Hawaii Volcanoes National Park


After our first day spent driving around the island and the next day snorkeling at the amazing Kapoho tide pools, Sarah and I were in no hurry to do anything and just enjoy the vacation. We made a morning trip to Hilo to do some shopping at the farmer’s market. We made the rounds at the fairly busy market and looked at a variety of fruit and crafts. When we had our fill of food and shopping, we made a quick stop at Rainbow Falls then headed south to snorkel a little and head to Volcano National Park for the afternoon.

Rainbow Falls in Hilo

The vegetation in Hawaii is amazingly lush.

We got to Volcanoes National Park at about the same time as 20 tour buses full of tourists of East Asian descent. We made a couple of quick stops to see the Kilauea Volcano and take a short walk to scope out the “Steaming Bluff”.

The Kilauea Volcano belching fumes.

The Steaming Bluffs on the Kilauea Volcano rim.

After getting crowded out at the Jaggar Museum by busloads of gawking and shoving tourists we backtracked to the Chain of Craters road. Here we stopped at a Thurston Lava Tube and took the short walk through a lava tunnel. It was a very easy and well lit walk through the lava tube, though still flooded with tourists.

Thurston Lava Tube.

With still quite a bit of energy left from the short walks, we crossed the street and took another stroll along the Kilauea Iki crater rim. There is a trail down and across this old caldera but neither of us were prepared for the 8 mile round trip hike.

Kilauea Iki Crater with Kilauea Volcano in the background

Sarah, my wife, jumping for joy to be out of the February winter in Montana.

Of course it wouldn’t be the Big Island without a black sand beach. This is the newest black sand beach on the island (I apologize I can’t remember any of the hard to pronounce/remember Hawaiian names) and this is the closest replacement to what was once was the greatest black sand beach in the world, which is now under 70 feet of lava. This is what made the Big Island so fascinating to both of us, it is a place where the ground you are standing on is not much older than you (and in some instances younger than you).

New black sand beach just outside of Volcanoes National Park

Now, at this point you are probably wondering if we saw lava or not. Well that’s a funny story…

Sarah and I bailed on Volcanoes crowds to drive around to the other side of the active Pu’o eruption. Here, we read in a guide book you could potentially see the lava. We arrived in the evening (everyone told us to see the lava at night) and were promptly solicited $100 each for a guided walk to see the lava, it was the only we could see lava from this side. We were reluctant to spend so much money (in addition to not having that much cash on us and the nearest ATM was 20 minutes away) so we decided to walk as far as the county would let us and think about it. At the end of the road, there was a county security guard who told us that we shouldn’t pay and rather head back to Volcano and hike in from the other side. He told us it was only 1 mile further than the guided hike, plus you could go unguided and get as close to the lava as you dared . It was too late to drive all the way back that night so we decided we would save that adventure for our last night on the island.

After a few more days of fun (don’t worry I will fill you in on these days in the next few posts), we headed down the Chain of Craters road around 3 p.m. (again, to see the lava at night). We arrived at the trailhead and quickly made progress over the first mile of flat road. Then, we reached the spot where the road is covered by lava and the trail is marked by white reflectors out into the lava field.

This road was buried in lava only 10 or so years ago.

We kept trekking across the lava field until we reached a sign that said “End of Trail”. There were still white reflectors past this point, only more spaced out and we continued past the sign in the direction of the steam plume in the distance. Eventually the reflectors disappeared and we realized it would be foolish to continue without any form of navigation. We planned on returning at night and we knew we couldn’t navigate 4 miles across a lava field without at least a compass, so we decided to stop, climb up to a high point, and drink a beer while watching the ocean in the distance and head back to the car and into Pahoa for a nice romantic dinner to make up for not seeing the lava.

I would not want to be lost out here at night.

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Mid-Winter Break


When we headed out in the morning this hadn’t slid. After having to bail on our initial plan due to dangerous conditions we returned to see this from the trailhead.

Amid growing persistent facets, including a scary collapse in the Hyalite Canyon, I bailed on the cold and headed to Hawaii with my wife for a two week tropical honeymoon.

It appears the slide was triggered by a cornice or ice fall.

We flew out of Billings and had layovers in Denver and San Francisco without any real problems.

After a late arrival in Kona, we rented a Jeep and crashed at a roach hotel (a warning for the budget minded traveler: Despite the allure of a $40 a night hotel in Kona, I highly recommend avoiding the “Kona Hotel” known for its distinct pink color) and got up early to head out and snorkel at Captain Cook Bay where we were inked by an octopus (video coming soon). Afterwards, we headed to the “City of Refuge”, a place where if a criminal could make it to the village before being caught, he had the opportunity to be exonerated by the King.

Palm trees in the City of Refuge.

Tiki man.

We explored some tidal pools and watched turtles swim and soak in the sun before we headed to the other side of the island and our accommodations for the week.

We then saw some turtles while tidepooling.

Sarah found a great place to stay for the week called Josanna’s Garden. It is an organic fruit farm deep in the jungle outside of the small hippie town of Pahoa. Steve and Janelle run a fascinating operation and utilize the WWOOF system. In exchange for 25 hours of farm labor, mainly picking fruit and packaging it, you can stay in a small bunk for free. While Sarah and I paid for our cabin and didn’t have to work it certainly got our minds thinking this could be a great way to travel cheaply.

Sarah inside our cabin near Pahoa on the Big Island.

We had a great time at “The Farm” and even Janelle, who used to live in Basalt, Colorado, used to swim with my dad. She claims she was faster than him, but I think her memory is a bit off as no one was really a faster swimmer than him.

Our cabin was a converted gazebo with a kitchenette and outdoor shower. It was most comparable to a forest service cabin in the jungle. They had tried their best to seal out the windows but the mesh screens provided minimal bug protection. Thus, we slept under the additional cover of a mosquito net. There were also a few geckos, a keoki frog, and a green anole as welcome housemates who feasted on the ever present bugs.

A green anole

While we could not swim in the ocean at the point closest to the farm, a short 4 wheel drive (good thing for the jeep) down the road would take us to the “Champagne Pond” in about 8 minutes. This was a large, geothermally heated, tidal pool filled with fish, turtles, and eels. The temperature was around 91 degrees and was perfect for snorkel soaking. I have a lot of GoPro footage of snorkeling and I hope to have a short video put together in the near future.

The eastern side of the Big Island is incredibly diverse with thick jungle broken by lava flows. The Farm was about a 2 mile walk to the rugged but beautiful Puna Coast. One night Sarah and I stargazed out on this point and it was one of the coolest and most unique things I have done on a trip.

The Puna Coast

In an attempt to avoid the huge “photo dump” posts I typically create, I am breaking this trip up into smaller segments so I can tell a better story. So, stayed to tuned for more posts in the coming days and weeks on our Hawaii trip.