A moderate - hard walk over open desert.
The fuming volcanic crater of Pu'u 'O'o has, in recent years, become iconic of the current eruption
on Hawaii Big Island. The area close to the crater was, at the time of our visit, out of bounds,
but this long walk across open lava fields affords good views across the Napau Crater towards
Right: The fuming crater of Pu'u 'O'o amid threatening weather, September 2008
© Mat & Niki Adlam-Stiles, 2008
Walk in brief:
When the current eruption on Kilauea started in 1983, a series of spectacular fire-fountains on the
East rift zone of Big Island, Hawaii gave rise to the cone of Pu'u 'O'o. Magma is still degassing
through Pu'u 'O'o, and it is this area on Big Island, and fractures to the South of Pu'u 'O'o, that
give rise to much of the current activity.
This mostly level walk starts from part way down the Chain of Craters road, to cut across the desert towards the
cone of Pu'u 'O'o. It is not safe/possible to get close to Pu'u 'O'o, but the views you gain over the Napau
Crater are about as good as you'll get from anywhere on the island – unless you're up for a helicopter tour,
Although of moderate length, the walk drops just 200m in altitude as one heads out towards the Napau Crater.
As with many of the hikes in the area, much time is spent on open lava fields where there is virtually no
shelter from the weather (take sun block, plenty of water and light rain gear) and the terrain is fairly
rough under foot.
A back-country permit is required for this walk. Call in at the Kilauea Visitor Centre to get your permit
(free at the time of writing).
Having obtained your permit, take the Chain of Craters road South from the Kilauea visitors centre. After approx.
6 miles, a turning left takes you to the car parking area for the start of the hike. There are public toilets
here and, if you are lucky, nene (Hawaiian geese).
The Napau Crater Trail:
At the far end of the car park, some interpretation panels on the left indicate the start of the walk –
NOT to be confused with the continuation of the road/track which looks inviting, but would soon lead
A cairned and fairly well-travelled path skirts along the edge of the lava flow/forest boundary towards
the small mound of Pu'u Huluhulu (hairy hill). Yes, there are at least two Pu'u Huluhulu's on the island!
Hiking across the immense lava fields on the Napau Crater Trail, Big Island,
© Mat & Niki Adlam-Stiles, 2008
As you approach Pu'u Huluhulu, the path turns right and upwards to skirt round the West and South sides of the hill.
A small path to the viewpoint at the top of Pu'u Huluhulu makes for a short, but worthwhile diversion. On our visit,
we could see not only the fuming crater of distant Pu'u 'O'o, but also the plume from the even more distant
Waikupanaha ocean entry.
The cairned path follows the South side of Pu'u Huluhulu, before turning more Southwards and across the open lava field.
Navigation in good conditions is easy, but note that the cairns could become difficult to spot in poor visibility or
A fairly relentless trek across the desert passes an impressive rift from the Mauna Ulu eruption, and a fine example
of the start of a lava tube, before reaching the immense Makaopuhi crater after ~3 miles. As you skirt around the
West and then South side of the Makaopuhi crater, the path enters a forest of false staghorn ferns, tree ferns and
ohia trees – becoming more defined as it does so. Pleasant walking through the forest, surrounded by birdsong,
gives some welcome shelter from the elements.
Pass the Kalapana trail on the right, and follow the main route as it swings gently North East, continuing as a
clearly defined trail through the forest. A further three miles brings you to a junction. Straight on (left)
would take you further towards Pu'u 'O'o. At the time of writing, this area was closed. Right follows a short
dead-end trail to bring you to the edge of the Napau Crater. A small clearing on the crater rim looks out across
the crater – with a fine view of Pu'u 'O'o. This, the Napau Crater overlook, makes for a fine lunch spot before
returning by simply reversing the route.