Let’s Go to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park!
About a two hour straight drive from Kona, going south, brings you to the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. If you have a Golden Eagle Pass your entrance is free. If not, it is only $10.00 per carload to enter the park. The rangers at the gate will give you detailed maps of the area.
Super tip: Your receipt will give you free access to the National Park for seven days.
My first suggestion is to go to the Kilauea Visitors Center and the Jagger Museum. This will give you a nice overview of the park and rangers are there to answer questions. This spot also looks over the majestic Halemaumau Crater. (At the time of this writing, the museum was closed due to a gaseous explosion in the Halemaumau Crater.) Tour Guide will get you to the park and lead you to more than 50 sites. It is also possible that our state bird, the Nene Goose, will be huddled in the parking lots. They are protected as an endangered species, so be careful when parking nearby.
Another great place to visit is the Volcano Art Center. It may seem a strange, but the Volcano Art Center boasts one of the best collections of art in the whole state. World renowned artist in various media are on display as well as theatrical and musical performances.
There is only one restaurant in the park proper, and that is the Volcano House. Built as a lodge in the mid 1800’s, the Volcano House has hosted dignitaries, politicians, sports heroes and movie stars from all over the world. This grand edifice sits right on the lip of Halemaumau Crater and the views from her restaurant are stunning. Tour Guide will give a complete history of how it came to be. The food is good and the prices are reasonable. Bicycle rentals are also available near the lodge.
Crater Rim Drive is a great driving introduction to the park. It encircles the Halemaumau Crater and, for only an 11 mile drive, passes through several dramatic climate zones. You will encounter arid desert, grass savannah, and into tropical rainforest; this loop can easily be done in forty minutes. However, you will want to take more time to appreciate the beauty and majesty of one nature’s most awesome wonders. Tour Guide will suggest short to medium hikes and bicycle trails as well as over 50 historic and geologic sites to visit within the park.
If you are up for some hiking, Tour Guide will lead you to the trail for Waldron Ledge Overlook. This short hike is through the Ohia and fern jungles, shaded most of the way, and can be done on bicycle as well. From this vantage point one can see the active vent, Kilauea Iki, and breathtaking views of the coast.
Along the Crater Rim Drive you will also see many steam vents and sulfur banks. This is where water seeps into crevices and meets the molten magma about a half mile below the surface, is super heated, and returns to the surface as steam. These vents are often accompanied by a “rotten egg” smell common where sulfur is rising with the steam, turning the ground around the vents hues of yellow, green and white.