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Hawaii Big Island - a walking, caving & volcano guide

Hawaii Big Island Blog - September 2008

Volcanoes, Mountains and Lava Tubes

Whilst we were on Big Island, we ran a blog of our activities - so here it is!

Links to full walking route descriptions and other visitor guides are provided at the end of each day out as appropriate.

Thursday September 11th 2008 - Travelling to Hawaii

A moderately early start to the day (5:00am) and we were on our way. First, the 4 hour drive to Heathrow, to our pre-booked long stay parking at Heathrow Airport, followed by the usual 2 hours loafing around waiting for the plane! Inclement weather had delayed our departure slightly, but the American Airlines Boeing 777 made great progress, and the 10 hour flight to LA passed surprisingly quickly.

A couple of hours later, and we were on our way to Kona, on Hawai’i Big Island - a "short" flight of a mere 5½ hours!!

We arrived at Kona airport with its array of decidedly al-fresco facilities some 23+ hours after leaving home, collected our baggage, and headed for the car hire bureau. It must be said, that we were somewhat perturbed to find that our "intermediate SUV" that we had booked was, in fact, a 2WD motor, and as such was not allowed on the Saddle Road. Reluctantly, we upgraded, and shortly after we drove off in a gas-guzzling Chevrolet Trailblazer! We soon learned that you don't go anywhere fast on Big Island – and at about midnight local time, we arrived at Kilauea Garden Cottage, exhausted!

Friday September 12th 2008 - Kalapana ocean entry

After a lazy morning and a chat with the cottage manager, we made our way over to Kalapana and the lava viewing area – approx 1 hour's drive from Volcano Village. There we sat in the pleasant warmth for, well, several hours, watching lava flow into the ocean. A promontory of fresh lava obscured the view of the red stuff actually flowing into the sea, but nonetheless, the views were spectacular.

As we witnessed a small group who had taken it upon themselves to go beyond the "controlled area" get turned back in no uncertain terms, it became very clear that access to the activity was very strictly controlled.

We stayed until a while after dusk and headed back picking up a few provisions on the way.

A video clip showing the ocean entry plume and littoral explosions at dusk, from the viewing area near Kalapana (press 'play' button to view)

Saturday September 13th 2008 - Thurston Lava Tube

With the trade winds absent it was decidedly murky out & about, and VOG (Volcanic Gases) were lingering around Pu'u O'o and Halema'uma'u, so large areas of the Volcanoes National Park were closed. We decided to take a look at the Volcanoes visitor centre, the Jaggar Outlook and, naturally, Thurston Lava Tube. After a brief guided tour of part of the site, with tales of Pele and views over the massive Kilauea Caldera, we headed for Thurston Lava Tube.

Thurston Lava Tube is a doddle for any seasoned caver, but still worth a quick jaunt round, and the approach to it, through dense rainforest, is simply stunning. A large, illuminated passage vaguely reminiscent of the phreatic passages in Peak Cavern provides an easy stomp for about 500ft, before breaking out into daylight again. Those armed with a caving lamp (or torch - the locals call them flashlights) can go for another 1000ft or so, before the tube suddenly closes down. Thurston has, apparently, been stripped of formations as is sadly true for many of the very accessible UK caves, but at its farther reaches, small lava "stalactites" give a hint of what's on offer in some of the less frequented caverns.

Back at the visitor centre, we booked up a tour to a "Wild Cave" for later in the week, and headed to the Jaggar overlook. Low cloud completely obscured the view, so it was back to base for beers, food, and sleep.

A video clip walk-through of the illuminated section of Thurston Lava Tube, Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii (press 'play' button to view)

Sunday September 14th 2008 - Kahuku & the Road To The Sea

A 3 hour ranger guided walk around the newly acquired Kahuku area of Hawai’i gave us an insight into the history of the island, and the way in which the National Park tries to manage the land.

After some deliberation, we decided to head down the "road to the sea", a 4WD track that heads down to the, errr, sea! And a couple of rather more remote beaches too. The "road to the sea" is most definitely the realm of 4WD vehicles only. Whilst much of it would be passable with a regular car, there are moments when the ground clearance of a BIG 4x4 is essential. The first of the two beaches is nothing to write home about, but the second (either a 1 mile walk, or a drive that is not for the faint hearted, nor for hire cars!) is well worth the trip. Strong surf was breaking on the black sand beach, and the lava promontories, as the trade winds started to return, and the skies started to clear.

The black sand beach at the end of the 'Road to the Sea'

The second black sand beach at the end of the 'Road to the Sea'

Monday September 15th 2008 - Byron Ledge & the Kilauea Iki Trail

The sun shone from clear skies this morning, so we took the opportunity to make the most of the weather and parked at the Volcanoes National Park Visitor Center to undertake an extended walk that included the highly-recommended Kilauea Iki ("Little Kilauea") Trail. Our extended route started by heading down through lush tropical rainforest on a beautiful well-marked trail to the junction of the Halema'uma'u Trail (closed at present due to Halema'uma'u's current activity – there is a lava lake in the new vent at present, unfortunately we can't get close enough to see it!) and across a small part of the Kilauea caldera to the Byron Ledge (the ledge that divides the calderas of Kilauea and Little Kilauea). We then descended to the frozen lava lake of Kilauea Iki and traversed its length, visiting a couple of steam vents en-route, before climbing back up through the rain forest past luscious orchids and tree ferns to complete our route via the Crater Rim Trail. The rain set in as we climbed out of the caldera and looked set to stay for a while, so on our return to the car we offloaded our rucksacks and spent some time in the Volcano Art Gallery where we drooled over some outrageously-priced works of art before heading back to base to find a couple of Hawaiian pheasants happily strolling around the garden!

Full details of the Byron Ledge / Kilauea Iki Trail

A solitary bamboo orchid beckons the viewer to the Kilauea Iki caldera beyond

A solitary bamboo orchid beckons the viewer to the Kilauea Iki caldera beyond

Tuesday September 16th 2008 - Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens at Hilo

Today we went to Paradise. Stopping off at the impressive Rainbow Falls, Boiling Pots and Pe'epe'e Falls en-route, we ambled through the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens at Hilo - a haven of beauty and colour. The photographs say it all.

The beautiful Onomea Bay, by the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens near Hilo

The beautiful Onomea Bay, by the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens

Vibrant colour at the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens

Vibrant colour at the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens near Hilo

Wednesday September 17th 2008 - "Wild Cave" Tour and Halema'uma'u

A lazy start to the day following heavy overnight and morning rain (sufficient to deter us from a sunrise jaunt to view Halema'uma'u, Kilauea's summit crater) was followed by a four hour guided trek to, and through, what the park rangers refer to as the "wild cave", a pristine lava cave in the Volcanoes National Park. This superbly decorated lava tube has its own amazing little ecosystem, including the tiniest cave spiders we've ever seen – just about the size of a pinhead. It would be wrong of us to say where the cave is as the rangers don’t want it widely publicised, for a very good reason – you'll find out why if you go there yourself. There's a ranger guided tour every Wednesday and it's totally free; all you need to do is sign up for the "wild cave" or "Pu'u Po'o" trip at the Visitor Center. You get an interesting ecology lecture thrown in for good measure and the Park provides helmets, lamps and gloves.

We then paid a visit to Steaming Bluff and the Steam Vents en-route to the Jaggar Overlook, where we listened to a geology talk about Kilauea before watching the plume from the active vent in Halema'uma'u turn to a an unearthly glowing red as night started to fall.

Lava stalactities in Pu'u Po'o in the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Lava stalactities in Pu'u Po'o in the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Thursday September 18th 2008 - "Napau Crater Trail"

Permits in hand (free from the Kilauea visitor center) we set off for a long day's walk along the Napau Trail. A brief stop at Pu'u Huluhulu gave us distant views of the smokin' Pu'u O'o crater, and what we thought was the Kalapana Ocean Entry plume. The trail picks its way across the extensive and impressive lava flows from the 1974 eruptions, before skirting around the edge of the awesome Makaopuhi crater – through some relatively fresh rain forest, to the edge of the Napau Crater. The trail from here was out-of-bounds due to "ground instability" nearer to Pu’u O’o, although looking down at the trail from the viewpoint at the Napau Crater, it didn’t look any worse than the last 10 km!!

Pu’u O’o could be seen in the distance, smoking away. Time will tell whether the plumes we saw in the distance looked as if they had moved (parhaps due to a change in perspective), or whether there is a new surface breakout somewhere near the coast?!


Full details of the Napau Crater Trail
Hapu'u tree ferns are amongst the first plants to recolonise fresh lava flows

Hapu'u tree ferns are amongst the first plants to recolonise fresh lava flows

Friday September 19th 2008 - Devastation Trail & Crater Rim Trail

Today’s plan was for a short walk along the "Devastation Trail" in the Volcanoes National Park, followed by a visit to a nearby lava tube, reported to be 1.5 miles long and in pristine condition. But the lure of the rain forest proved too much, and the short walk turned into a somewhat longer walk, with exotic island plants and wildlife all around, and the visit to the lava tube turned into a bit of relaxation on the veranda, watching the afternoon rain.

New growth on a Hawaiian Tree Fern (Hapu'u)

New growth on a Hawaiian Tree Fern (Hapu'u)

Saturday September 20th 2008 - Mauna Kea & Pu'u Huluhulu

Apparently there was a sizeable earthquake (4.3) at about 6pm last night that was felt by the entire island.

Except by us.

Today we went up onto the "Saddle Road" – the road that spans Big Island from West to East, rising to an altitude of 6,500’ at its crest. We took an "acclimatisation break" here at the Pu’u Huluhulu Native Tree Reserve, where panoramic views of both Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa awaited us. After a lovely walk, we headed up to the Mauna Kea Visitor Center , some 4,000’ higher, and took the opportunity to further acclimatise by wandering around the "Silverswords Trail" – a desert trail featuring some unusual plants. We then joined a (really good fun) guided 4x4 drive to the summit and the astonishing array of telescopes up on the tops. These alien silver and white structures stood in stark contrast to the reddish cinder cones on the volcano’s summit, seeming to float in the clouds. At the very summit stood a lonely hei’au (temple) with numerous offerings, a poignant symbol of the continuing conflict between old and new on this peaceful and holy mountain. We walked the entire rim of the crater here before settling down to watch a majestic sunset and heading down to the visitor center for a "guided tour" of the heavens and to take a peek through some of the telescopes at an unbelievably starry sky.

Full details of the ascent of Mauna Kea

The Subaru Telescope at sunset on the summit of Mauna Kea, Big Island, Hawaii

The Subaru Telescope at sunset on the summit of Mauna Kea, Big Island, Hawaii

Sunday September 21st 2008 - Lava Tree State Park & Kalapana

After yesterday's long excursion we promised ourselves a more relaxed day, and so headed out late morning towards Kalapana. Having tracked down the entrance to a nearby lava tube for a future day out, we visited the Pahoa Farmers Market , an eclectic mix of organic produce, hippy clothes, and hippies smokin'! Then to the Lava Tree State Park. Here, amidst the impressive rifts down into old lava tubes and lush vegetation, stand the remains of trees that had succumbed to the ravages of Pele, their rocky tombs standing proud like statues.

Down at the coast we ambled over to the Kumakahi Lighthouse, before making our way over to Kalapana to view lava flowing into the sea again – or not as the case may be! Yesterday there had been a "DI Tilt Event" (Deflation - Inflation), whereby the magma below Kilauea/Pu'u O'o falls and rises in a big pulse. As predicted by HVO, the lava flow to the ocean had temporarily stopped. It appeared to have just resumed whilst we were at the viewing point, but there was little to see.

The remains of a lava-encrusted tree, Lava Tree State Park, Hawaii

The remains of a lava-encrusted tree, Lava Tree State Park, Hawaii

Monday September 22nd 2008 - Sunrise at Halema'uma'u & the Puna Coast Trail

An early start to see the plume at Halema'uma'u. The sunrise itself was hiding behind the clouds, but the vent was glowing nicely, with a good plume being blown well clear by steady trade winds.

After breakfast, the weather turned to steady rain. We had a choice – go caving, or go to the coast. We decided to save the caving for tomorrow (we can always go caving in the rain back home) and instead drove down the Chain of Craters Road to walk a section of the Puna Coast Trail from Pu'u Loa to the campground at 'Apua Point, a round trip of about 13 miles. What a treat lay in store for us – miles of stunning pahoehoe lava flows, looking like molten pewter in the sunlight, with a totally deserted beach at the end. White AND black sand, turquoise waves crashing into a reefy bay, and palm trees swaying in the breeze – what more could one ask for? And we had the entire place to ourselves. Paradise Mark II.

The glowing vent at Halema'uma'u, Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii

The glowing vent at Halema'uma'u, Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii

Apua Point on the Puna Coast Trail, Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii

'Apua Point on the Puna Coast Trail, Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii

Tuesday September 23rd 2008 - A lava tube somewhere near Volcano Village

Every Tuesday, the Winster Cavers go caving – well nearly every Tuesday. Today was no exception. We headed down to the lava tube we'd checked out the other day, donned our boiler-suits, lamps, etc. and off we went. We dropped down the initial awkward climb, aided by a piece of, err, garden twine(!) and clambered down an all-too-recent rubble & boulder slope into the main tube. To say the least, we were pleasantly surprised by the voluminous passage, and we were suitably astonished at the beauty and colourfulness of the formations & lava channels. We emerged some 4½ hours (and ~130 photos!) later, most pleased with our day’s activities.

This evening's entertainment is a lecture being held at the Volcanoes National Park about the methods used to monitor and predict the volcanic activity at Kilauea.

Coloured lava channels in a lava tube near Volcano Village, Hawaii

Coloured lava channels in a lava tube near Volcano Village, Hawaii

Wednesday September 24th 2008 - Mauna Loa

Another way of escaping the rain in Hawai’i is to climb above it – and driving up to the weather station at Mauna Loa certainly achieved that today. Starting at an altitude of 3,399m, we headed for the summit caldera of Mauna Loa, Moku'oweoweo. Although the hike to the crater rim is only 6.5km from the parking area, the increase in altitude of 600m makes for hard work for those (like us) who have had had little chance to acclimatise. Despite this, we suffered only a bit of light-headedness and the walk took us through some remarkable lava flows and alongside spectacular spatter cones and rift vents to the summit caldera.

Pizza and beer at the Kiawe Kitchen in Volcano Village rounded off another great day out.

Full details of the ascent of Mauna Loa

A useful interpretation panel on the route to Mauna Loa Summit Caldera

A useful interpretation panel on the route to Mauna Loa Summit Caldera

Thursday September 25th 2008 - Hilo, Kalapana & a goat called Ernest

As promised, a fairly relaxed start to the day, taking in the Volcano Garden Art Gallery and an introduction to a goat called Ernest... the forthcoming veggie cafe looks like it should be pretty good.

We then ambled around Hilo for a while, along Hilo Bay, through the beautiful parks and past the statue of King Kamehameha – where locals had made offerings of flowers, garlands - and a toy 4x4 truck! An ice cream and some shopping later, we headed out of Hilo, and back to Kalapana where the lava flow was reported be flowing into the ocean once more.

The lava flow had indeed resumed and, although littoral explosions were few, was very impressive. We stayed until dark, grabbing a few fine photos, before returning to base.

The Wailoa River State Park, Hilo, Big Island, Hawaii

The Wailoa River State Park, Hilo, Big Island, Hawaii

Friday September 26th 2008 - Hilina Pali

Today we decided to stay fairly "local", and opted for hiking another route in the Volcanoes National Park. Hilina Pali is a substantial (~500m) high cliff face formed, as far as we can gather, by the adjacent land mass sinking into to the ocean.

A well maintained path took us down the almost-sheer face of the pali onto the coastal plain to the sea. We then picked up the trail towards Ka’aha, which proved to be another splendid lunch spot with only us to watch the surf breaking on the black lava beach. On the way back, we couldn’t help but notice a number of skylights into abandoned lava tubes, one of which provided us with some great photo opportunities before we reluctantly left to retrace our steps up the steep pali back to the car.

Tomorrow, we head homewards... Stopping off at the Jaggar Overlook on the way back we went to pay our respects to Pele at her main residence in Kilauea's summit crater. As we stood there, a minor earthquake shook Halema'uma'u ........

A section of lava cave on a hiking route from the Volcanoes National Park to the coast.

A section of lava cave on a hiking route from the Volcanoes National Park to the coast

Saturday September 27th 2008 - The Journey Home - Part 1, Volcano to LA

Having packed our bags, we popped another $30 of juice into the gas guzzler, and made our way anticlockwise around the North side of Big Island, via Hilo and the scenic drive past the Hawaii Tropical Tropical Gardens, stopping at the mightily impressive Akaka Falls. "Almost as high as Titan", the Winster Cavers mused!

A "Taro Burger" and smoothie later, and we were on our way again, the next stop being Laupahoehoe, a fabulous rocky beach with fearsome surf and a tragic story about a tsunami. Then, a popcorn and bag-faff stop, before checking in at Kona International Airport for our flight to LA....

A couple of swift beers, and the wait for boarding...

The impressive Akaka Falls, Big Island, Hawaii.

The impressive Akaka Falls, Big Island, Hawaii

Sunday September 28th 2008 - The Journey Home - Part 2, LA and home

We arrived in LA at ~6:00am local time, slightly dazed. On recommendation from a friend, we decided to head for "Venice Beach". A $27 taxi ride later, and we were able to amble along the promenade. At 6:00 in the morning this was not the fun and vibrant display of colourful characters we had been told of. It was the sad, and extensive, resting place for some of LA's homeless.

We walked along the sea front as far as Santa Monica Pier - in the cool misty morning, and sat and watched the sea, waiting for LA to wake up so we could have a much-needed coffee!

Coffee and bagel consumed, we wandered back along the seafront - an altogether more pleasant experience during the light of day, had a stroll around the canals of Venice Town, and found a bus back to LAX airport for $0.75 each - far better value, we thought. A couple of hours later, and we were on our flight back to Heathrow, for the last leg home.

Venice Beach, LA.

Venice Beach, Los Angeles, California

And so concludes a most excellent trip to Hawaii.