Rested and refreshed, we began Day Two with a trip to the appropriately named Hawaii
Volcanoes National Park. Before we left rain-drenched Pahoa, we stopped at a little fruit stand manned by adorable people who were likely swindling us. We couldn’t have cared less, since the fruit we ate was unlike anything you could ever find in Canada. Plus, they cut everything up for easy on-the-road consumption! What’s not to love?
Our first stop in the park was the Halema’uma’u crater. It’s currently active, with a
large lava lake bubbling in its centre. It’s also considered the home of Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of fire, so offerings of fruit and flowers are left at various viewpoints around the crater’s rim.
We then visited the Steam Vents and the Sulphur Banks – both accessible by short, paved
trails through an orchid field, in which I took this slightly impressive and completely accidental close-up of a bee.
The Steam Vents exhale their fumes directly into the crater and through large sinkholes in the ground around the rim. Turns out that standing directly over one both smells bad and gives you a persistent, nagging cough. These volcano farts are pretty noxious – I’d recommend getting up close once, then retiring to a safe distance. We didn’t take that advice, instead exercising our curiosity and crawling into a couple…
Across the orchid fields (which are, in fact, invasive), the Sulphur Banks smell even
worse but make up for it with colourful crystal formations. The boardwalk kept us at a safe distance (we can’t be trusted with anything…).
After fully, yet unknowingly, damaging our upper respiratory systems, we hopped back in the rental for some tasty papaya and sweet, sweet AC. We Canadians are built for winter,
not this tropical heat! We drove along Crater Rim Dr. to the Thurston Lava Tube – an exceedingly popular tourist spot. Lucky for us, the tour buses cleared out as we drove up, so we had the tube to ourselves for a whole twenty minutes!
Lava tubes are left over geological structures created by lava flowing downhill to the
ocean. The lava on the outside of the flow cools, leaving a tube behind once the hotter, molten lava has flowed away. Walking inside is eerie – it’s quiet, dark, and very wet, but it’s not quite as claustrophobic as a cave.
Across from the Thurston Lava Tube, you can access the Kilauea Iki trail. Of all our
experiences in the park, this was my favourite. It was recommended to me by Cam
Hudson, the herpa-derpa-tologist behind Darwin’s Toad, and I am forever grateful. The trail takes you across the floor of a recently active crater. The lava has cooled and looks like what the surface of the ocean would look like if it had a “pause” button.
In the cracks, ‘ohia lehua trees have taken hold, giving the landscape a surreal appearance. It is said that you should never pick an ‘ohia lehua blossom, since you will part Lehua from her lover, ‘Ohia. If they are parted, it will rain with the tears of the separated lovers. Also, it’s the Big Island’s official flower and one of the first plants to colonize lava fields, so leave it alone.
Once we had burnt off our latest layer of SPF, we reapplied and headed down the Chain of
Craters Road. This is a drive not to be missed! Past massive craters and surprising lava fields, you reach a stunning lookout at the top of the Holei Pali, where you can see all the way to the southern tip of the island. Recent lava flows are darker, and older (>2000 years) flows are lighter and covered in lichen and small shrubs.
Though it looks like a flat floodplain below the Pali, it’s actually a constant, gentle slope littered with lava flows of various ages.
Near the end of the road, there is a nondescript trailhead for a short but excruciatingly sunbaked trail to the Pu’u Loa Petroglyphs. We counterintuitively bundled up (to protect the melanin-poor skin, of course) and picked our way across the lava field. The petroglyphs we found were carved into fresh lava by the native Hawaiians to mark births, deaths, and important life events. Small holes were carved by mothers who buried their infants’ umbilical cords there to ensure their child’s connection to the tribe.
After applying our billionth layer of SPF, we headed down to the Holei Sea Arch and the most recent lava flow laid down between 1983-2000. This flow destroyed the small town of Kalapana and a huge section of the Chain of Craters Road. It ends quite abruptly with a few outhouses and a gravel walking path. We ended up seeing the flow from both sides, and this was the far less interesting one. But the Holei Sea Arch is worth the drive to the ocean’s edge!
Exhausted, dusty, and sun-addled, we drove to the aptly-named town of Volcano for some grub at Thai Thai Restaurant – I highly recommend the Special Curry. After nourishment, we returned to Halema’uma’u crater for a view of the glowing lava at night. It was worth it. I recommend bringing a jacket since it can get weirdly chilly at night and a tripod for long-exposure shots of the crater. Here is my poor man’s attempt at crater photography:
Once we had paid our tribute to Pele, we drove through the driving rain of Pahoa to our cozy beds.
Next time – RAIN, lush rainforests, wild horses, and the hardest hike of my entire life.