Lava, lava, lava – what could be more exciting than hiking on an active volcano? Hawaii Volcanoes is one of two National Parks in the state of Hawaii. The other one, Haleakala, is on the island of Maui.
While we were planning our trip, one of the key things we wanted to see was the lava flow into the ocean. However, during our research we learnt that the last time lava was flowing into or towards the ocean was in September 2013. At the time we visited the island, no lava flows were accessible to visit or photograph. We were quite bummed to learn that but it turned out not to be such a big disappointment overall, as the park itself is absolutely stunning and a great experience.
As we spent the first 5 days in the Puna area, frequent trips to the Volcano and park were easy. It’s gorgeous during the day and even more breathtaking at night, overlooking the red glowing crater with the stars beaming upon it. It was an early moon phase so the nights were still pitch black dark and the milky way was visible.
There are multiple things to do in the park, hikes from 1 hour to daytrips, lava tubes and educational institutions. One of the highly recommended hikes in our guide book was the Kilauea Iki trail, a 4miles roundtrip hike through rainforest and crossing a once active volcano crater with a total elevation change of 400ft. It was a beautiful half-day trip that started at a car overlook down into the crater, leading through a lush green rainforest trail with a decent decline and then passing a volcano crater field to then again ascend up through the forest again back to the parking lot.
Standing on the once active crater bottom made us feel so tiny and the power of this once deathly force of nature really kicks in once you’re down there. We spent a lot of time hiking over the lava bottom, there were just so many things to see. Especially the tiny flowers, which fought their way through the thick frozen layers of lava, made this seemingly dead area to look as being filled with life.
We also visited the Thurston Lava tube, one of the stops listed in the NPS park guide. It’s a 0.3 mile each way trip, taking you through forest and into a large, long lava tube, lighted with lamps attached to the tube walls.
If you’re hungry, there is not much food in the park other then the Volcano house restaurant. It features a great view over the crater which must be stunning at night. We tested out the for $18 per person. It’s fine and you got a nice view on Kilauea crater but we had better breakfast. They have a fruit selection, a made-to-order egg station and some sweet bread with a selection of jams.
The park is even more magical at night when the stars come out and the crater is fully exploiting its red glow that is even visible from far away Mauna Kea (kind of a Mordor experience to see the glowing crater from the distance). We drove up there twice, fully layered up with warm clothes and headlamps, tripods and gloves. The first time was a great success, clear skies, no fog and fully visible milky way where we took some really nice shots (check out the album below). The second night was too foggy, you couldn’t really see the crater rim, not even talking about the stars.
There are two spots that offer great views of teh crater and stars at night. One is right in front of the restaurant windows of the Volcano house, the other one (from where we took our shots) is at the Jagger museum. It was packed with people but as 80% of them still wore they’re shorts and flip flops, the quickly dropping temperatures cleared up the crowds pretty fast.
There are numerous other hikes and trails to explore, we’d recommend to take a few days and spend time in this surreal and unique park. You might need a few attempts for the stargazing anyway, fog is quite common for this area.