There are many wondrous, enigmatic and fascinating attractions on the Big Island of Hawaii, some better known than others, many out of the way and generally off the beaten track. Tour Guide Hawaii has produced an encyclopedic collection of the most up-to-date information, presented as short GPS-cued videos, in an app downloadable to iPhone and iPod Touch that covers the entire Big Island, highlighting the popular and the uncrowded, the famous and the secluded, the adventurous and the relaxing.
Crater Rim Drive
A fine introduction to the wonders of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Crater Rim Drive circles the summit caldera of Kilauea Volcano, including Halema’uma’u Crater, the home of Madame Pele. The drive runs 11 fabulous and amazing miles through arid, barren volcanic desert, ohi’a forest and grassland and lush fern jungle. The most interesting sites along the drive are the Visitor’s Center, Jagger Museum, Halema’uma’u Crater, Kilauea Iki Crater, Devastation Trail and Thurston Lava Tube.
Currently, because of the eruption in Halema’uma’u Crater, Chain of Craters Road is closed from Jagger Museum, south past Halema’uma’u Crater Overlook to the junction with Chain of Craters Road at Devastation Trail. This means that you cannot drive through the interior of Kilauea Caldera and will miss such sites as Southwest Rift, Halema’uma’u Crater Overlook and Keanakako’i Crater, as well as many of the more interesting recent lava flows and ash fall surfaces. However, this allows you to concentrate more fully on other sites.
We recommend that, after entering the park at the Main Gate, you stop and get oriented at the Visitor’s Center, then drive to Jagger Museum through the amazing high-altitude, Ka’u Desert scrubland. Many people find the volcanic barrens disturbingly empty and void of life, but if you look closely, this starkly beautiful desert is quickly being re-colonized by plants. After visiting the Museum, turn around and come back down Crater Rim Drive toward the main gate. Along this section of road are several fascinating stops, such as Steaming Bluffs/Sulfur Banks, Kilauea Crater Overlook, the Volcano Art Center, Volcano House and the hike to Waldron Ledge.
Be sure to return to Jagger Museum after dark if you have the opportunity to watch the Hadean glow of the Halema’uma’u Eruption…it is as if someone left the door to the Fires of Hell ajar and you can glimpse inside.
Continuing on Chain of Craters Road as it passes the Main Gate, you dive into the wet side of Kilauea Caldera and the two-tiered ohi’a/tree-fern forest, a dense and a seeming impenetrable jungle that teams with flowers, birds and exotic plants. Along this salient of roadway are several not-to-be-missed stops such as the Kilauea Iki Crater Overlook, Kilauea Iki Hiking Trail, Thurston Lava Tube, Pu’u Pua’i and the Devastation Trail. In addition to the beautiful and startling scenery, this part of the drive allows you to get a better idea of how Hawaii’s amazing volcano are born, evolve, and what their inner plumbing looks like. We highly recommend both the walk through Thurston Lava Tube and the hike through Kilauea Iki Crater.
This tour along Chain of Craters Road can be made in under 40 minutes. However, one should allow at least three hours (more if you are hiking any of the delightful trails) to explore this fantastic place; if you have never been here before, you certainly have never seen anything like it.
Many people who plan to rush through the Park find themselves utterly engrossed, wind up spending much more time (and gas) than they planned here. In fact, many extemporaneously change their plans and cut time from some other attraction. Best plan to spend sufficient time here in the first place.
No services are available along Crater Rim Drive.
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All media copyright 2010 by Donald B. MacGowan. All rights reserved.