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.
Chain of Craters Road
Following along Kilauea’s East Rift Zone, Chain of Craters Road passes through an amazing array of rift volcanoes, pit craters, lava trenches and flow fields. Leaving Crater Rim Drive at the Devastation Trail parking lot, Chain of Craters Road traverses and opens-up some of the most wild and beautiful landscapes seen anywhere, terminating near the active lava flows from Kilauea Volcano.
Perhaps nowhere else on earth are the elements high mountains, wild seascapes and active volcanoes and their lava flows more dramatically displayed. Crazily switching-back repeatedly down the Holei Pali, Chain of Craters Road finally reaches the untamed and scenically wild coastline, where giant waves spray and spume over sea cliffs dozens of feet high. Towering steam plumes in the distance at the end of the road mark where unimaginably hot liquid rock pours into the wild, wild sea.
A place of mystery, a place of power, a place of wonder.
Altogether, Chain of Craters Road is a singular and essential addition to any visit to the Island of Hawai’i.
Once connecting Volcano Village through the Park to Puna and State Routes 130 and 137 at Kalapana, Chain of Craters Road has repeatedly been badly damaged by earthquake, buried in lava, re-routed and re-built and broken up and buried again. The current eruption, which began in 1983, has buried a significant portion of the currently-closed nine miles of road between its temporary end inside the Park at Holei Sea Arch (the 19 mile marker) and the eastern closure outside the town of Kalapana, beyond the eastern edge of the Park.
Collapse features, such as the numerous “pit craters” found along the Chain of Craters Road (see Puhimau Crater, Pauahi Crater and Devil’s Throat), form when lava drains out of subterranean chambers, causing the ground surface to collapse. Notice how all the debris seems to point downward into the bottom of the crater; there are no materials around the rim of the crater that are suggestive of eruptive or explosive events. On the walls of the crater, one can see numerous, inter-layered, pre-collapse lava flows and airfall beds that were truncated by the collapse and exposed.
Known for its fine mountain biking, hiking and bird-watching, the Hilina Pali Road turns off Chain of Craters Road at the 2.2 Mile Marker and leads to an expansive area just below the summit caldera of Kilauea Volcano. Besides some of the best views of Mauna Loa in the park, this is an area of massive faults, twisted lava flow fields and amazing scenery culminating in wild views of the coastline from the Hilina Pali Overlook (literally meaning “Cliffs of Faith”). To learn more about the Hilina Pali Road, please go here.
Mauna Ulu, the Growing Mountain, is a fabulous, recent volcanic cone that dominates the central portion of the Chain of Craters Road and warrants some special attention. Numerous short walks and hikes explore the Mauna Ulu region; to see more about Mauna Ulu, go here. Massive flow fields from both Kilauea and Mauna Ulu cross, re-cross and parallel the road, spilling over Holei Pali in a spectacular display of just how the Island of Hawaii was built and grew. To learn more about this portion of Chain of Craters road, please see the sections on Mau Loa O Mauna Ulu, Muliwai a Pele, Alanui Kahiko, Kealakomo Overlook and Holei Pali.
Below the Holei Pali there area a number of interesting stops along Chain of Craters Road, including the Holei Lava Tube, the largest petroglyph field in Polynesia, Pu’u Loa Petroglyph Field, Holei Sea Arch and the end of road. Mountain biking, hiking, bird-watching are favorite activities in this part of the Park. For more information about the end of Chain of Craters Road, please go here. If lava is flowing from Kilauea within the National Park boundaries, this is where you will park to begin the hike to see it; for information about hiking to see the lava, please go here.
If a car ride back up from the end of the road can be arranged, riding bicycles round Crater Rim Drive and down Chain of Craters road can be a momentous and fun excursion. Starting slightly above 4200 feet in elevation and ending at virtually sea level, this 22 mile drop from misty mountain cloud forest, running through tropical rain forest into tropical desert and onto desolate volcanic barrens is invigorating physically, stunning visually and makes a wonderfully memorable addition to any visit to the Island of Hawai’i. However, if you decide to pedal the 4200 feet elevation gain and 22 miles back up Chain of Craters Road to Kilauea Summit in the heat of day (highly not recommended), this will also ensure a quite memorable, though far less pleasant, addition to your visit.
Other than pit toilets, there are no services, water, food or gasoline available along the length of Chain of Craters Road. Occasionally Volcano House opens their small snack wagon at the end of the road, but do not count on it being open when you are there. Do not underestimate the draw of this area on your imagination and your spirit; you WILL spend more time here than you think. Plan ahead, get food, water and gas before venturing down the road. Remember, after dark on the South side of Hawai’i Island, it is virtually impossible to find gasoline or food for sale along the southern highway between Hilo and Kona.
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All media copyright 2010 by Donald B. MacGowan. All rights reserved.