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by Donald B. MacGowan

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Kilauea erupting at Halema'uma'u Crater, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Graphic from Photo by Donald B MacGowan

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.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Kilauea lava flow from Kupaianaha Vent, Hawaii: Photo Courtesy of Big Island Air

Kilauea Volcano

Although it is the most active volcano on earth, many visitors to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park standing on the very summit of Kilauea Volcano often stare and wonder “Where’s the volcano?” Nestled snugly up against Mauna Loa, and not as vertically spectacular as either this near neighbor or Mauna Kea, Kilauea doesn’t even appear to be a bump on the landscape from the usual viewpoints. Even though it doesn’t standout visually, Kilauea is one of the most intriguing and fascinating volcanoes on earth…let’s just take a quick look at some of the reasons why.

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The Kilauea eruption at Halema'uma'u Crater from Jagger Museum at night: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Comprising the entire southeastern portion of Hawaii Island, Kilauea Volcano is not only currently the world’s most active volcano, it is also the home of the fire-goddess Pele. Early geologists believed Kilauea was merely a satellite vent of Mauna Loa, as it lies directly on that mountain’s southern slopes. However, Kilauea is now recognized as its own, distinct, volcano which has its own, separate, magma source and unique plumbing.

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Looking over the shield of Kilauea, at some of the 760 billion tons of lava Mau Loa o Mauna Ulu, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Presenting the classic “Hawaiian Shield Volcano” shape, a basic oval with low, shallow slope angles, volume-wise Kilauea is one of the the world’s most massive mountains. Standing 1240 meters (4080) above sea level, the above-ocean part of the volcano is about 80 km (50 miles) long and 32 km, (20 miles) wide, along an axis trending roughly southwest to northeast. However, like all the other Hawaiian volcanoes, the great majority of its vast bulk lies below the sea, about 5.5 km (18,000 feet) deep here, making Kilauea’s true base-to-summit height about 7 km (23,000 ft).

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A lava flow from Kilauea blocks the highway at Kalapana Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Sometimes vying with Mts. Aetna and Stromboli for the title of “most active volcano on earth”, Kilauea has been erupting continuously since January 1983; between then and June 2009, nearly 700 acres of new land was created on Hawaii Island by Kilauea lava flows. As the time scale of human lives and human tragedy are so much shorter than geologic time scales, and thus human memories of past disasters grow dim rather rapidly, this volcanic growth has come at quite a cost because people insist on building villages, towns and roads on this highly active landscape. In recent decades, the towns of Kapoho (in 1960), Kalapana (in 1990), and Kaimu (in 1990) have all been burned, buried and destroyed by Kilauea, and now are seemingly all but abandoned except by a few hardy souls. Although popularly thought to be rather tame with fairly peaceable eruptions, Kilauea in the past has had its fair share of explosive, violent, phreatomagmatic eruptions, spewing great quantities of ash as well.

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The summit of Kilauea Volcano with the much more massive Mauna Loa looming in the background, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Kilauea owes its peculiar shape to two long rift systems, the currently active East Rift and the Southwest Rift. These rifts are comprised of huge, deep fractures through the bulk of the mountain. Magma rises from deep below the volcano to a pool just below the summit caldera, then flows through internal plumbing down either rift, causing flank eruptions at vents down-rift. These flank eruptions greatly enhance Kilauea’s exaggerated elongate shape. In recent times, many more eruptions have occurred along the East Rift, than the Southwest Rift.

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A patch of sunlight illuminates the nearly 1400 feet of throw on the Holei Pali fault scarp, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

The orientation of these rifts is controlled by the geography of Mauna Loa and Kilauea, as well as by gravity. Because the north side of Kilauea is well buttressed by the huge mass of Mauna Loa and the unsupported south side slopes-off into the sea, the very mass of Kilauea is pulling it down slope, into the sea. Indeed, the sub-sea, southern slope of Kilauea is a vast, hummocky field of debris from enormous landslides. Above sea level, this slumping activity is evidenced by the several, sub-parallel ridges (or “Pali”, in Hawaiian) on the southern flank. With throws of much as 430 meters (1400 feet), these faults represent the massive fracturing of the volcano’s southern flank and the subsequent slumping of these giant blocks down slope. A drive down the Holei Pali along Chain of Craters Road will quickly demonstrate the magnitude of seaward movement as Kilauea erupts, slumps and grows.

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The Kilauea Iki Crater, within the much more massive Kilauea Caldera, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Seaward slumping is exacerbated by the volcanic activity itself; as Kilauea fills with magma, it swells and slumps southward, producing massive earthquakes and landslides. The slumping, however, also exacerbates the volcanic activity. By opening-up new voids in Kilauea’s internal plumbing, the slumping allows injection of even more magmatic material into Kilauea, which then causes more earthquakes and more slumping. Essentially spreading under its own enormous weight, the synergy between magma injection and slumping allows Kilauea to grow both by eruption of, and intrusion of, magma.

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A pahoehoe lava flow sizzles into the sea at La'epuki on Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

The supply of magma to the volcano is fairly consistent at 1.8 cubic km (1.0 cubic miles) per year, however forty to fifty per cent of the melt never makes its way to the surface. Called “endogenous growth”, nearly half the growth of Kilauea can be attributed to magma cooling and solidifying below ground, in the growing voids opened by the synergistic magma injection and seaward slumping of the mountain.

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Looking out over Kilauea Caldera from the back porch of Volcano House, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Conjoined on its northern flank by the vastly larger Mauna Loa, Kilauea doesn’t appear to the casual observer to have a true summit. However, the summit region, around which Crater Rim Drive circles, is comprised of a larger collapse crater (Kilauea Caldera), which contains three smaller collapse craters (Halema’uma’u, Keanakako’i and Kilauea Iki Craters). Collapse craters, such as here and those along Chain of Craters Road, are formed when magma is withdrawn from a reservoir during an eruption, and the suddenly unsupported land above simply collapses into the void. As you look out over the enormous cavity formed by Kilauea Caldera, imagine the immensity of the eruptive event that left enough of a void in the magma chamber to allow this huge crater to form.

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Offerings to the Goddess Pele at Halema'uma'u Crater in Kilauea Caldera, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Kilauea’s large magma pool lies just below the summit region, somewhat south of Halema’uma’u Crater, at a depth of about 1.5-5 km (1-3 miles). Forming a magma reservoir several kilometers wide, it acts as central storage for the entire summit-rift magma plumbing system. Partial melting in the mantle at a depth of 40-60 km (52-30 miles) produces magma which rises through the earth and pools within a couple kilometers or so of the surface, and which then flows almost immediately to the site of eruption (summit or flank), having very little residence time within the volcano itself. This “open door to the mantle” feature is a fairly unique to Kilauea Volcano.

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Pu'u O'o Vent on Kilauea in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Shannon Walker

Based on eruptive patterns in recorded history, Kilauea has been observed to follow three shifting modes of eruptive behavior. The first mode involves explosive volcanism at Kilauea’s summit. This activity contributed to the formation of past and present calderas in the summit area as well as having showered Ka’u with a cover of cinder and ash. The second mode is continuous effusive eruptive activity at the summit. This mode is typified by features such as the former lava lake at the summit which was present well into historic times, and events such as voluminous outpouring of lava from several summit vents. This mode tends to fill-in summit calderas and produce a landscape of broad, coalescing shields atop the various vents. The third mode of eruption is the continuous flank eruption, as seen today on the East Rift at vents such as Pu’u O’o and Kupaianaha.

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A view into the vent at Kupaianaha on Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

These modes are derived from observation of the volcano’s activity only during modern times, and almost certainly Kilauea’s behavior over geologic time must be much more complex. Rather than a view of the evolution of Kilauea Volcano, these modes may serve more as template through which to view what the volcano is capable of doing. It has been observed that periods of volcanic quiescence, or of small eruptions which shift location from summit to flank, may herald a shift in these eruptive modes. Further, it has been suggested based on recent observations that large, south-flank earthquakes initiating magma intrusion can greatly alter eruptive modes.

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Kilauea eruption at Halema'uma'u Crater from Steaming Bluff, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

So, now that we understand a little of the mystery and complexity of Kilauea Volcano, where is the best place to see it from? For starters, one cannot beat the view off the back porch of Volcano House in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which encompasses much of Kilauea Caldera and Halema’uma’u Crater. Although currently closed between Jagger Museum and the intersection with Chain of Craters Road because of the ongoing eruption in Halema’uma’u Crater, the portion of Crater Rim Drive which is open provides a unique view of the volcano in a scenic loop around the entire summit region. Of particular interest are the stops at Steaming Bluff, Jagger Museum, Halema’uma’u Crater (closed), Southwest Rift Zone (closed), Keanakako’i Crater (closed), and Kilauea Iki Crater Overlook.

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Looking at the trail across Kilauea Iki Crater, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Driving across the summit dome and down to the slump-block cliffs on Hilina Pali Road takes you on a fabulous backcountry exploration from a nether-world of volcanic destruction and to lush, tropical dryland forest and savanna. Hikes along Devastation Trail, through Kilauea Iki Crater and out to the caldera overlook at Waldron Ledge give fabulous insight to Kilauea Volcano and are particularly beautiful as well as fascinating, and fairly easy for those in reasonable physical condition.

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View down the slump blocks that comprise the Hilina Pali, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Aside from the summit region, the Chain of Craters Road travels through the most interesting geography of Kilauea, including lava flows from numerous recent eruptions. Although everywhere fascinating, stops at Pauahi Crater, Mauna Ulu and Muliwai O Pele are almost mandatory. As mentioned earlier, this drive gives stark perspective on the slump blocks and the slippage of Kilauea’s south flank toward the sea. Stops at Kealakomo Overlook, Halona Kahakai, Alanui Kahiko and Holei Pali illustrate the vast nature of the slow creep of Kilauea’s southern flank down-slope. A stop to see the amazing, ancient petroglyphs at Pu’u Loa Petroglyph Field provides a moving, human connection to the peoples of the past, the awe and respect they had for this Goddess and her mountain home. The end of Chain of Craters Road gives way to a playground of geological landscapes, booming sea cliffs and ancient villages, as well as providing the jumping-off point for hikes to see the flowing lava, when it is flowing within the Park boundaries.

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The eruption of Kilauea at Halema'uma'u from Jagger Museum, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

A complete guide to exploring Hawaii Volcanoes National Park can be found here; you should plan to spend the better part of a full day in the park—unless you’ve been here before, it will be the most interesting place you’ve ever been to yet. Viewing the flowing lava, the spectacle of the earth remaking herself, is one of the most moving, soul-filling, surprisingly emotional experiences you can have. The current eruption in Halema’uma’u Crater, although it hasn’t yet produced any lava flows, is best viewed from the Jagger Museum; at times of peak activity, it is most spectacular when viewed after dark. Guides to Lava Viewing in the Park and at the County of Hawaii Lava Viewing platform east in Puna at Waikupanaha can be found here and here respectively. A general outline of the volcanoes of Hawaii Island is presented here, a brief discussion on the differences between a’a and pahoehoe lavas can be found here, and an overview geologic history of the Hawaiian Islands can be found here.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

A hiker watches lava from Kilauea Volcano flow into the ocean at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Perhaps no other volcano in the world, certainly no active volcano, is so easy to explore, to touch, to experience. If you come to see Kilauea, home of the Goddess Pele, be sure to give yourself a lot of time—you’ll be more captivated than you expect; certainly you’ve never experienced anything like this before. Come, explore, enjoy, stand at her door and breath the breath of the Fire Goddess.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

The plume from littoral explosions where lava from Kilauea Volcano enters the sea at Waikupanaha, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

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The best of Tour Guide Hawaii’s free content about traveling to, and exploring, the Big island, can be found here.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Aerial view of the Mauna Ulu Crater, Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

For more information on traveling to Hawaii in general and on touring the Big Island in particular, please also visit www.tourguidehawaii.com and www.tourguidehawaii.blogspot.com.

All media copyright 2010 by Donald B. MacGowan. All rights reserved.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

The steam cloud at Waikupanaha where lava fro,m Kilauea meets the sea, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

The County of Hawaii Lava Viewing Platform at Waikupanaha, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Aerial view of Pu'u O'o Vent on Kilauea, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Shannon Walker

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Looking down into Kilauea Caldera from Waldron Ledge, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

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by Donald B. MacGowan

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Hikers pause to look over the summit from Mauna Loa from the summit of Mauna Kea, Hawaii Graphic From Photo by Donald B MacGowan

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.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

A view from the summit of Hualalai to Mauna Loa Hawaii Photo by Donald B MacGowan

The Volcanoes of Hawaii Island

The Hawaiian Archipelago, part of the Hawaiian Island-Emperor Seamount chain, is the most isolated island group earth and is comprised entirely of volcanic islands and their fringing reefs.  The archipelago was formed as one of the Earth’s great tectonic plates, the Pacific Plate, moved steadily northwest over a stationary plume of molten material welling up from the Earth’s mantle, called a “hot spot”.

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Fumes bellow from skylights in an active lava tube on Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii Photo by Kelly Kuchman

Creating a chain of volcanic islands that, today, stretches from the Aleutian Islands to the Big Island of Hawaii, this hotspot gave rise to at least 129 separate volcanoes in the past 86 million years.  There are 19 islands and atolls, and dozens of separate islets, seamounts, reefs and shoals in the Hawaiian Island portion of this chain, stretching from Kure Atoll to Hawaii Island (please go here for a complete discussion of the geologic history of the Hawaiian Islands).

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Halema'uma'u Crater and Eruption on Kilauea, Hawaii Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Hawai’i is the youngest island in the Archipelago and first began forming about a million years ago as volcanic vents opened above the mantle “hot spot” on the ocean bottom and molten lava began pouring onto the sea floor. Over the centuries, the making of the Big Island as we know it today eventually entailed the growth and conjoining of six separate volcanoes, building all the way up from the seafloor, some 18,000 feet below the ocean’s surface.  These volcanoes, from northwest to southeast, are named Mahukona, Kohala, Mauna Kea, Hualalai, Mauna Loa and Kilauea, and become younger as one moves north to south.

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Lava Flowing Into the Sea at Waikupanaha, Hawaii Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Mahukona Volcano, just off the Big Island’s northwest coast, was the first volcano to start forming. Now submerged beneath the surface of the ocean because it is sinking into the Earth’s crust under its own vast weight, Mahukona is no longer visible.  As the Pacific Plate slowly continued moving northwestward over the hotspot, the location of the rising magma moved relatively southeastward, and through time the rest of the Big Island volcanoes formed along that path.

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Kohala Mountain from the slopes of Mauna Kea Photo by Donald B MacGowan

After Mahukona, Kohala Volcano, the precursor to today’s Kohala Mountain, erupted next.  As Kohala Volcano emerged from the sea and joined with Mahukona, a much larger Big Island began forming. With continued movement of the Pacific Plate, the center of volcanism migrated on to Mauna Kea and Hualalai, the middle-aged volcanoes, and finally on to Mauna Loa and Kilauea, which are the youngest volcanoes on the island.  Over the geologically short time of several hundred thousand years, these volcanoes erupted thousands of thin flows which spread over, and built upon, older flows; each volcano growing until it finally emerged from the sea. As time went on, lava flows from one volcano began to overlap flows from other, nearby volcanoes and eventually the peaks coalesced into a single island, the Big Island.

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Lava from Kilauea flows into the sea at La'epuki, Hawaii Photo by Donald B MacGowan

In geologically recent times, a new volcano, Lo’ihi, began forming about 18 miles off the southeast coast of the Big Island.  In time, Loihi may join its mass with that of Kilauea, again changing the size and shape of the Big Island.  It is estimated that Lo’ihi, whose summit lies approximately 3,178 feet below the surface of the ocean today, will begin to protrude above the surface in about 10,000 years.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Hualalai Volcano from Saddle Road, Hawaii Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Currently, the remnants of Mahukona and Kohala volcanoes are completely extinct; Hualalai and Mauna Kea are considered dormant and Mauna Loa, Kilauea and Loihi are still very active.   This means that eruptions of Mahukona and Kohala are not at all likely. Eruptions of Mauna Kea and Hualalai are probable at some time in the future, though the major phase of mountain building is over for these volcanoes.  Movement of the Pacific Plate has moved both Hualalai and Mauna Kea off the hot spot so only remnants of liquid magma reside beneath them. These late-stage, mature Hawaiian volcanoes experience violent, explosive eruptions which are spectacular but comparatively small, volume-wise.  Late-stage Hawaiian volcanic eruptions are characterized by crater-forming explosions, tephra-cone building and ash ejecting events.

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Mauna Loa from Bird Park in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Mauna Loa and Kilauea are both considered active volcanoes. Although inflation and dilation events are common on the summit of Mauna Loa, it has not erupted since 1984; Mauna Loa could, however, erupt at any time.  Since 1833 when accurate records began to be kept, there have been 33 eruptions of Mauna Loa, making it one of the most active volcanoes on earth.  Its name means “long mountain”, and Mauna Loa is capable of erupting huge amounts of lava in a very short time, dwarfing the current output of Kilauea.  The most massive mountain on earth, this prolific effusion of molten rock accounts for Mauna Loa’s vast bulk.

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Kilauea eruption in Halema'uma'u Crater at night, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Kilauea, once believed to be a mere satellite vent on Mauna Loa, is known to be a separate and distinct volcano with its own, geologically separate magma chamber and subterranean plumbing. Nearly half a million years old, Kilauea’s most recent eruption has been continuous since 1983 making it currently the world’s most active volcano. Indeed, between 1983 and 2009 about 700 acres of new land were produced by lava flows from Kilauea.  Articles on how to see the active lava flows on Kilauea can be found here and here. A detailed guide to enjoying Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, featuring Kilauea and Mauna Loa Volcanoes can be found here.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Kilauea buried the town of Kalapana in the early 1990s and formed Kaimu Black, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Because the time-scale of human experience is virtually instantaneous compared to the aeons-long march of geologic history, there is continuing human drama, a tension, between short-sighted humans attempting to establish roads, villages and towns, and the ongoing geologic processes of the landscapes they choose to inhabit.  In very recent decades, the towns of Kapoho, Kalapana and Kaimu have been inundated, destroyed and buried by Kilauea Volcano (please see a related article on the death and rebirth of Kalapana, here).  As more people move to Hawaii, more such drama is inevitable.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Mauna Loa floats above the fields of Kohala, Hawaii Photo by Donald B MacGowan

The evolution of Hawaiian volcanoes continues even after the major phase of eruptive activity subsides. There are great differences, obvious to even the most casual observer, between the elongated, fluted ridge-like shape of Kohala Mountain and the lower angled slopes of Mauna Loa and Kilauea.  Likewise, steep-sided Mauna Kea has a greatly different physical aspect than does gently-sloped, shield-shaped Mauna Loa.  These differences are accounted for by the differences in their relative ages, and thus eruptive and erosive stages.

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The steeper, crater-poked slopes of Hualalai indicate it has moved on to the later stages of volcanism Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Remembering that the angle of repose of Hawaiian lava is about 6 degrees, the shield-shaped, gentle slopes of Mauna Loa and Kilauea reflect the fact that they are quite young and are still in the shield-building stage, being built-up by successive flows of highly fluid lava.  The much steeper flanks of Hualalai and Mauna Kea volcanoes are due to the late-stage, explosive eruptions, to erosion and to ashfall which piles up much more steeply than the flowing lava.  The fluted ridges of Kohala volcano result from the deep dissection of the once shield-shaped slopes of the original volcano by streams and surface flow of water.  The distinctive steep valleys and great cliffs seen on the north and east sides of Kohala Volcano result from later process of normal faulting and giant landslides (see further discussion in an article about Waipi’o Valley, here).

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Glacial cirques and moraines along the Mauna Kea summit ridge, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Another process, operative in the geologically recent past, has served to shape the slopes of the volcanoes of the Big Island, at least those which are or great height.  Glaciers covered the summit of Mauna Kea (and possibly Mauna Loa) three times between 200,000 and 13,000 years ago, leaving behind many glacial features such as cirques, u-shaped valleys and scoured bedrock; surviving into the present is a remnant rock glacier near the summit of Mauna Kea (a related article on the summit of Mauna Kea and the Hawaiian Snow Goddess, Poliahu, can be found here; details on exploring Mauna Kea can be found here).  Any evidence on Mauna Loa of ice-age glaciers has been covered by recent eruptions.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Kohala Volcano is subsiding, cut by enormous valleys and giant cliff-forming landslides, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Simultaneously with the ongoing eruptions and island building, due to their enormous mass, the great volcanoes of the Hawaiian Chain begin to subside into the oceanic crust.  After the majority of eruptions cease, with cooling and with a great amount of time, they eventually disappear beneath the surface of the sea completely, as Mahukona Volcano already has.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Originally carved above sea level, these 500-year old petroglyphs at Keauhou today are awash due to subsidence of Hualalai Volcano: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Today, the Big Island of Hawai’i comprises more than twice the area of all the other Hawaiian Islands combined.  It’s size is not anomalous, however, considering the geologic history of the archipelago. All the other Hawaiian Islands experienced the same pattern of volcanic eruption, growth and coalescence, as well as the gradual subsidence and submersion that Hawaii Island has, and thus at one time may have been as large as the Big Island.  Indeed, geologists have demonstrated that Maui at one time formed a single landmass, known as Maui Nui or “Big Maui”, with the islands of Lana’i, Moloka’i, and Kaho’olawe.  Continued subsidence submerged the larger landmass, leaving the four, smaller islands above the ocean surface. Ultimately, this will happen to the Big Island, as well.

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Looking from Mauna Kea summit to Mauna Loa, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

The relentless movement of the Pacific Plate carries it, with the all the islands piggy-backed, inexorably northward to the Aleutian Trench, where it is subducted underneath the North American Plate, melted, and recycled as volcanic material in the Aleutian Island volcanoes.  The Emperor Seamounts are currently undergoing such destruction, and, the evolution of the Hawaiian-Emperor Chain is such that, eventually this fate also awaits the Big Island…but not for tens of millions of years.

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Magical Sunset at the lava ocean entry at Waikupanaha, Hawaii Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Given the ephemeral nature of this precious island, this geologic certainty should serve to make us love and treasure the Big Island more deeply, as well as to spur us to protect and preserve it more completely.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Silent sunset descends upon Hawaii Island at Kahalu'u Beach: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

The best of Tour Guide Hawaii’s free content about traveling to, and exploring, the Big island, can be found here.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Near the summit of Kohala Mountain, Photo by Donnie MacGowan

For more information on traveling to Hawaii in general and on touring the Big Island in particular, please also visit www.tourguidehawaii.com and www.tourguidehawaii.blogspot.com.

All media copyright 2010 by Donald B. MacGowan. All rights reserved.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Full moon over Mauna Kea, Hawaii Photo by Donald B MacGowan

by Donald B. MacGowan

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Sea arches, cliffs and wild ocean at the end of Chain of Craters Road, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Graphic from Photo by Donald B MacGowan

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.

What’s at the End of Chain of Craters Road?

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Lava stream flowing into the ocean at La'epuki, past the end of Chain of Craters Road, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

The end of the Chain of Craters Road is currently around Mile Marker 19, just at the Holei Sea Arch and about ½ mile from the National Park eruption viewing station. Good, if distant, viewing of the eruption, displays about the volcano and natural history of the area, as well as a wealth of information on hiking to, and viewing, the lava, are available here. In addition, numerous sea arches, sea caves, fabulous bird watching, indescribable ocean views and some pretty good biking are to be found here. Even if the lava flows are too far away to be easily hiked to, the hike along the new land, twisted lava forms and endless basalt landscape is well worth the drive to the end of the road.

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Coastal explosion plume from the end of Chain of Craters Road, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Over the months and years, the lava river issuing from Pu’u O’o winds its way back and forth across the lava plain of about 8 miles breadth, usually flowing into the sea within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, but sometimes outside the eastern margin of the Park on County of Hawaii land at Waikupanaha, sometimes ponding behind the low lava hills for weeks at a time without entering the ocean at all. Check with the rangers about flow conditions; they can tell you the best way to approach these flows. Current eruption updates are available from the National Park Service by calling 808.985.600. Listen to their advice, heed their warnings, especially if you plan to hike all the way to the lava flows.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Watching the lava flow, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

When the lava flows outside the Park onto Hawaii County land, you can see it from the Puna side at the County of Hawaii Viewing area at Waikupanaha; for further information on hiking to see the lava at Waikupanaha, please go here.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Volcanic fumes, end of Chain of Craters Road, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

When the flows are within the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the best approach is to drive to the end of Chain of Craters Road in the Park and then hike in. This hike can be of a few minutes, or a few hours, duration, depending upon how far away the lava ocean entry is. The hike is over an uneven, rough surface, hot during the day even when it rains, cold at night and navigation can sometimes be counter-intuitive. The trail at first is marked with cairns and reflectors, but after the viewing station located at a few hundred meters, you are on your own to navigate the basalt wilderness. The good news is, even if the hike is a couple hours duration, when the lava flow is in the National Park, you are allowed to walk right up to it; this is not true if the lava is flowing onto County of Hawaii land at Waikupanaha.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

When the lava is flowing, rangers are generally present at the end of Chain of Craters Road, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

The End of the Road is the second busiest area in the Park when the lava is flowing. Rangers try to be available here to talk to visitors through most of the day and into the evening. The Rangers will have the most up-to-date information about hiking to, and viewing, the eruption. Due to the popularity of this area, it is not uncommon to have to park as much as ¾ of a mile or more from the end of the road.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Hiking to the lava flows, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

You should bring at least 2 quarts of water, a flashlight for hiking out in the dark, camera, food, first aid kit, sun screen and a rain jacket; wear a sun hat, sturdy hiking shoes, long pants and a long-sleeved shirt–those rocks are sharp! Over the years, we have found a stout hiking stick and an umbrella to be of good use as well. Since photos and video are most spectacular at night, it is wise to bring a camera tripod.Remember: you will be hiking out at night; plan and pack accordingly.  There will likely be no food or gasoline available for purchase after dark  until you reach Hilo or Kailua Kona.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Hikers going to see the flowing lava past the end of Chain of Craters Road, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Hiking all the way out to the active flows is one of the most spiritually rewarding, awe-inspiring, curiosity quenching and amazing things one can do anywhere in the world—but it is neither for the physically unfit nor the meek of spirit. It is a long, hot hike over broken ground and glass-sharp rocks; the heat from the volcano is savage; the weather, if clear, is sweltering…frequent squalls blow in off the ocean and the rain and wind can get pretty wild out on the lava plain where there is absolutely no cover or shelter to protect you. No water or shade are available anywhere along the hike.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Glowing lava near the end of Chain of Craters Road, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

The molten lava itself is mortally dangerous, although slow-moving and easy to outpace. However, the incautious and inattentive can find themselves surrounded and cut off as flows advance whilst they are looking elsewhere. It is a good idea to use a sturdy walking stick or ski pole to probe in front of you, as you approach the active flows. Although it may appear dark and solid—especially in the bright daylight—much of what you will be walking on is still extremely hot and may not be completely hardened—best to probe it first before walking out on it. You only have to have your running shoes catch fire once to learn the wisdom of wearing sturdy boots here. Don’t be tempted to touch, spit on, sprinkle water on, poke, kick, throw rocks into or interrupt or molest the molten lava flow in anyway—the results will be blindingly fast, inexplicably unpredictable and agonizingly painful.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Streaming lava at Waikupanaha, Puna Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Remember that you are hiking on a highly active volcano, if flowing streams of lava strand you, no rescue is practical or possible; plan, take care and pay strict attention accordingly. The section on Lava Viewing has a great deal of important information regarding hiking on this active volcano; be sure to review it so that you may approach the home of the goddess with respect, knowledge and awe, and return unscathed.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Rainbow at the end of Chain of Craters Road, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Going to see the lava flow and the eruption of a living volcano may well be the adventure of your lifetime; please be careful and pay attention to these warnings to make sure this is not the FINAL adventure of your lifetime.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Frank Burgess and a car full of toys, end of Chain of Craters Road, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

To see the new iPhone/iPod Touch App, please visit http://www.tourguidehawaii.com/iphone.html. The best of Tour Guide Hawaii’s free content about traveling to, and exploring, the Big island, can be found here.For more information on traveling to Hawaii in general and on touring the Big Island in particular, please also visit www.tourguidehawaii.com and www.tourguidehawaii.blogspot.com.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Aerial view of lava flowing into the ocean near the end of Chain of Craters Road, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

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All media copyright 2010 by Donald B. MacGowan. All rights reserved.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

The end of Chain of Craters Road, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Graphic from Photo by Donald B MacGowan

by Donald B. MacGowan

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Lava flowing into the ocean at La'epuki in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

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.

Hawaii Whirlwind Road Trip: I have to see the whole Big Island all in one day!

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Beautiful Waialea Beach, Kohala Coast Hawaii Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Approximate minimum time start to finish (to see every site): 14 hours.

We do not generally recommend trying to see the Big Island all in one day…there is a good reason it is called “The Big Island”. However, vacation schedules and group interests vary and a surprising number of visitors evince a keen desire to tour the entire island in a single day. *sigh*. They rarely attempt it twice. However, if we were to recommend a day trip round the island, commencing at Kailua Kona, the itinerary below would probably be your best bet at hitting the greatest number of highlights in the shortest possible time.

At 14 hours driving and touring time, there is little time for dilly-dally and the unhurried visitor will of necessity trim this ambitious schedule. Easy ways to shorten the itinerary if you find yourself falling behind include skipping legs 5-7 (i.e., follow Hwy 11 all the way from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park into Hilo; time savings of about 2 1/2 hours) or skipping legs 12-13 (i.e., traveling along Hwy 19 from Hilo through Honoka’a directly to Waimea; time savings about 2 1/2 hours). You may also choose simply to skip any individual site anywhere along this route; for instance, Leg 1, Upcountry Kona, can easily be done on another morning from Kailua Kona and can be omitted from this trip simply by driving Hwy 11 straight to Punalu’u, saving you perhaps an hour.

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The famous Kona Sunset fades behind Ku'emanu Heiau, Kona Hawaii Photo by Donald B MacGowan

However ambitious, this schedule will allow you, if you start out about 6 in the morning and proceed apace, to circumnavigate the island seeing everything and arrive at Hapuna Beach in time for a delightful picnic dinner (no food available at beach, so stop and buy take-away in Waimea) and an absolutely unforgettable sunset.

If you are serious about undertaking this one-day, whirl-wind tour, we highly recommend you purchase AND USE Tour Guide Hawaii’s newly released  iPhone/iPod App…it uses GPS, Google Maps with driving directions and has onboard maps and driving directions where cell phone service and internet are not available.  It plays a video presentation with all kinds of information about history, culture, safety and the natural history about all the most fascinating sites on the island, including the whereabouts of all the public restrooms!  The iPhone App gives you detailed, accurate information on where to go, what to bring, what to expect when you get there and what to do next.  Available here, the App will give you much, much more detailed information than this blog post.

So what are you doing waiting around reading this for? It’s a BIG ISLAND you are trying to explore and you’ve got to hustle! Even though you are the one who decided to try it all in one day, remember that we warned you it would be a long, long day!

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Ke'eku Heiau Before Reconstruction, Kona Hawaii Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Leg 1) Start at north end of Keauhou Historic District on Ali’i Drive, head south on Ali’i Drive to jct with Kamehameha II Hwy; east on Kamehameha III to Hwy 11. Take Hwy 11 south to jct with Hwy 160, just south of the town of Captain Cook. Head downhill on Hwy 160 to Napo’opo’o Village, turn north on Pu’uhonua Beach Road to Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park at end of road; this is where you view the Captain Cook Monument.

Keauhou Historic District and Kona Coffee

For almost 400 years, temples and palaces along the Kona coastline served as a kind of “Rome of the Pacific”, a great political, religious and cultural center in Polynesia, until the capital was moved to Honolulu in 1850 by Kamehameha III. The most important, interesting and best preserved historical and cultural sites lie within the Keauhou Historic District, between Kahalu’u Beach Park in Kailua running south 6 miles to Kuamo’o Bay in Keauhou. The District contains perhaps a dozen fascinating sites that are easy to walk to, well maintained and quite interesting.

To see the numerous fascinating and important archaeological sites in the Keauhou Historic District, it is necessary to park your car in the free parking at either Kahalu’u Beach Park or the Keauhou Beach Resort and explore on foot. More details about seeing the many fascinating sites at the Keauhou Historic District may be found here.

Just uphill from the Historic District is the Kona Coffee District. Hawaii is the only state in the union which produces coffee, and Kona coffee is perhaps the finest in the world. Over 2 millions pounds of coffee a year are produced on about 600, 2-3 acre farms; tours of coffee farms and roasteries are available. More about justly famous Kona coffee can be found here.

Kealakekua Bay Historical District and Captain Cook Monument

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Kealekekua Bay and Cook Monument, Kona Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

A place of both dramatic historic events and unparalleled scenery, beautiful and now peaceful Kealakekua Bay (Pathway of the Gods) opens beneath steep, beetling cliffs on the ancient surfing beach along the shoreline of Napo’opo’o Village. The site of arguably the most important event in the history of Polynesia, home to pods of frolicking dolphins, providing some truly breathtaking snorkeling, Kealakekua Bay is one of the most magical spots in the State of Hawai’i.

Across the bay from Napo’opo’o stands the solitary white obelisk that marks the lonely Captain Cook Monument. It was in this broad bay that Captain James Cook made his deepest impression on, and longest visit with, native Hawai’ians when he first arrived late in November of 1778; and it was here where he met his tragic end in February 1779 during his second visit. At the State Park at the end of the road in Napo’opo’o are picnic facilities, pavilions and restrooms.

More information on the Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park, the Cook Monument and Captain James Cook’s encounters with the Hawaiians can be found here. Although far too long and demanding to be contained in this whirlwind tour, many visitors enjoy the hike to the Captain Cook Monument, perhaps the finest hike on the island. Details of this undertaking can be found here.

Leg 2) Return south on Pu’uhonua Beach Road to jct with Hwy 160; Hwy 160 south to Pu’u Honua O Hounaunau National Historical Park-this is the Place of Refuge.

Pu’u Honua O Hounaunau National Historical Park; The Place of Refuge

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Looking toward Pu'u Honua O Honasunau from Two Step Beach, Kona Hawaii Photo by Donald B MacGowan

A beautiful, peaceful, restful piece of Old Hawai’i, Pu’u Honua O Honaunau is a place of ease and regeneration for weary and jaded souls. Of enormous historical and cultural significance, the sacred grounds at Honaunau are the best-preserved remaining Pu’u Honua, or Place of Refuge, complex in Hawai’i. It is also a wonderful area to wander, snorkel, relax and picnic. For anyone who had any doubts about what Old Hawai’i was like, a trip to Honaunau will fill your imagination, your camera and your spirit.

A complex and strict order of law, known as the kapu system, controlled and governed everything in ancient Hawai’i. Under this system, judgment was death, immediate and final, unless the accused could escape to one of the designated places of refuge. There the accused would undergo a cleansing ceremony, be absolved of all crimes, and allowed to return to his family free of onus. The National Park has a Visitor’s Center and bookshop, full picnic and restroom facilities. Although no swimming or snorkeling is allowed within the Park, adjacent is Two-Step Beach on Hounaunau Bay, one of the premiere snorkeling spots on the Island. A full description of the Pu’u Honua O Honaunau National Historic Park can be found here; details of snorkeling at 2-Step Beach can be found here.

Leg 3) Return to Hwy 11 via Hwy 160; continue south on Hwy 11 to Punalu’u Road; Punalu’u Road to Punalu’u Black Sand Beach Park.

Punalu’u Black Sand Beach Park

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Punalu'u Black Sand Beach, Ka'u Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

A truly remarkable place of great peace, beauty and spiritual healing, Punalu’u’s black sand beach is world-renowned. Endangered Hawai’ian Green Sea Turtles swim the waters here and bask on the beach. The wildness of the ocean and the serenity of the freshwater fishpond and coconut palm-shaded beaches make this an ideal place to spend some soul-recharge time. The ocean here can be rough, so use caution when swimming.

Available services include water, picnic tables, restrooms, electrical outlets, and pavilions, parking; camping is by permit only. During peak tourist time, there is a souvenir stand with some packaged food items and canned drinks for sale, otherwise the nearest food, gasoline and other services are in either Pahala or Na’alehu. More about Punalu’u Black Sand Beach, the turtles and the archeological sites in the park can be found here. More about the endangered Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle can be found here.

Leg 4) Return to Hwy 11 on Punalu’u road; continue east on Hwy 11 to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Entrance and jct with Crater Rim Drive; take Crater Rim Drive west to Kilauea Visitor’s Center to Jagger Museum.

Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park

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Lava flowing into ocean at La'epuki in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park is a magical, spiritual, wondrous, strange and beautiful place comprised of great contrasts and contradictions: dry as dust desert to teeming tropical jungle; frigid sub-arctic wasteland to steaming black sand beaches to rivers of flowing lava.

The star attractions in the Park are a pair of active volcanoes; Mauna Loa is the largest mountain on earth and Kilauea is most active volcano on earth. However, there are numerous other wonders from lava tubes to crawl down, black sand beaches with sea turtles to watch, mysterious petroglyph fields to explore, tropical jungles to hike through, endangered bird species to find, happy-face spiders to amuse and an otherworldly volcanic landscape so fresh it’s still steaming.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. During daylight hours, an access fee is charged. The Visitor Center has a 24-hour information line at 808.985.7017 and there is a 24-hour eruption hotline at 808.985.6000. Within the Park tune to A.M. radio 530 for continuous information broadcast. There tourist items available for sale and one restaurant and in the park, however generally shopping, restaurants and gasoline are only available in the nearby village of Volcano.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Nieces Entering Thurston Lava Tube, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Although a full exploration of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is not possible on this whirlwind tour, a thorough road trip description of the whole park can be found here. Many decide that the Park is just too interesting to leave and decide to curtail their full-day island adventure in favor of a more thorough investigation of this area. A wonderful way to complete your day with an exploration of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, a delving quickly into Puna and finishing with lava viewing can be found here.

Kilauea Visitor Center

Newly remodeled and updated, the Kilauea Visitor’s Center is an outstanding resource of information on Hawaii’s volcanoes and the National Park; the not-to-be-missed first stop in the park you must make. The Center is run by enthusiastic and knowledgeable staff that has the most up-to-date information on viewing the eruption, hiking and camping, bird watching, stargazing and just about any other topic of interest to Park visitors. Available for sale in the Center are maps, guidebooks, books and videos about the volcanoes, Hawai’iana, history, plants and every topic you can imagine pertinent to the Park, even souvenirs. There are free brochures and pamphlets on various trails, attractions, hiking safety and lava viewing hazards and precautions.

The Visitor Center is open daily from 7:45 a.m. to 5 p.m.; there are public restrooms, water and pay phones available. Starting at 9 a.m. and showing every hour on the hour is a 20 minute informative movie about the Park; the film changes from time to time, but always contains spectacular footage of eruptions, information on volcanology and the natural and human history of the Park. A brief video highlighting the Visitor’s Center can be seen here.

Jagger Museum and Hawai’i Volcano Observatory

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Halema'uma'u eruption at nght from the Jagger Museum, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Famed for its fabulous views of Mauna Loa and Kilauea as much as for its interesting exhibits, The Jagger Museum (named for geologist Thomas A. Jagger) is open daily from 8:30a.m. to 5:00p.m. Exhibits include murals by Herb Kawainui Kane, seismograph charts of eruptions and earthquakes, geological displays and display about the natural and human history of the Park.

When entering the parking lot of the Museum/Observatory, be especially careful of the Federally-protected Hawaii Goose, the Nene, who seem to congregate here. The Nene is the State Bird of Hawai’i, and this parking lot and its surrounding area constitute one of the best places for viewing them. A brief video highlighting the Jagger Museum can be seen here.

Leg 5) Follow Crater Rim Drive back to Park Entrance and then to Hwy 11. Go east on Hwy 11 to jct with Hwy 130 at Kea’au; take Hwy 130 south to Pahoa.

Puna District and Pahoa Town

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Morning reflection in a hot spring near Pu'ala'a County Park, Puna Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Uncrowded, off the beaten track and largely undiscovered by tourists, Puna District is a magnificent wonderland; from incredible tree-tunneled roads, geothermal fields of steam vents, lovely beach parks, hot ponds, hikes on raw lava flows and jungle trails, and unequaled snorkeling, the land cries out for the visitor to explore a little bit. More about Puna District can be found here.

At the center of Puna is Pahoa Town; wild, untamed and even a bit unruly, with its false-front, western-style buildings and raised wooden sidewalks, Pahoa looks more like it belongs in Wyoming. But Wild West isn’t the only subculture evident here…tie-dye banners and the general “flower-power” ambience some businesses and citizens lend Pahoa give it a decidedly “’60’s” feel. It has been said of Pahoa that if it weren’t for counter-cultural influences, it would have no cultural influences at all.

The charm and allure of this way of living is evident when you consider that the region around Pahoa is the fastest growing portion of the island. Pahoa has some of the best restaurants on the island, THE best natural foods store and a great public pool. You can learn more about Pahoa Town here.

Leg 6) At Pahoa, get on Hwy 130 to Kalapana.


Kalapana Disaster of 1990/Kaimu Black Sand Beach

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Kaimu Black Sand Beach, Puna Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

In 1990 the volcano goddess Pele determined it was time for some serious housecleaning in Puna. Lava flows from Kilauea’s East Rift engulfed the villages of Royal Gardens, Kaimu and Kalapana, destroying virtually everything. Buried were a centuries old fishing village and a world famous black sand beach. When the lava came, it wiped out not just material possessions; it wiped out a way of life and a landscape cherished by generations.  For more about the disaster of 1990 and the rebirth of Kalapana, please go here.

The Big Island’s newest black sand beach, Kaimu Beach, is a lovely, if barren, crescent of sand at the end of an unforgiving expanse of lava from the 1990 flows. The trail to the new black sand beach is marked with hundreds of young palms, numerous lava casts which include palms, pandanus fruit and even some fish that were caught in tide pools.

From the lava hillocks along the trail you can get nice views of the eruption plume at Pu’u O’o, up on the flank of Kilauea, as well as the steam clouds down a few miles along the coast where the lava enters the sea. Restrooms and fast food are available at the end of the road.  Although for reasons of time it is not part of this tour, near here is the County of Hawaii Lava Viewing Area at Waikupanaha, from which it is sometimes possible to see flowing lava. You can read about it here. Between Kalapana and Lava Trees State Monument, you will pass through some other interesting parts of Puna that are not included on the current tour. You can read about Isaac Hale Beach Park at Pohoiki Bay here and Ahalanui Hot Pond here.

Leg 7) From Kalapana take Hwy 137 to jct with Hwy 132 at Kapoho; take Hwy 132 northward to Lava Trees State Monument.

Lava Trees State Monument

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Looking at a single lava tree cast, Lava Trees State Monument, Puna Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Under a lacy canopy of monkeypod trees, casts of ohi’a trees stand as monuments to a fast-moving pahoehoe lava flow that passed through here in 1790. When the lava hit the water-saturated ohi’a trees, it cooled and began to congeal around them. The original ohi’a trees burned away but the quickly cooled lava around them stands here today, hollow, with imprints of the tree bark inside.

Lava Trees Park offers trails to hike and a restful, bird-filled jungle to sit and listen to. You can spend between 20 minutes to an hour wandering the trails, here, exploring and discovering. Be careful, however, the area is riddled with hidden cracks in the ground which can make exploring hazardous.

You may wish to avail yourself of the restrooms here; they are the last public facilities for some distance. More about Lava Trees State Monument can be found here. Surrounding the Lava Trees State Monument are the famous Puna Tree Tunnels, which you can read

about here.

Leg 8) Return to Hwy 130; Hwy 130 north through Pahoa to Kea’au and jct with Hwy 11. Hwy 11 North to Hilo.

Hilo Town

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The shoreline of East Hilo is punctuated with small, but gorgeous beach parks: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Beautiful but wet, metropolitan but decrepit, bustling but laid back, Hilo is a lovely, maddening, heartbreaking, addictive study in contrasts. In can rain all day long for 50 days in a row, yet when the sun does shine, the views of Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea from the Liliuokalani Gardens, or of Hilo Bay as you drive down from the mountains, or the rain-forest and waterfall choked gulches with lovely beaches along the highway north of town, make Hilo one of the most truly, achingly-lovely spots on earth.

More laid back and sleepier than bustling Kailua Kona, Hilo is the largest town on the island, and the county seat. The Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawaii, Tsunami Museum, Lyman House Missionary Museum and the Pana’ewa Rainforest Zoo are all wonderful places to learn about various aspects of Hawaii. There are numerous shopping districts, two large malls and the Historic Old Hilo downtown shops to browse through, a variety of sprawling green parks, a fabulous tropical arboretum right downtown and a mile-long black-sand beach fronting the bay to explore. Hilo’s Farmer’s Market is a “must see” for any visitor who is spending time on this side of the island. More about touring Hilo can be found here; a personal, darker vision of Hilo can be found here.

Leg 9) In Hilo, go north on Hwy 11 to jct with Hwy 19; take Hwy 19 to jct with Waianuenue Ave; head southwestward on Waianuenue Ave (Hwy 200) to Rainbow Falls.

Rainbow Falls and Wailuku River Park

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Swimming and diving are favorite activities at Boiling Pots on the Wailuku River in Hilo, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

The subject of recent and ancient legend, Rainbow Falls is the lovely emblem of Hilo town. The characteristic wishbone shape of Rainbow Falls is best seen at moderate river flows…too little water and only a single drizzle remains, too much runoff and the falls merge into a single, roaring flume. At any time, however, it’s a beautiful place and worthwhile to visit. The rainbows within the falls are best seen in the mid to late morning. Follow the trail to the left along the river bank to delightful swimming and wandering; please note, however, that swimming in rivers and near falling water is dangerous. Don’t go in if the current is swift or if recent rains have swollen the river.

Restrooms are by the parking lot and a souvenir shop is located across the street. More about Rainbow Falls can be found here.

Leg 10) Return on Hwy 200 to Hwy 19, head north on Hwy 19 to Hwy 220 at Honomu; continue through Honomu to Akaka Falls.

Akaka Falls

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Akaka Falls, Hamakua Coast, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

There is a reason that Akaka Falls rates as the most visited tourist site on the Island of Hawai’i. Simply put, the 420 foot, free falling plunge of clear water down a fern festooned cliff is an amazing and beautiful site. Leaving the parking lot, the paved loop trail of about one mile, winds through a wonderful jungle of exotic flowers, ferns, orchids, ginger and bamboo. Two smaller falls are also seen along the way to the stellar Akaka Falls. Akaka Falls has restrooms but no other facilities.

When visiting Akaka Falls, be sure to save some time to explore the shops, galleries and cafes of Honomu on the way back to the highway; it’s unlike anywhere you’ve ever been before…guaranteed.

Leg 11) Return Hwy 220 through Honomu to Hwy 19, then north on Hwy 19 to Honoka’a. More about Akaka Falls can be found here.

Honoka’a Town

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Hamakua Sugar cane outside Honoka'a, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Built in the era of sugar great plantations and left culturally and economically isolated after the industry collapse, until recently Honoka’a was content to drowse along through the decades. A boom in real estate and return of vital human energy to the area has made a literal renaissance of the town. It boasts numerous wonderful restaurants, gift and boutique shops and the highest density of antique shops on the island. Be sure to stop to explore a little on your way to or from Waipi’o Valley…it’s a fun, happening kind of place and always steeped with aloha. More about the town of Honoka’a can be found here.

Driving north or south out of Honoka’a, remnants of old sugar mills, fields and wild cane can still be seen. When Captain Cook arrived in 1778, only wild sugar cane was growing; at its height in the mid-1960’s one in 12 people were employed in the sugar industry which produced in excess of a million tons of sugar annually. Though the business is gone, what is left are the people who once worked the fields and mills. The melding of the rich cultures of Japanese, Chinese, Filipinos, Portuguese, and others is what gives today’s unique Hawaii lifestyle its sweet flavor. More about the Hawaii sugar industry can be found here. A personal story about the impact on the people of Hawaii of the death of the Hawaii sugar industry can be found here.

Leg 12) At Honoka’a, turn north on Hwy 240 to Waipi’o Valley.

Waipi’o Valley

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Waipi'o Valley, just outside Honoka'a Town on the Hamakua Coast Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Waipi’o Valley is arguably the most magical place on the Big Island. The steep canyon walls and verdant fields of the valley floor, the mile long black sand beach and numerous immense waterfalls that line the valley walls all call out to the visitor for exploration.

Always listed among the most beautiful spots in the State of Hawai’i, this valley is as hauntingly lovely as it is difficult to see in its entirety.

Tours down into the valley in vans, on horse drawn wagons and ATVs can be booked in Honoka’a.

Over-flights in fixed wing aircraft and helicopters also offer fine venues from which to see this amazing piece of Hawai’i. Hiking down and wandering the immense black sand beach, exploring the ironwood copses and sand dunes and discovering the hidden waterfalls is also a popular way to see the canyon. Although the hike down is only a little over 1 mile and a thousand feet elevation loss, the climb back up is sweltering in the ferocious sun and heat. Think twice before hiking down. Facilities at the Scenic Overlook include a pavilion and restrooms; there no facilities beyond port-a-potties within the valley itself. More about Waipi’o Valley, especially the hike down in, can be found here.

Leg 13: Return to Honoka’a on HWY 240; at Honoka’a take HWY 19 to Waimea.

Waimea Town and Cowboy Country

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Bull rider at Hawaii Rodeo: Photo by Carol Gilliland

Snuggled between Mauna Kea and Kohala Volcano in Hawaii’s scenic mountain heart, seemingly always shrouded in mist and chilly, Waimea is definitely Hawai’ian cowboy country. Although jeans and flannel shirts appear to be the town uniform, Waimea is very sophisticated, boasting some of the finest shopping and restaurants and the most modern hospital on the island. More about Waimea Town can be found, here.

Additionally, the cattle industry centers in Waimea. In 1793 British Navigator George Vancouver presented cows to King Kamehameha which were allowed to roam free and soon became a problem. Shortly after horses were brought to Hawaii in 1804, Kamehameha recruited California vaqueros, whom Hawai’ians called “paniolo”–a corruption of the word “Espańol”–to control the wild herds, and the generations-old ranching lifestyle here was born.

The vaqueros also brought their guitars and their love of music. A deeply musical people, the Hawaiians were intensely interested in these, the first stringed instruments they had seen. They quickly learned to work-out their own tunings, called “slack key guitar”, which more suited the style of their indigenous music. More about the history of ranching and Hawaii music can be found here.

Leg 14) At Waimea, continue on Hwy 19 (also called Kawaihae Road) to Kawaihae; at Kawaihae, turn south on Hwy 19 to Hapuna Beach. If you have timed your trip right, you will arrive at Hapuna Beach before sunset. This is a most amazing place to watch the sunset over the Pacific Ocean with Haleakala on Maui looming on the horizon. If it is already dark, proceed on Hwy 19 south to Kailua Kona.

Hapuna Beach

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Hapuna is Hawaii's Most Popular Beach, Kohala Coast, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Always rated in the Top 10 of American beaches, Hapuna Beach is the premiere beach destination on the Island of Hawai’i. Long, wide and phenomenally sandy, it has everything one dreams of in a Hawai’ian beach: abundant sun, surf, clean, clear and quiet snorkeling water, shade and well-maintained facilities.

There are generally lifeguards, several pavilions, barbecues, picnic tables, restrooms, showers and a small café. The center of the beach is for wave play and boogie boarding, the north and south coves are quieter, for snorkeling or gentle floating. Although most patrons must walk about 100 yards down a path from the parking lot, Handicapped Parking exists right on the beach. More about Hapuna Beach can be found here.

Leg 15) Proceed on Hwy 19 south to Kailua Kona.

Although not intended as part of this particular day trip, a walking tour of Kailua Kona can be found here.

This whirlwind tour was designed to give you a taste of the Big Island Experience in a single day—not an easy task. For more detailed day trips, designed to focus on specific areas of Hawaii Island, please see the following:

Best Scenic Drives on Hawaii #1: The Saddle Road…Kona to the Summit of Mauna Kea, Kaumana Cave and Hilo: http://lovingthebigisland.wordpress.com/2010/02/12/best-scenic-drives-on-hawaii-1-the-saddle-road-kona-to-the-summit-of-mauna-kea-kaumana-cave-and-hilo-2/

Best Scenic Drives on Hawaii #2: North Kona and Kohala, Ancient History, Sumptuous Beaches: https://lovingthebigisland.wordpress.com/2010/03/01/scenic-drive-2-north-kona-and-kohala-ancient-history-sumptuous-beaches/

Best Scenic Drives on Hawaii #3: Kona to Hamakua and Hilo: https://lovingthebigisland.wordpress.com/2010/02/09/best-scenic-drives-on-hawaii-3-kona-to-hamakua-and-hilo-2/

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Oneoneo Bay Sunset in Kailua Kona, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Best Scenic Drives in Hawaii #4: Kona Coast to South Point and Ka’u https://lovingthebigisland.wordpress.com/2010/02/25/best-scenic-drives-in-hawaii-4-kona-coast-to-south-point-and-kau-2/

Best Scenic Drives in Hawaii #5: Kailua Kona to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Puna and Lava Viewing: https://lovingthebigisland.wordpress.com/2010/01/27/best-scenic-drives-in-hawaii-5-kailua-kona-to-hawaii-volcanoes-national-park-puna-and-lava-viewing-2/

Exploring Hawaii Volcanoes National Park; The Most Interesting, Amazing and Diverse Scenic Drive in Hawaii: https://lovingthebigisland.wordpress.com/2009/11/22/a-scenic-drive-through-hawaii-volcanoes-national-park-the-most-interesting-amazing-and-diverse-place-in-hawaii/

Historic Kailua Kona Town on the Big Island of Hawaii: A Walking Tour: https://lovingthebigisland.wordpress.com/2009/05/03/historic-kailua-kona-town-on-the-big-island-of-hawaii-a-walking-tour/

Kona Heritage Corridor Scenic Drive: An Exceptional Day Trip Exploration of Historical, Lovely, Up-Country Kona!: https://lovingthebigisland.wordpress.com/2009/06/14/kona-heritage-corridor-scenic-drive-an-exceptional-day-trip-exploration-of-historical-lovely-up-country-kona/

Road Trip Through Keauhou Historic District, Big Island, Hawaii: https://lovingthebigisland.wordpress.com/2008/07/10/wwwtourguidehawaicom-presents-a-road-trip-through-keauhou-historic-district-big-island-hawaii/

Explore Hawaii’s Hidden, Romantic and Mysterious Places: The South Coast of Hawaii: https://lovingthebigisland.wordpress.com/2009/09/18/new-iphoneipod-touch-app-helps-you-explore-hawaiis-hidden-romantic-and-mysterious-places-the-south-coast-of-hawaii/

A complete, regularly updated, index to our blog posts about exploring and enjoying The Big Island of Hawaii, including how to plan your trip to Hawaii, what to expect when you get here, what to do and how to do it, can be found here.

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Amanda at Kahalu'u Beach, Kailua Kona Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

To see the new iPhone/iPod Touch App, please visit http://www.tourguidehawaii.com/iphone.html. The best of Tour Guide Hawaii’s free content about traveling to, and exploring, the Big island, can be found here.For more information on traveling to Hawaii in general and on touring the Big Island in particular, please also visit www.tourguidehawaii.com and www.tourguidehawaii.blogspot.com.

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All media copyright 2010 by Donald B. MacGowan. All rights reserved.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Faded sunset over Hapaiali'i Heiau from Mo'o Twins Homesite, Kona Hawaii: Graphic from Photo by Donald B MacGowan

by Donald B. MacGowan

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Waikupanaha lava ocean entry, Puna Hawaii: Graphic from Photo by Donnie MacGowan

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.

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Flowing lava from Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Drive through Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and Puna

Truly a land of heart-rending beauty and stark contrasts, Hawaii’s best scenery and most exotic locations are showcased in this scenic drive through Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and the District of Puna. Although many visitors tour the National Park, very few ever venture into neighboring, fascinating, Puna—which is a real shame. The icy heights of Mauna Loa’s summit contrast against the steaming jungles of Puna, where wave-washed, fiery lava flows form land so new it’s still steaming. With secret hot springs, ancient temples, lava trees, craters, caves and beaches—and of course the glowing lava–this scenic drive displays the amazing diversity, indescribable beauty and soul-filling serenity of the paradise we call Hawaii.

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Hiking to the lava flows in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

This scenic drive can be started from anywhere on the island, but the road log begins at the entrance to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park just northwest of mile marker 28 on Highway 11. The tour is laid out so that you spend the morning in the Park, the afternoon touring Puna and wind up at the Waikupanaha Lava viewing area in late afternoon—in time to make the very short hike in and watch Madam Pele’s fireworks at dusk. It’s best, less hurried, if you start this tour before nine in the morning, at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, however that means a 6:30 am departure time for those leaving Kona (the mileage signs may say only 97 miles from Kailua to the Park, but the road is only 35 miles an hour—slow down! Dis ain’t da mainland!). Remember the drive back to your resort will be in the dark. The roads are well marked and safe, but food and gas will be impossible to find at night outside of Kea’au or Kona. You’re going exploring…be prepared!

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The current eruption in Halema'uma'u Crater on the summit of Kilauea Volcanoes, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Leg 1) Proceed on Hwy 11 to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Entrance and jct with Crater Rim Drive; Crater Rim Drive west to Kilauea Visitor’s Center to Jagger Museum, then back around Crater Rim Drive to the intersection with Chain of Craters Road.

Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park

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The night time glow from Halema'uma'u Crater on Kilauea Volcano seems as if the door to Hades itself has been left ajar; Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park is a magical, spiritual, wondrous, strange and beautiful place comprised of great contrasts and contradictions: dry as dust desert to teeming tropical jungle; frigid sub-arctic wasteland to steaming black sand beaches to rivers of flowing lava.

The star attractions in the Park are a pair of active volcanoes; Mauna Loa is the largest mountain on earth and Kilauea is most active volcano on earth. However, there are numerous other wonders from lava tubes to crawl down, black sand beaches with sea turtles to watch, mysterious petroglyph fields to explore, tropical jungles to hike through, endangered bird species to find, happy-face spiders to amuse and an otherworldly volcanic landscape so fresh it’s still too hot to walk on.

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Sunrise on Mauna Loa from Crater Rim Drive; Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. During daylight hours, an access fee is charged. The Visitor Center has a 24-hour information line at 808.985.7017 and there is a 24-hour eruption hotline at 808.985.6000. Within the Park tune to A.M. radio 530 for continuous information broadcast. There tourist items available for sale and one restaurant and in the park, however generally shopping, restaurants and gasoline are only available in the nearby village of Volcano.

A more thorough discussion of exploring Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is contained here.

Kilauea Visitor Center

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Kilauea Visitor's Center at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Newly remodeled and updated, the Kilauea Visitor’s Center is an outstanding resource of information on Hawaii’s volcanoes and the National Park; the not-to-be-missed first stop in the park you must make. The Center is run by enthusiastic and knowledgeable staff that has the most up-to-date information on viewing the eruption, hiking and camping, bird watching, stargazing and just about any other topic of interest to Park visitors.

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Kilauea Crater, with the current eruption of Halema'uma'u Crater inside, from the Jagger Museum, Hawai Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Available for sale in the Center are maps, guidebooks, books and videos about the volcanoes, Hawai’iana, history, plants and every topic you can imagine pertinent to the Park, even souvenirs. There are free brochures and pamphlets on various trails, attractions, hiking safety and lava viewing hazards and precautions. The Visitor Center is open daily from 7:45 a.m. to 5 p.m.; there are public restrooms, water and pay phones available. Starting at 9 a.m. and showing every hour on the hour is a 20 minute informative movie about the Park; the film changes from time to time, but always contains spectacular footage of eruptions, information on volcanology and the natural and human history of the Park.

Jagger Museum and Hawai’i Volcano Observatory

Famed for its fabulous views of Mauna Loa and Kilauea as much as for its interesting exhibits, The Jagger Museum (named for geologist Thomas A. Jagger) is open daily from 8:30a.m. to 5:00p.m. Exhibits include murals by Herb Kawainui Kane, seismograph charts of eruptions and earthquakes, geological displays and display about the natural and human history of the Park.

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Students learn from the interesting and varied displays at the Jagger Museum, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

When entering the parking lot of the Museum/Observatory, be especially careful of the Federally-protected Hawaii Goose, the Nene, who seem to congregate here. The Nene is the State Bird of Hawai’i, and this parking lot and its surrounding area constitute one of the best places for viewing them.

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Rainbow over the Holei Pali at Kealakomo Overlook, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Leg 2) Crater Rim Drive to intersection with Chain of Craters Road; Chain of Craters Road to End of Road.

End of Chain of Craters Road

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Ancient Hawaiian rock carvings at Pu'u Loa Petroglyph Field, the largest petroglyph field in all of Polynesia: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Many visitors to the Park don’t bother with the drive down Chain of Craters Road, not knowing what marvels await them on this fabulous exploration of Hawaii’s volcanic exploration. The story of Hawaii’s fiery birth is laid bare along this 22-mile tour beside an active volcanic rift zone, featuring heart-stopping drops into craters, driving through recent flows, across an enormous fault with a 1000 foot throw and past steaming volcanic peaks. Along Crater Rim Drive is Pua Loa Petroglyph field, a glimpse into the barely-remembered past of how ancient Hawaiians related to the mysteries of their Goddess Pele and her volcanoes. At the end of the road is the fabulous, untamed coastline with booming waves pounding sea cliffs and arches—the intensity, wildness and energy of this place are almost an electric experience.

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The wild, pounding ocean, the distant eruption and the eerie emptiness can make the End of the Road on Chain of Craters Road feel like the End of the World! Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

The end of Chain of Craters Road is currently at the 19 mile marker near the Holei Sea Arch. This is where the road was cut off by flowing lava and the old, 2 million dollar visitor center was destroyed. During those times when the lava is flowing near the end of the road, here, one can walk right up to it. There are displays about the volcano and natural history of the area, as well as a wealth of information on hiking to, and viewing, the lava, available here.

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When lava is flowing near the end of Chain of Craters Road in the National Park, you can walk right up to it! Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Generally, the flowing lava is 2-6 miles away from the end of the road. Hiking all the way out to the active flows is one of the most spiritually rewarding, awe-inspiring, curiosity quenching and amazing things one can do anywhere in the world—but it is neither for the physically unfit nor the meek of spirit. It is a long, hot hike over broken ground and glass-sharp rocks; the heat from the volcano is savage; the weather, if clear, is sweltering…frequent squalls blow in off the ocean and the rain and wind can get pretty wild out on the lava plain where there is absolutely no cover or shelter to protect you. No water or shade is available anywhere along the hike. You should carry working flashlights (check them before you leave) for the hike back in the dark. If you go, be prepared.

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Pohoiki Bay at Isaac Hale Beach Park in Puna, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Leg 3) Follow Chain of Craters Road back uphill to Crater Rim Drive, follow Crater Rim Drive back to Park Entrance and then to Hwy 11. Go east on Hwy 11 to jct with Hwy 130 at Kea’au; take Hwy 130 south to Pahoa.

This is about the mid-point of the trip. From here, you plunge deep into the jungles, beaches, lava flows and mystery that is Puna. Since this trip description assumes you will stay at the lava viewing area until after dark, and most gas stations, stores and many restaurants close at dusk in this part of Hawaii, it is highly advisable that you fill your gas tank and buy sufficient food and water to last until you return to your resort. No, honestly—do it now.

Puna District and Pahoa Town

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Morning reflection in a hot spring near Ahalanaui Hot Pond at Pu'ala'a County Park, Puna Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Uncrowded, off the beaten track and largely undiscovered by tourists, Puna District is a magnificent wonderland; from incredible tree-tunneled roads, geothermal fields of steam vents, lovely beach parks, hot ponds, hikes on raw lava flows and jungle trails, and unequaled snorkeling, the land cries out for the visitor to explore a little bit.

At the center of Puna is Pahoa Town; wild, untamed and even a bit unruly, with its false-front, western-style buildings and raised wooden sidewalks, Pahoa looks more like it belongs in Wyoming. But Wild West isn’t the only subculture evident here…tie-dye banners and the general “flower-power” ambiance some businesses and citizens lend Pahoa give it a decidedly “’60’s” feel.

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Charming Pahoa Town Maintains Its Eclectic Mix of Western and neo-Victorian Architecture, Puna Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

It has been said of Pahoa that if it weren’t for counter-cultural influences, it would have no cultural influences at all. The charm and allure of this way of living is evident when you consider that the region around Pahoa is the fastest growing portion of the island. Pahoa has some of the best restaurants on the island, THE best natural foods store and a great public pool.

Follow these links to find more information about exploring mysterious and alluring Puna in general and Pahoa in particular.

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The Lacy Tree Tunnels of Puna, Famed in Song, Legend and Fable; Puna, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

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Casts of Ohi'a trees at Lava Tree Monument, Puna Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Leg 4) At Pahoa, get on Hwy 132 and drive south to Lava Trees State Park.

Lava Trees State Monument

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Looking down the tree mold at Lava Trees State Monument, Puna Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Under a lacy canopy of monkeypod trees, casts of ohi’a trees stand as monuments to a fast-moving pahoehoe lava flow that passed through here in 1790. When the lava hit the water-saturated ohi’a trees, it cooled and began to congeal around them. The original ohi’a trees burned away but the quickly cooled lava around them stands here today, hollow, with imprints of the tree bark inside. Lava Trees Park offers trails to hike and a restful, bird-filled jungle to sit and listen to. You can spend between 20 minutes to an hour wandering the trails, here, exploring and discovering. Be careful, however, the area is riddled with hidden cracks in the ground which can make exploring hazardous. You may wish to avail yourself of the restrooms here; they are the last public facilities for some distance. Follow these links for more information on the wonders of Lava Trees State Monument and the amazing Tree Tunnels of Puna.

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Modern Stone Carving at Kalapana Village in Puna, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Leg 5) From lava Trees State Park take Hwy 132 to jct with Hwy 137 at Kapoho; take Hwy 137 southwest to Ahalanui Pond then to Kaimu Black Sand Beach and Kalapana Disaster of 1990.

Ahalanui Pond

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Ahalanui Hot Pond, Puna Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Also called “Secrets Beach”, this spring and ocean-fed, manmade pool was initially constructed when the springs ran chilly cold. Eruptions in Puna during the ‘50s and 60’s reworked the subterranean waterworks and now the springs run hot and the pool is a comfortably warm 90-95 degrees. The open connection to the ocean, keeps the water fresh. With the gentle aloha breezes, swaying palms and surf whooshing against the, it can be really hard to drag oneself out. Soak for a while. Picnic tables, pavilions, pit barbecues, showers, lawns and all the pleasantries of a civilized park are available at Ahalanui Pond. Leave no valuables in your car and be vigilant if you stay soaking here, after dark. Follow the links for more information Ahalanui Pond and nearby Isaac Hale County Beach Park.

Kalapana Disaster of 1990/Kaimu Black Sand Beach

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Coconut trees sprout near the newly formed Kaimu Black Sand Beach in Puna Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

In 1990 the volcano goddess Pele determined it was time for some serious housecleaning in Puna. Lava flows from Kilauea’s East Rift engulfed the villages of Royal Gardens, Kaimu and Kalapana, destroying virtually everything.

Buried were a centuries old fishing village and a world famous black sand beach. When the lava came, it wiped out not just material possessions; it wiped out a way of life and a landscape cherished by generations. The Big Island’s newest black sand beach, Kaimu Beach, is a lovely if barren crescent of sand at the end of an unforgiving expanse of lava from the 1990 flows. The trail to the new black sand beach is marked with hundreds of young palms, numerous lava casts which include palms, pandanus fruit and even some fish that were caught in tide pools.

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Kaimu Black Sand Beach, Puna Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

From the lava hillocks along the trail you can get nice views of the eruption plume at Pu’u O’o, up on the flank of Kilauea, as well as the steam clouds down a few miles along the coast where the lava enters the sea. Restrooms and fast food are available at the end of the road. Follow this link to read more about Kalapana and Kaimu Black Sand Beach.

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Eruption plume at Waikupanaha Lava Viewing Area, Puna Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Leg 6) From Kalapana, take Hwy130 (Ahia Road) just a tweak to the jct with old HWY 130; go west on old the highway to Waikupanaha Lava Viewing.

Lava Viewing Near Kalapana

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Lava Stream at Waikupanaha, Puna Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Nowhere else can you see lava flowing from a volcano into the sea; no Big Island visit is complete without seeing this awe-inspiring show. Currently lava is only flowing into the sea outside the Park. Drive south on Highway 130 through Pahoa to the 20 mile marker and take the right branch about two miles to the parking area. Port-a-potties are available here. The road is open from 2 p.m. until 10; no cars allowed in after 8. Lava viewing information is available from Hawaii County at 808.961.8093; check conditions before you go.

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Littoral explosions, Royal Gardens, Puna Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

The easy trail, a 15 minute stroll to the viewing area, is well-marked. The viewing varies as lava flows nearer or farther from the trail. Viewing is best at dusk so bring flashlights for the hike out. Take close-toed walking shoes and a hat, long pants and long-sleeved shirt, at least 2 liters of water and sun block and a rain jacket and camera. Remember food and gas are not available anywhere nearby after dark, so fill up BEFORE you park, bring snacks and drinks. There are port-a-potties available at the parking lot. Follow this link to find more information about seeing the lava at the Waikupanaha Lava Viewing area.

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Lava Watching at Waikupanaha in Puna, Hawaii: Photo By Donald B MacGowan

Leg 7) Return to Hwy 130; Hwy 130 north through Pahoa to Kea’au and jct with Hwy 11.

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My Neices Entering Thurston Lava Tube, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

From Kea’au, you are about 2 ½ hours from Kona (west) and about 15 minutes from Hilo (north), both on Hwy 11. The resorts on the Kohala coast are more than 3 hours away and are most quickly reached by going on Hwy 11 through Hilo to Hwy 19, following 19 through Waimea to the west coast and the junction with Hwy 270, along which lie all the Kohala resorts.

Food and gas are difficult to find at night outside Kea’au, Hilo, Waimea and Kona, so it’s best to be prepared and fill up the car and the cooler in Kea’au at noon, before touring Puna.

My Neices Entering Thurston Lava Tube, Hawaiii Volcaoes National Park: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan  New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand, available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Mau Loa O Mauna Ulu, a still-steaming volcano in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

To see the new iPhone/iPod Touch App, please visit http://www.tourguidehawaii.com/iphone.html. The best of Tour Guide Hawaii’s free content about traveling to, and exploring, the Big island, can be found here. For more information on traveling to Hawaii in general and on touring the Big Island in particular, please also visit www.tourguidehawaii.com and www.tourguidehawaii.blogspot.com.

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All media copyright 2009 by Donald B. MacGowan. All rights reserved.

My Neices Entering Thurston Lava Tube, Hawaiii Volcaoes National Park: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan  New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand, available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Puna Tree Tunnels Just Outside Pahoa Town, Hawaii: Graphic From Photo by Donald B MacGowan

For more information on visiting Hawaii in general and touring the Big Island in particular, please visit www.tourguidehawaii.com and www.tourguidehawaii.blogspot.com.



by Donald B. MacGowan

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Waikupanaha lava ocean entry, Puna Hawaii: Graphic from Photo by Donnie MacGowan

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.

Waikupanaha Lava Ocean Entry

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Waikupanaha ocean entry, Puna Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Can you believe this? It’s absolutely outstanding and amazing! You can actually walk almost up to flowing lava here; see a volcano erupt before your eyes and the molten rock pour into the sea. This has to be one of the four or five most exciting, amazing, wonderful, mystical, spiritual experiences on earth…you must not miss this!

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Kupaianaha Vent on Kilauea Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Over the months and years, the lava river issuing from Pu’u O’o and Kupaianaha vents winds its way back and forth across the lava plain of about 8 miles breadth, sometimes flowing into the sea within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, sometime outside the eastern margin of the Park on County of Hawaii land, sometimes ponding behind the low lava hills for weeks at a time without entering the ocean at all. You can check with the rangers about flow conditions by calling the eruption hotline at 808.985.6000; they have lots of useful, up to the minute information and can tell you the best way to approach these flows (for more information on touring Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, please go here; for information about hiking to the lava flows from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, please go here).

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Lae`apukii Ocean Entry Lava Flow Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

If the lava is flowing in the more eastern margin, onto County of Hawaii land, viewing is from a County of Hawaii-maintained viewing platform. To reach this parking lot and observation point, drive south from Hilo 20 minutes, or southeast from Kona 2 hours, on the Hawaii Belt Road to the town of Kea’au. At Kea’au, turn south on Hawaii 130. There is a clearly marked intersection near the 20 mile marker on Highway 130 which leads to the county road and viewing area.

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As lava streams into the sea, the explosion cloud is visible for mile, Puna Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

After approximately 2 miles of driving over a flat, but alternating asphalt, gravel, basalt and dirt, road one reaches the parking lot at the end of the road and the beginning of a 15 minute hike to the viewing platform. The road opens at 2 in the afternoon, the last car is allowed in at 8 p.m. and the area is cleared of people and cars at 10 p.m. The trail is well marked with reflectors and paint and there are safety officers stationed all along the trail until closing at 10 p.m. Information on the lava viewing area is available from the County of Hawaii at 808.961.8093.

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Helicopter and Explosion Plume, Lava Ocean Entry at Waikupanaha, Puna Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Regardless of where the lava is entering the ocean, this is as far as hikers are allowed to go from this side. You should bring at least 2 quarts of water, a flashlight for hiking out in the dark, camera, food, first aid kit, and a rain jacket; wear a sun hat, sturdy hiking shoes, long pants and a long-sleeved shirt–those rocks are sharp!

Of course, you will need sunscreen and sunglasses (see these two articles for complete discussions of sunscreen and sunglasses appropriate for Hawaii). Over the years, we have found a stout hiking stick and an umbrella to be of good use as well. Photos and video are most spectacular just before and during dusk and into night; it is wise to bring a camera tripod. You will need flashlights or headlamps to negotiate the trail, hiking back in the dark.

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Waikupanaha explosion plume, Puna Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

The lava seems to glow with only a dull petulance during the day and may be less than inspiring until nightfall brings it alive and the madly glowing, fiery goddess within is revealed. Thus knowledgeable hikers plan their hike to commence in the afternoon, reaching their destination at dusk, and to hike back in the dark. Check your flashlights before you leave the car. Remember that you are hiking on a highly active volcano, if flowing streams of lava strand you, no rescue is practical or possible; don’t wander away from the trail or the lava viewing area.

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Plume at Waikupanaha Ocean Entry, Puna Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

There are unusual, peculiar dangers to hiking on the lava plain that might not be obvious to the casual visitor. The steam clouds generated by the lava entering the sea contain fine, glassy particulate material as well as sulfuric and hydrochloric acids in concentration high enough to aggravate the very young and old, expectant mothers and people with respiratory and cardiac conditions. Over the past 20 years, a few adventurous people venturing too close to vents or the sea entries have asphyxiated from toxic gasses. Additionally, severe, but ephemeral, weather phenomenon occur in the explosion plume immediately offshore, such as lightening and water spouts (note water spout in photo at right).

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Lava enters the sea at Waikupanaha, Puna Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Unstable benches that build up into the sea, and upon which the unwary hike and pause to photograph the scenery, are prone to collapse carrying all into the sea. Such collapses can cause local tidal waves which scour the landscape clean of everything as they pass. The ocean near the lava entries is superheated and waves lapping on inviting black sand beaches can be scalding hot

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Streaming lava at Waikupanaha, Puna Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Where explosive, the meeting of molten rock and sea can explode large, searing hot rocks hundreds of feet in the air and throw boiling water, splashing everywhere. Methane explosions occur with no notice, dozens if not a hundred feet ahead of flows, flinging huge blocks hundreds of feet. Thin lava crusts can hide lava tubes, caves, hollows and holes into which hikers occasionally fall and are caught.  You only have to have running shoes catch fire on your feet once to learn the wisdom of wearing boots here—learn from my bad judgment and experience.  Don’t walk on thins crusts over glowing rock, on hot rocks or rock that feels “spongy”, is crackling or hissing.

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Hiking to see the lava in Puna Hawaii is serious business, take water, flashlights and appropriate footwear: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

A volcano is a naturally highly seismically active area and earthquakes are common (there are over 1200 measurable earthquakes a week on the Big Island). Less common, but certainly a constant threat, are local tsunamis generated by these earthquakes. The County has marked a very safe trail to the lava; follow it closely, turning around frequently to acquaint yourself with landmarks for the hike back in the dark.

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Flowing lava, open, steaming cracks and razor sharp rocks are why one should always follow the marked trail to Waikupanaha, Puna Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Be sure to take extra memory cards or film for your camera and remember to wipe down all cameras, eyeglasses, binoculars, optics and electronics after your visit; the salt and volcano effluent-laden atmosphere is highly corrosive. Batteries may be drained faster than expected due to the high heat near the lava; take extra.

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Hiking to the Waikupanaha lava ocean entry, Puna Hawaii: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Despite the inherent dangers of hiking over liquid rock, steaming and unstable ground along the ever-restless sea, very few hikers are injured here. This is only because people enter the goddess’s home with a sense of awe and great caution, and the County safety officers are very good about instilling fear and trepidation into the hearts of those who think themselves otherwise immune to the mortal dangers presented here.

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Road signs to Waikupanaha Lava Viewing, Puna Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

If you go, remain cautious and vigilant, plan for adversity, think ahead and pay attention. The rewards for this are a moving and amazing experience few ever have, a memory of mystery, awe and wonder to treasure always.

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Magical Sunset at Waikupanaha lava ocean entry, Puna Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

If you are planning on viewing the lava at night, be sure to remember that there will be no open gas stations or restaurants when you depart the Lava Viewing Area until you reach either Kona or Hilo…plan accordingly, think ahead.

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Rain squalls are common at Waikupanaha; take raingear, Puna Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

To see the new iPhone/iPod Touch App, please visit http://www.tourguidehawaii.com/iphone.html. The best of Tour Guide Hawaii’s free content about traveling to, and exploring, the Big island, can be found here. For more information on traveling to Hawaii in general and on touring the Big Island in particular, please also visit www.tourguidehawaii.com and www.tourguidehawaii.blogspot.com.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand, available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Littoral Explosions at Waikupanaha, Puna Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

At Tour Guide our goal is to insure you have the most fun, most interesting and enjoyable vacation here in Hawaii–that you are provided with all the information you need to decide where to go and what to see, and that you are not burdened with out-dated or incorrect information.

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Lava flowing just below the surface at Waikupanaha burns vegetation above the surface, Puna Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

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New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand, available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Lava explosions, Puna Hawaii: Graphic From Photo by Donnie MacGowan

by Donald B. MacGowan

 

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Kilauea Lava Stream at Night: Photo courtesy of Big Island Air

There area 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.

 

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Amanda Maus at Thurston Lava Tube, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Uncle Donnie MacGowan

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

The Pacific Ocean and Waikupanaha Ocean Entry Explosion Plume at the End of Chain of Craters Road, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

This day trip may be made a part of a longer scenic drive, including the wonders of Puna and lava viewing at Waikupanaha; after reading this article, please go here.

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Dusk at the Waikupanaha Lava Ocean Entry, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

A Scenic Drive Through Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park

Introduction

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

La'epuki Lava Ocean Entry, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park is a magical, spiritual, wondrous, strange and beautiful place comprised of great contrasts and contradictions: dry as dust desert to teeming tropical jungle; frigid sub-arctic wasteland to steaming black sand beaches to rivers of flowing lava.

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Kilauea Crater and Eruption of Halema'uma'u, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

The star attractions in the Park are a pair of active volcanoes; Mauna Loa is the largest mountain on earth and Kilauea is most active volcano on earth. However, there are numerous other wonders from lava tubes to crawl down, black sand beaches with sea turtles to watch, mysterious petroglyph fields to explore, tropical jungles to hike through, endangered bird species to find, happy-face spiders to amuse and an otherworldly volcanic landscape so fresh it’s still steaming.

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Hikers warily approach a stagnant lava flow whose surface is still glowing gently, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. During daylight hours, an access fee is charged. The Visitor Center has a 24-hour information line at 808.985.6000 and there is a 24-hour eruption hotline at 808.987.8862. Within the Park tune to A.M. radio 530 for continuous information broadcast. There are tourist items available for sale, and one restaurant and in the park; however, generally, shopping, restaurants and gasoline are mainly only available in the nearby village of Volcano.

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Mauna Loa Looms over the Ka'u Desert, in Spring Bloom, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

There are four main roads which access most of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: the Mauna Loa Scenic road, which lies above the visitor’s center and winds up the slopes of Mauna Loa; Crater Rim Drive which circumnavigates the summit crater of Kilauea Volcano; Chain of Craters Road which runs down the southeast rift zone along a series of volcanoes and pit craters to the ocean and Hilina Pali Road, which cuts across Kilauea Volcano to the cliffs along the sea.

Mauna Loa Scenic Road

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View of Mauna Loa from the Mauna Loa Scenic Road, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

This gateway to the southern flank of the world’s largest mountain, Mauna Loa, lies about 2 ½ miles west of the main entrance to the park. The road traverses lava desert, ohi’a scrub savanna, fern forest and ends at the start of the hiking trail to the icy heights of Mauna Loa’s summit.

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Lava Tree Molds, Mauna Loa Scenic Road, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

A small fork road heading east just after the start of Mauna Loa Road leads to a series of tree molds that formed when lava poured through the deep tropical forest. The trees were too wet to burn and the lava simply cooled around the trunks. Later, as the trees rotted, these unusual, deep pit molds were left behind. Definitely worth a visit, there are even pit toilets available at the Tree Molds.

About 1 ½ miles further along Mauna Loa Road is Bird Park, or Kipuka Puaulu. A forested island in a giant lava flow, this micro-ecosystem preserves forest plants and animals and is a haven to many bird members of Hawai’i’s endangered species. Cool, quiet, restful and inviting, there is a one-mile nature trail around this tropical forest oasis.

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Looking into a Lava Tree Mold, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Mauna Loa Road is closed at various elevations at various times due to fire hazard. If one has the time and an adventurous heart, it is well worth the trip to drive to the end of the road and perhaps even hike a ways up it. The start of the Mauna Loa summit trail is here, but for even hardy hikers, that goal is at least two days hard hiking distant. The world’s largest active volcano is a LOT bigger than it looks! More about the Mauna Loa Scenic Road can be found here.

Crater Rim Drive

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Sunrise Mauna Loa from Crater Rim Drive, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

A fine introduction to the wonders of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Crater Rim Drive circles the summit crater 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. Although the circuit can be made in under 40 minutes, one should allow at least three hours even to begin 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 than they planned here and extemporaneously changing their plans, cutting time from some other attraction. Best plan to spend sufficient time here in the first place.

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Halema'uma'u Crater, The Home of Madame Pele: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Experience has shown that the impact of the landscape is much greater if the drive is done anti-clockwise

Below are some suggested highlights along Crater Rim Drive. The road currently is closed between Jagger Museum and the intersection with Chain of Craters Road due to the eruption in Halema’uma’u Crater. Also, bear in mind that there are no services available along Crater Rim Drive, except for restrooms, drinking water and the book shop at Jagger Museum.

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Frank Burgess Browses the Kilauea Visitor's Center Book Shop at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Kilauea Visitor Center: Newly remodeled and updated, the Kilauea Visitor’s Center is an outstanding resource of information on Hawaii’s volcanoes and the National Park; the not-to-be-missed first stop in the park you must make. The Center is run by enthusiastic and knowledgeable staff that has the most up-to-date information on viewing the eruption, hiking and camping, bird watching, stargazing and just about any other topic of interest to Park visitors. Available for sale in the Center are maps, guidebooks, books and videos about the volcanoes, Hawai’iana, history, plants and every topic you can imagine pertinent to the Park, even souvenirs. There are free brochures and pamphlets on various trails, attractions, hiking safety and lava viewing hazards and precautions.

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Visitors Inspect the 3-D Physiographic Map of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park at the Kilauea Visitor's Center: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

The Visitor Center is open daily from 7:45 a.m. to 5 p.m.; there are public restrooms, water and pay phones available. Starting at 9 a.m. and showing every hour on the hour is a 20 minute informative movie about the Park; the film changes from time to time, but always contains spectacular footage of eruptions, information on volcanology and the natural and human history of the Park. For information, please call their Info Hot line at 808.985.6000.

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

The Halema'uma'u Eruption from the Jagger Museum, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Jagger Museum and Hawai’i Volcano Observatory: Famed for its fabulous views of Mauna Loa and Kilauea as much as for its interesting exhibits, The Jagger Museum (named for geologist Thomas A. Jagger) is open daily from 8:30a.m. to 5:00p.m. Exhibits include murals by Herb Kawainui Kane, seismograph charts of eruptions and earthquakes, geological displays and displays about the natural and human history of the Park.

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Jagger Museum Parking lot is near a Nesting Ground for the Endangered Nene Goose, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

When entering the parking lot of the Museum/Observatory, be especially careful of the Federally-protected Hawaii Goose, the Nene, who seem to congregate here. The Nene is the State Bird of Hawai’i, and this parking lot and its surrounding area constitute one of the best places for viewing them.

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Everett Maynard Explores the Entrance to Thurston Lava Tube, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Thurston Lava Tube: Nahuku, the Thurston Lava Tube, gives the visitor an opportunity for a close-at-hand inspection of the inner plumbing of a volcano. It also makes for an interesting and unique way to escape the noonday heat or afternoon shower, briefly. Lava tubes form when the outer crust of a flowing river of lava begins to cool and crust over, but the lava continues to flow beneath it; as the margins of the flow begin to cool and form walls growing towards the middle, the nascent tube is formed. When the flow has completely drained away, the lava tube is left behind.

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Inside Thurston Lava Tube, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Thurston lava tube is a remarkably large, well-preserved and accessible example of a lava tube-type cave. An easy, 0.3 mile trail (about a 15 minute hike) winds through lush fern forest alive with singing birds and buzzing insects, down into a collapse crater entering the lava tube and slipping about 300 feet through the well-lighted, floored cave, popping up through a skylight in the tube and returning to the parking lot. A very easy walk and certainly a “must see” for any visitor to the park.

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Eric Carr Enters Thurston Lava Tube, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

When Lorrin Thurston, founder of the Honolulu Advertiser, found the cave in 1913, the roof reportedly was covered with stalactites, now there are none—it is said that rapacious tourists removed every one in the intervening years.

More about Crater Rim Drive can be found here.

Chain of Craters Road

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Rainbow at Kealakomo Overlook, Chain of Craters Road, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

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. This 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. Altogether, Chain of Craters Road is a singular and essential addition to any visit to the Island of Hawai’i. 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

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Pitiful Remnant of a Once Enormous Rain Forest on the Holei Pali, Now Surrounded By Fresh Lava: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

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 and the eastern closure at the town of Kalapana, outside the eastern edge of the Park. The road is now closed at the 19-mile marker, right at Holei Sea Arch.

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Visitors Walk Through the Pu'u Loa Petroglyph Field, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Collapse features, such as the numerous “pit craters” found along the Chain of Craters Road, form when lava drains out of subterranean chambers, causing the surface to collapse. Notice how all the debris seems to point downward into the bottom of the crater; there is no material around the rim of the crater that is 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.

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Petroglyphs at Pu'u Loa, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

If a car ride back up the pali 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 and into tropical desert 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 and 22 miles back up Chain of Craters Road to Kilauea Summit in the heat of day, this will also ensure a quite memorable, though far less pleasant, addition to your visit.

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Sea Cliffs, Sea Arches, Wild Surf and Magnificent Bird Watching Near the End of Chain of Craters Road, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

There are no services, water, food or gasoline available along the length of Chain of Craters Road. 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 highway between Volcano Village west to Kona or north to Kea’au.

For more about Chain of Craters Road, please go here.

Hilina Pali Road

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Vast Ocean Vistas and Incredible Sunsets are Some of the Rewards for Exploring Hilina Pali Road, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

At 2.2 miles down Chain of Craters Road is the turn off to the Hilina Pali Road. This road is 9 miles of some of the most spectacular, lonely and striking scenery in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. Spectacular coastal views, strangely-colored rock and twisted trees under weird skies make this an fantastic side trip for exploration and photography. Be especially careful when driving this road, it is mostly only one lane and there are more people enjoying this trip through the backcountry than you might think.

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Kulanaokuaiki Campground on Hilina Pali Road, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

About halfway to Hilina Pali Overlook is the Kulanaokuaiki Campground. Set amongst rifts, collapse features and flows, this desert campground is secluded and spectacular. Driving further across the broad lava flows, past panoramic vistas of Mauna Loa, along the spectacular drop-off of the Hilina Pali (literally “cliff of faith”), one comes to the Hilina Pali Overlook, a great place for a picnic or short hike.

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Mauna Loa from Hilina Pali Road, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Connecting with several longer trails across the Ka’u Desert, Kilauea Crater, or down the Pali to such abandoned coastal villages as Halape and Keauhou, the Hilina Pali Overlook is the central cross-roads of back-packing trails which crisscross the park.

 

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Spectacular coastal views, strangely-colored rock and twisted trees under weird skies make Hilina Pali Road a fantastic side trip, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Hilina Pali Road, due to its remoteness and lack of bus traffic, is a great place for a mountain bike ride, birding, or just getting away from crowds and tours. There are magnificent views, heart-stopping sunsets and pit toilets at the Campground and Overlook,. There is no water or other services available. Hilina Pali is a nesting place for the endangered Nene, the Hawai’i State bird, which is related to the Canada Goose. Hilina Pali Road may be closed during Nene nesting season.

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Devil's Throat, Just Across Chain of Crater's Road from the Hilina Pali Road Intersection: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Less than 1/10 of a mile from Hilina Pali road is the unmarked Devil’s Throat collapse crater…an excitingly vertically-sided pit that is worth the visit just for the “okole squeezing” peering down the throat will give you. More about Hilina Pali Road can be found here.

End of Chain of Craters Road

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Holei Sea Arch, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

The end of Chain of Craters Road is currently at the 19 mile marker near the Holei Sea Arch. This is where the road was cut off by flowing lava which also destroyed the 2 million dollar Visitor Center. When the lava is flowing near the road, one can walk right up to it. There are displays about the volcano and natural history of the area, as well as a wealth of information on hiking to, and viewing, the lava, available here.

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Hiking to the La'epuki Lava Ocean Entry from the End of Chain of Craters Road, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Hiking all the way out to the active flows is one of the most spiritually rewarding, awe-inspiring, curiosity quenching and amazing things one can do anywhere in the world—but it is neither for the physically unfit nor the meek of spirit. It is a long, hot hike (currently seven miles) over broken ground and glass-sharp rocks; the heat from the volcano is savage; the weather, if clear, is sweltering…frequent squalls blow in off the ocean and the rain and wind can get pretty wild out on the lava plain where there is absolutely no cover or shelter to protect you. No water or shade is available anywhere along the hike. Plan assiduously before you go, make sure you have TWO working flashlights per person for the long hike back in the dark.  For specific information about hiking to the lava flows from the end of Chain of Craters Road, please go here.   More about activities and sights at the end of Chain of Craters Road can be found here.

Lava Viewing Near Kalapana

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Yet another lava viewing photo from Waikupanaha, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

At this time, there is nowhere else can you see lava flowing from a volcano into the sea; no Big Island visit is complete without seeing this awe-inspiring show. Currently lava is only flowing into the sea outside the Park. From the belt Highway, turn south at Kea’au on Highway 130, continuing through Pahoa to the 20 mile marker; take the exit clearly marked “Lava Viewing”, a right branch about, for two miles to the parking area. Port-a-potties are available here. The road is open from 2 p.m. until 10; no cars allowed in after 8. Lava viewing information is available from Hawaii County at 808.961.8093; check conditions before you go. The easy trail, a 20 minute stroll to the viewing area, is well-marked.

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Littoral Explosion Plume at Waikupanaha Lava Ocean Entry, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

The quality of viewing varies as lava flows nearer or farther from the trail. Viewing is best at dusk so bring flashlights for the hike out. Take close-toed walking shoes and a hat, long pants and long-sleeved shirt, at least 2 liters of water, sun block and a rain jacket and camera. It’s a good idea to bring a tripod for your camera, or your shots will be blurred. Remember food and gas are not available anywhere nearby after dark, so fill up BEFORE you park, bring snacks and drinks. There are port-a-potties available at the parking lot.  More about lava viewing at Kalapana can be found here.

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Kilauea Lava River, Hawaii: Photo Courtesy of Big Island Air

To see the new iPhone/iPod Touch App, please visit http://www.tourguidehawaii.com/iphone.html. The best of Tour Guide Hawaii’s free content about traveling to, and exploring, the Big island, can be found here. For more information on traveling to Hawaii in general and on touring the Big Island in particular, please also visit www.tourguidehawaii.com and www.tourguidehawaii.blogspot.com.

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

The Best Lava Viewing at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is from the Air: Photo by Shannon Walker

Copyright 2009 by Donald B. MacGowan. All rights reserved.