the hotel balcony is stunning!
If you take a right off of the balcony and hit the paths you will see that the trails are not long trails. You can find trails all over the rim trail road (it's about 11 miles around) so you can explore and not have to be in fantastic shape to enjoy it.
The trails are full of lush vegetation and you really feel enveloped by the rainforest. It's just so beautiful!
My mom's hand is used for size reference so you can see how small these delicate little orchids are that we found on the path. Quite the opposite of the orchids we found at the coffee shop, eh?!
You will see this sign on every trail. And they are as serious as a heart attack. DO NOT GO OFF THE TRAILS. Lava is about 2,000 degrees. This is an active volcano with lava making it's way through tubes all over this area. You never know where the ground is really thin. There are steam vents, and cracks everywhere and the cliff face is not really all that protected so watch your little ones.
In fact this has been a very active volcano for the past 20 years with a surge in activity since September of 2011. We had visited several times before and could see some steam escaping the vent but never as much as it was this visit. The steam is so full and steady that it is actually making it's own clouds! At night it's been reported that you can see the glow of the lava. Usually you can walk right up to the Ha'akulamanu crater but right now that section is closed off due to activity.
Also be aware of those who may have sulfur allergies. This area by the hotel is full of these sulfur vents. A great way to understand the smell of lava but not so great if you are allergic to it. And, yes, in some places the smell of the sulfur is really strong and smells like rotten eggs.
But the winds are high and the smell is quickly whisked away from you so it's easy to really enjoy the walk from point to point.
Do you have someone in your family with limited mobility? Just drive them to the first scenic point and then it's a very short walk to the rim for them.
The Crater Rim Road is currently closed between the Jagger Museum and the Chain of Craters Road, due to volcanic activity, (always check the advisory on the Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park Website for current information) but there is still plenty to see. One of those is the Nene. These geese resemble the Canada Goose in coloring but they are very different. It's pretty cool to see these native birds out on the lava fields. Just be very careful when driving because they will just waddle right in front of cars to cross the street. Make your way around the Chain of Craters Road the other direction, away from the museum, and head to the Thurston Lava Tube. Now, I'm claustrophobic so it wasn't the thing for me but I hear it's something you really should do if you visit this park so don't miss it!
Our visit was cut a bit short due to an impending storm. We had intended to head into Hilo but the locals were warning us not to attempt it if we wanted to try to make it back into Kailua-Kona that night. So we took their advice and picked a little general store/cafe to have a late lunch with the birds before driving back.
We all loved the Hawaiian style that is just everywhere here...even on the pay phones. In fact the pay phones are a great reminder that your cell phone may not get service everywhere you go here. If you see pay phones then chances are your cell service will be sketchy in that area.
True enough, the storm hit us for most of our drive back. We were driving in a V formation, down the Western part of the island to the South and then back up the Eastern part of the island to Keauhou and our hotel. Up on Highway 11, making the turn on Kamehameha III Road, there is a wonderful overlook that you can stop and enjoy the view. Even if you are staying in Kailua-Kona, this is a wonderful route to take to make your way back down to Ali'i Drive. This is also a wonderful place to stop and watch the sunset. It has a wide parking lot with a stone fence you can relax upon and take in the view.
We made it back to our hotel lanai to watch the sunset and it was, as Hawaiian sunsets tend to be, breathtaking. Simply lovely.
Speaking of lovely...we'll head up the Eastern part of the island to Hawi making a stop at the Pua Mau Place Botanical Gardens. Hope you can come back next Monday for that.