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By Donnie MacGowan

Lava from Kilauea Volcano flows into the ocean at one of three ocean entries along the Puna Coastline near the former village of Kalapana: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Lava from Kilauea Volcano flows into the ocean at one of three ocean entries along the Puna Coastline near the former village of Kalapana: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Lava continues to to gush unabated from Kilauea Volcano on the big Island of Hawaii through the former village of Kalapana into the Pacific Ocean, yielding one of the volcano’s best spectacles of the last ten years.  That’s the good news.

This is about all you can see from the Kalapana Lava Viewing Area, August 2010: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

This is about all you can see from the Kalapana Lava Viewing Area, August 2010: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

The bad news is you cannot see any of it from the County of Hawaii Lava Viewing Area.  This is not the County’s fault; the entire area is not only private property, but also highly unstable and ferociously dangerous.

For obvious reasons, trespassing on private property is not an option, here.  Further, Big Island Mayor Billy Kenoi has promised the residents whose homes are in danger of being engulfed that he will not turn their personal tragedy into a public spectacle by opening up the area to casual tourism.

My PhD is in geology and I have spent years wandering the lava flows here and on other volcanoes around the world; I find that I really cannot recommend that folks casually stroll about this area without a basic understanding of some of the hazards. The extreme danger results from several factors. The active lava flow, especially in the vicinity of the County of Hawaii Lava Viewing Area where it is most accessible, is currently surrounded by an enormous area (perhaps 20 or more square miles) of what is called “dim lava”.  This is lava that, mostly still liquid and incredibly hot, has more or less “ponded”, or virtually stopped moving, and has developed about a foot or so crust on top of the still liquid lava.  As such it appears deceptively safe to walk on but actually it is exceptionally dangerous to cross.  Nobody would be foolish enough to walk on lava that is obviously still liquid, but many are tempted to cross the solid-appearing dim lava.  This is extremely, shall we say, stupid; dim lava is highly unstable, subject to rapid changes bringing great masses of liquid rock to the surface and is very, very dangerous.  During daylight hours it is difficult to tell the dim lava from flows that have been solid and cold for years, but one misstep can take you through a thin spot in the crust and into 2000 degree liquid.  The glow from the liquid rock can frequently be seen through cracks in the surface at night, giving you warning that you are on extremely dangerous ground.  Although at times people seem to navigate dim lava safely, it would not be wise for me to advise anyone to venture out onto it.

Dim lava in the light of camera flash: note that you can see no glow at all, erroneously leading you to suspect that, although it's warm, these rocks are safe to walk on: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Dim lava in the light of camera flash: note that you can see no glow at all, erroneously leading you to suspect that, although it's warm, these rocks are safe to walk on: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

The same dim lava in the dark: note the glow indicating the presence of dangerous, liquid lava mere inches below the ground surface: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

The same dim lava in the dark: note the glow indicating the presence of dangerous, liquid lava mere inches below the ground surface: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Additionally, lava is much more viscous than water and flows a bit differently…sometimes, not all the liquid lava is below you.  When scouring a route past the dim lava last week, we were wandering between two lava “hillocks” on long-cooled rock, when we noticed that, ten feet above our heads, was the tell-tale glow of dim lava that had infiltrated the hillocks and could, at any moment, break out and spread over the ground we were walking on.  A very, very dangerous situation and one we immediately remedied by beating a hasty, safe retreat.  No one wins an argument with flowing lava.

A forest fire burns hungrily where the lava stream is burning through the thick jungle kipuka: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

A forest fire burns hungrily where the lava stream is burning through the thick jungle kipuka: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

The second prevalent hazard are the forest fires burning where the lava flows through jungle, especially surrounding the lava ocean entries, the most spectacular part of the flow and the place most people are trying to get to.  The danger from the fires is obvious, but what is not obvious is the fact that methane gas, extremely explosive, accumulates ahead of the flow under the ground surface in forested areas.  Every so often (and without warning), there will be a large methane explosion (in and of itself highly dangerous) that can blow enormous chunks of fiery-red hot liquid lava and solid rock thousands of feet.

Littoral Explosion at Waikupanaha, County of Hawaii Lava Viewing Area, October, 2009: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Another hazard is the littoral explosions.  Littoral explosions occur when hot, liquid lava meets the cold ocean water, mostly where lava tubes empty under the ocean.  Littoral explosions can hurl hot solid and molten liquid material hundreds of meters and are best given about half kilometer leeway. These hazardous explosions were once common at the Waikupanaha Lava Viewing Area, but there are currently no explosions occurring in the Kalapana Lava Viewing Area.  Just because littoral explosions are not occurring today, however, does not mean they could not start again instantly.

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

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

Finally, although not common, it is worth bearing in mind that the extremes of temperature of the mixing air, rock and water, the amount of particulate matter and vapor injected into the atmosphere and other weirdly perturbed variables around the ocean entries can cause bizarre weather phenomena, such as waterspouts and highly localized lightning.

Your best bet is to heed the advice of the County of Hawaii Public Safety professionals: do not cross private property, stay off of the dim lava and stay away from where the lava streams cut through burning jungle.  You put your life, and those of any foolish enough to assist you when you get in trouble, at extreme risk.

A large lava stream flows over a falls, Kalapana Hawaii August 2010: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

A large lava stream flows over a falls, Kalapana Hawaii August 2010: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

So…is it possible to see the lava flow without paying a boat captain or pilot to take you safely to the shores’ edge?  In a word, yes.  One can hike along the shoreline from the end of the road at Kalapana (by the new Kaimu Beach), but is is extremely difficult and very, very dangerous. A complete discussion of hiking to see the lava can be found here and here. The route follows the coast on razor sharp basalt, rough, broken and unforgiving, and there is no trail.  The way is at least 5 miles long in each direction of hard, hard hiking and includes about a mile of rank bush-whacking through very, very dense jungle that is not only easy to get lost in, but is on fire in some places.

Lava flows in the rain, Kalapana Hawaii August 2010: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Lava flows in the rain, Kalapana Hawaii August 2010: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

It is frequently quite rainy and, since the best viewing is at dawn or dusk, you are likely thinking about going at least one way in the dark.  Traveling this risky route in the dark and/or rain greatly magnifies the dangers.  Much of the way is jammed in a couple feet between a 60 foot cliff with unforgiving open ocean underneath and the dense jungle pressing you on the other side.  When it is dark or misty or raining, or when you are tired or not paying close enough attention, this is very hazardous.

A Lava Ribbon Flows Into the Ocean, Near Kalapana, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

A Lava Ribbon Flows Into the Ocean, Near Kalapana, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Hard and dangerous.

Honestly, I do not recommend you go at all.  Night after night of hiking in to see the lava, of all the people who set off from Kalapana around when we did, and the many, many we met returning, most turned around after only 3 or so miles of hard hiking over the lava.  Some turned around when they got hemmed in by the dim lava, not knowing to cut through the jungle to the shore; more got lost and wandered for hours in the jungle before turning around.  Many had been told by local residents that the walk was “only 20 minutes or so” and so set off in sandals, or with children, without water or rain gear. Be aware, the hike is, at minimum, two difficult hours in duration each way (due to the difficulty of the terrain), there is no marked trail or path and the rock is like razors if you slip on it.

Lava stream about to enter the ocean, Kalapana Hawaii, August 2010: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Lava stream about to enter the ocean, Kalapana Hawaii, August 2010: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Do not even attempt to hike along the shore to the flows unless you are in extremely good physical shape, confident of both your route-finding and cross country hiking abilities, you are equipped for rain, cuts and bruises, have plenty of water to drink and food.

Strange things seen at the lava flow...Kalapana Hawaii August 2010: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Strange things seen at the lava flow...Kalapana Hawaii August 2010: 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.
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.


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

Halema'uma'u eruption from Sulfur Bank, 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.

Sulfur Banks/Steam Vents

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.

View along the sulfur banks to Volcano House, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Sulfur Banks, on the crater side of the road, is just one of hundreds of gas seeps on the flanks of the Kilauea summit crater spewing hydrogen sulfide, sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide and steam. Hematite, native sulfur and gypsum minerals precipitate out of the gas flux streaming through the rocks, making colorful splashes on the outcrops. Children and people with heat or respiratory conditions, or anybody with a weak stomach should be wary of venturing down the road to see this.

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.

Steam vents at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Non-sulfurous steam vents, mostly across the road from the crater and at the aptly named Steaming Bluff, result from rainwater percolating down through the ground being boiled by the hot rock beneath and streaming up vents to the surface. There is a short walk to the Steaming Bluff from the Sulfur Banks parking area which comes to a breathtaking view of the crater and more productive steam vents.

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 past Steaming Bluff at the many steam vents in Kilauea Caldera to the eruption in Halema'uma'u Crater, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park:

Panoramic views of Kilauea Caldera and the Halema’uma’u Crater from the edge of the Sulfur Banks reveal other, numerous steam vents on the floor of the crater. Views of the current eruption in Halema’uma’u Crater are unsurpassed from this overlook…especially at night.

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.

Gazing into the pit of the volcano, a steam vent at 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.

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.

Sulfur Banks with Mauna Loa looming in the background, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: 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.

Halema'uma'u eruption from Steaming Bluff, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Graphic 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.

Sunset lights-up Mauna Ulu, 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.

Mauna Ulu

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.

Sunset and alpenglow at Mauna Ulu, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Mauna Ulu, or “growing mountain” is a still steaming, tall, shield-shaped hill formed by numerous eruptions along the rift between 1969 and 1974. Mauna Ulu is best seen by walking beyond the parking lot to where the end of road is covered in fresh lava flows. At Mauna Ulu, visitors can get an intimate look at both pahoehoe and a’a lava flow types.

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 Ulu Crater from the air, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Pahoehoe, the less viscous and generally hotter liquid flow, moves fluidly like a river or glacier, the surface folding and molding, like poured taffy, into a ropey structure. Pahoehoe forms generally flat, fairly smooth, hard surfaces. A’a, on the other hand, is much cooler and has exolved much of its dissolved gas, so it is much more viscous, causing the upper surface to fracture into clinker-like boulders and fragments. Flowing a’a sounds and looks like a moving pile of hot glass shards; when it cools, it leaves behind rubbly piles of sharp fragments. Fields of pahoehoe and a’a make a landscape that look as if Madame Pele has bulldozed her land to flat surfaces, but left these acres of boulder piles here and there.

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.

Barren slopes of Mauna Ulu, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

The hike to the summit of Mauna Ulu is fabulous and rewarding. However, it is a long, dry, serious hike with some dangers (rock fall, crater collapse, scalding steam and others) and should only be undertaken by those in good physical condition and experienced at hiking cross-country across broken and hazardous ground.

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 Huluhulu, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Pu’u Huluhulu (“shaggy hill”) is a 150 foot tall cinder cone formed in pre-contact times between Mauna Ulu and Pauahi Crater. There is a fascinating 3 mile round trip hike from the Mauna Ulu parking lot to the top of Pu’u Huluhulu that is marked by cairns (or “ahu”). The round trip hike from Mauna Ulu Parking lot to Pu’u Huluhulu and return takes about an hour and a half to two hours. From the vantage point of Pu’u Huluhulu’s summit are fine views of Mauna Loa, Kilauea, Mauna Kea, the coastline and the very interesting, active cinder cone, Pu’u O’o (hill of the bird”), about 5 miles away.

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, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Pu’u O’o was built by the fire-fountains erupting along Kilauea’s rift zone between 1983 and 1986. Since 1986, the center of eruption has moved about 2 miles further down the rift to a vent called “Kupaianaha”, or ”mysterious” in Hawai’ian. However, within the maw of Pu’u O’o is an active lava lake, which serves as a window into the plumbing of the eruptive rift system.

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.

An a'a lava flow piled up on a pahoehoe flow in front of Pu'u Huluhulu, 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.

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 rubble slopes of Mauna Ulu, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: 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.

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.

Ohi'a blossom and Mauna Ulu, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

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.

Sunset and alpenglow at Mauna Ulu, 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.

Devastation Trail and Pu'u Pua'i, 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.

Devastation Trail

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 Devastation Trail Path and Pu'u Pua'i, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

When Kilauea Iki erupted from vents on Pu’u Pua’i in November of 1959, several feet of hot ash and cinder-sized pieces of pumice fell on the lush fern forest downwind. Devastation trail follows the edge of this inundation, linking the Kilauea Iki Overlook Parking lot with another parking lot at the intersection of Crater Rim Drive with Chain of Craters Road in a wonderful and interesting 0.7 mile (30 to 45 minute) 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.

The eruptive vent on Pu'u Pua'i from Kilauea Iki Crater, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

During the eruption, fire fountains of molten lava shot up as high as 1900 feet tall from the eruptive rifts. For a sense of scale, the world’s tallest building, the Taipei 101 which is 101 stories tall and 1667 feet high, would be dwarfed by these fire fountains. These immense fountains spread ash, pumice and spatter all around the area, as well as fed liquid lava to the lava pond within Kilauea Iki crater.

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.

Out of the forest and into the pumice desert, Devastation Trail, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

The spatter was hot and plastic enough to weld together into the spatter cones you see on Pu’u Pua’i, however, the tephra and ash pumice spread out and fell downwind, depositing an immensely thick (as much as 3 meters) blanket when the eruption column collapsed between fountains.

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.

Pumice fragments, Devatstation Trail, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

This pumice buried lush forest, which is preserved on the eastern side of Devastation Trail. On the west side of the trail is the sterile, moon-like devastation surface of pumice. A few o’hia trees, dead and bleached, poke up through the pumice and very gradually some o’hia, ohelo and ferns are beginning to recolonize the dead zone. Look for numerous tree molds along the trail in the section about a third of the way from Pu’u Pua’i to the Devastation Trail parking lot.

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.

Small tree mold in welded pumice, Devastation Trail, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Pumice results when there is a lot of gas and water dissolved in the liquid lava. As the lava is erupted, pressure is released, the melt begins to cool quickly and the gas is rapidly exolved from the liquid lava—much the way carbon dioxide is exolved as a bubbly froth when you shake a can of soda pop. The spatter and lava in the ponds cool slowly enough for all the gas to escape, and the resultant rock is very dense when it finally solidifies. The pumice, however, chills so rapidly it forms a glass-like, frothy substance because it traps the bubbles. This is why pumice has a low enough density to float on water.

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.

Pu'u Pua'i from near the intersection of Devastation Trail and Byron Ledge Trail, 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.

Pu'u Pua'i from across Kilauea Iki Crater, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

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

Yeah, they hadn't mailed it by the time they vcalled me about my birthday--apparently I'm not getting a present at all---not that I deserve one, but it would be nice t

Pu'u Pua'i from Devastation Trail, 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.

Hikers on the summit of Mauna Kea look over to Mauna Loa, Hawaii Island: 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.

Across the Roof of Hawaii

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.

Astronomical Observatories on Mauna Kea, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Recent improvements to the Saddle Road make it no longer the grinding, intimidating drive it once was and open hundreds of square miles of unimaginably beautiful, strange and wondrous landscape to the Hawaii Island Visitor.

Approximate minimum time start to finish (to see every site): 12 hours

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 from the Saddle Road to Mauna Kea, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

DIGEST: From Kona take Highway 190 to Highway 200 in 45 minutes of driving. Saddle Road, which cuts between the “saddle” of Mauna Loa on the south and Mauna Kea to the north, passes through ranch lands and the Pohakuloa Military Training Facility, for another 45 minutes, to the turn for Mauna Kea Access Road (John Burns Way). Nearby, Kipuka Huluhulu, or “shaggy hill”, is a 20 minute hike to the top and back. From here it is a 30 minute drive to the Mauna Kea Visitor Information Center. The small village is home to scientists and astronomers that work in the observatories and an amazing place to learn what their research tells us about our universe. Returning to Hwy 200, drive 45 minutes to the amazing Kaumana Cave lava tube, a short hike and a wonderful exploration. A further 30 minutes down Hwy 200 brings one to the outskirts of Hilo and fabulous Rainbow Falls. Continuing into downtown Hilo there there are shops, restaurants, fine museums, gorgeous waterfront beach parks and a fabulous Farmers Market. From Hilo, it is approximately three hours to return to Kailua Kona over Hwy 200; alternately one can take the faster though less scenic Hwy 19 to Waimea and then Hwy 190 into Kailua Kona, about a 2 1/2 hour drive.

Leg 1) In Kailua Kona, start at Ahu’ena Heiau; take Palani Road east to Hwy 190; take Hwy 190 to jct with Hwy 200, The Saddle Road

Ahu’ena Heiau and Kamakahonu Beach

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.

Ahu'ena Heiau, Kailua Kona, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Centuries ago the inhabitants of this region built a series of sacred temples, or heiau, along the Kona Coast which were originally used for the purpose of sacrificing human beings to their war god, Kuka’ilimoku.  This particular archeological site is called Ahu’ena Heiau, which in Hawai’ian means “hill of Fire”.

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Sacred carved images at Ahu'ena Heiau, Kailua Kona, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Built originally in the 15th century and rededicated by Kamehameha the Great in the early 1800s as the main temple of his capital, the current structures seen at Ahu’ena Heiau were re-built in 1975 under the auspices of the Bishop Museum with financial help from the Hotel King Kamehameha and are constructed to 1/3 the original scale. There are restrooms and showers located on the pier near the beach. Adjacent Old Kailua Town is a treasure of shops, restaurants and aloha.  More detailed information is available about Ahu’ena Heiau, Kamakahonu Beach and Old Kailua Town, historic Mokuaikaua Church and Hulihe’e Palace; a walking tour of Kailua Kona is available here.

Leg 2) Take Hwy 200, The Saddle Road, east to jct with John Burns Way (also called Mauna Kea Access Road).

Saddle Road

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Saddle Road at Kipuka Pu'u Huluhulu, Hawaii Island: Graphic from Photo by Donnie MacGowan

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Saddle Road takes off into the sky at Wai'iki Ranch, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Crossing the spectacular saddle between the towering bulk of the volcanoes Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa at about 6600 feet, The Saddle Road runs through brush, grass and forest lands, over lava fields and through some of the wildest and most breath-taking scenery on the Island. From this roadway, four of the 5 principal volcanoes that form The Big Island may be seen: Hualalai, Kohala, Mauna Loa, and Mauna Kea. Because the western half of the road is in notoriously poor condition and consists, in reality, of only one operable lane for much of its descent from the saddle to the Mamalahoa Highway.

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Looking from Saddle Road to Hualalai Volcano, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

However, this road provides the only road access to the Mauna Kea Summit Area and Visitor Information Center, Mauna Kea State Park, Pohakuloa Training Area, Mauna Kea Astronomical Observatory Complex, Waiki’i Ranch and the Kilohana Girl Scout Camp. The Saddle Road also provides the only access to thousands of acres of public forest and open grass lands. Connecting Hilo from about milepost 7.8 on the Hawai’i Belt Road to the Mamalahoa Highway approximately 6 miles south of Waimea, the Saddle Road is widely used by island residents for cross-island travel, despite its somewhat poor condition and undeserved, evil reputation.

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Mauna Loa from Kipuka Pu'u Huluhulu, Hawaii: Graphic from Photo by Donald B MacGowan

The Saddle Road frequently has perfect weather, but also fairly routine are patches of intense rain, fog and high winds. It’s takes about 2 ½ to 3 hours straight driving time, depending upon weather, to make the full traverse from Kailua Kona to Hilo; however, one should be sure to leave time in the schedule to drive up to Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station or hike the Pu’u Huluhulu nature trails.

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Looking from the Saddle Road to Kohala Mountain, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Along its entire 53 mile length between the turn-off from the highway just 6 miles west of Waimea and where it meets Hawaii Belt Road just north of Hilo, there is no gas and there are no services available; plan accordingly. Some food, water and restrooms may be available at the Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station which is a 30 minute drive up a side road off the Saddle Road about half way.  More information about the Saddle Road is available here.

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Hualalai Volcano from Saddle Road, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Leg 3) Off a Spur road at the jct of John Burns Way and Hwy 200, on the south side, is Kipuka Huluhulu (“Shaggy Hill”) Nene Sanctuary.

Pu’u Huluhulu Nature Trails/Kipuka Aina Hou

Frequently described as simultaneously the most noticeable and the most overlooked landmark along the Saddle Road, Kipuka Pu’u Huluhulu rises more than 200 feet out of the surrounding lava flows. It’s name meaning “furry hill”, this forested cinder cone has multiple trails winding up through rare native koa trees to breathtaking 360° views of Hualalai, Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa at the top, where you can also wander a meadow of native Hawaiian plants recently reintroduced in this protected natural habitat. By whatever trail, the summit of Kipuka Huluhulu is only about 20 minutes walk from the car.

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Morning light on Kipuka Pu'u Huluhulu, Saddle Road, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Owing to the encapsulated nature of the kipuka, bird watching here is particularly fabulous; the Ā’akepa, Nene and the Ā’akiapola Ā’au, as well as the Kalij pheasants, pueo, i’o and turkeys are among the rare, endangered or just plain beautiful birds you will see here. The numerous roads and trails through the hundreds of square miles of adjacent lava flows makes for interesting, if hot and dry, mountain biking and hiking.  More information about Kipuka Huluhulu is available here.

Parking and a unisex pit toilet are the only amenities available at Kipuka Pu’u Huluhulu.

Leg 4) Go north on John Burns Way to Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station.

Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station

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The rare, endangered and exotically beautiful Silver Sword plant grows along a nature trail behind the Mauna Kea Visitor's Center: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

The Visitor Information Station is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. During the day there are interactive computer exhibits about Mauna Kea, the observatories and astronomical research, plus there are video presentations and nature trails to hike. Many evenings after dark National Park personnel and astronomers put on public programs and discuss what the latest astronomical findings tell us about the nature of our universe. The souvenir shop has some food items, including hot chocolate, coffee and hot soup, for sale.  More about exploring the Visitor’s Center and the summit of Mauna Kea is available here.

Leg 5) John Burns Way to Mauna Kea Summit

Mauna Kea Summit

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Pu'u Weiku Summit Heaiau and Astronomical Observatories, Mauna Kea Summit, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Before you decide to go to the summit of Mauna Kea, stop, think, plan. Are you prepared for cold and high altitude? Do you understand the nature and dangers of altitude sickness and UV radiation? Are you experienced at traveling icy dirt roads? Is you car safe for the trip (many car rental agencies on the island forbid you to drive this road)? The Rangers at the Visitor’s center can brief you on altitude sickness, UV radiation preparedness, the condition of the road and all other information you need to decide whether to visit the summit (see a video here).

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From Mauna Kea Summit to Mauna Loa, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

The summit of Mauna Kea is truly an amazing place. Beautiful, awe-inspiring, 360 degree views of the entire Big Island, the summit is also culturally and religiously important to the native Hawai’ians and is home to several, world-class astronomical observatories and their support buildings. Because of the extremity of the altitude and the poor quality of the road above the Visitor’s Center, it is advised that extreme caution be exercised in deciding to visit Mauna Kea’s Summit. From the road’s end very near the summit, a short, 10 minute trail leads up Pu’u Weiku cinder cone to the actual mountain top and a Hawaiian religious shrine. Also near the summit is the 1-mile hike to Lake Waiau, the 7th highest lake in the US, as well as numerous archeological sites. Moving at altitude is strenuous, so conserve energy. Do not over-tax yourself, be sure to drink plenty of fluids and protect yourself from the sun, wind and cold. Leave the summit area and return to the paved road long before you are tired.  More very important details about visiting the summit of Mauna Kea are available here.  Some ruminations on the Hawaiian Snow Goddess, Poliahu, and personal reflections about the summit of Mauna Kea can be found here.

Leg 6) Return John Burns Way to Hwy 200; take Hwy 200 east to Kaumana Caves

Kaumana Caves

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Looking Kaumana Cave, on the outskirts of Hilo Town, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

A skylight opening to 25-mile long Kaumana Cave is located at the county park near the 4-mile marker on the Hilo side of the Saddle Road. Concrete stairs take you down through the rain forest jungle to the bottom of a collapse pit forming two entrances to the cave. Most people are drawn to the entrance on the right, a large, opening leading to cavernous rooms. In this entrance, graffiti from hundreds of years ago to the present is preserved, scratched into the rocks. The entrance on the left, however, is more interesting, leading through squeezes and low spots to numerous rooms with fascinating speleo-architecture and cave formations. Both caves go to true dark in fewer than 300 feet in either direction. There are more than 2 miles of easily accessible, wild cave to explore here, but if you intend more than just a cursory inspection near the entrances, bring a hard hat, water and at least 3 sources of light. A quick tour of the caves takes fewer than 20 minutes.

Parking for the caves is located across the highway from the park; extreme care should be taken when crossing he road. Public restrooms, water and picnic tables are available at the park. As you approach Hilo from Kaumana Caves, Hwy 200 becomes variously called Kaumana Drive, then Waianuenue Avenue.  More about Kaumana Cave is available here.

Leg 7) Take Hwy 200 into Hilo Town. At the intersection of Kaumana Drive (Hwy 200) and Lele Street, turn left and go 1 block to Waianuenue Ave; go left on Waianuenue a short distance to the entrance to Rainbow Falls and Wailuku River Park

Rainbow Falls

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Rainbow Falls, 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. For more information on Rainbow Falls and the Wailuku River Park, please go here.

Leg 8) Take on right on waianuenue Ave exiting Rainbow Falls and follow it into downtown Hilo Town.

Hilo Town

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Hilo's east side is famous for it's numerous, lovely, if tiny, beach parks, Leiiwi Beach, Hilo Hawaii: Photo by Donnie 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.

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Liliuokalani Gardens, Hilo Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

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 Panaewa 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. A more complete tour of Hilo Town is available here; a darker vision of Hilo is available here.

Leg 9) Take Highway 19 north out of Hilo along the Hamakua Coast to Waimea.  At Waimea, get on Highway 190 and follow it west to Kailua Kona.

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Looking toward Waimea from the Waikoloa Road, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

This return route is safer and easier to drive in the afternoon and at night, and routes you through fabulous, scenic Waimea Town, where there are interesting shops, fabulous restaurants and gasoline available late into the night.  More about Waimea can be found here.

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Mauna Kea Full Moon, 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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Hualalai Sunset on Highway 190, Mauna Loa-Mauna Kea Saddle area, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

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

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Kamehameha Statue, Wailoa Park, Hilo Hawaii: Graphic from Photo by Donnie MacGowan

by Donald B. MacGowan

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Lava enters the sea at Waikupanaha: Graphic From Photo by Donnie MacGowan_edited-1

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.

Trip 5: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and Lava Viewing Approximate minimum time start to finish (to see every site): 14 hours (return drive in the dark).

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Many natural hot springs surround Ahalanui Hot Pond at Pu'ala'a County Park in Puna Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

From Kona, connect to Highway 11 south 2 1/2 hours to Ka’u Desert Trail. A 40 minute round trip hike leads to footprints of ancient warriors who where caught in a sudden, ferocious eruption. Continue on Highway 11 to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. Park Rangers at the Visitor Center will have the latest lava information. Chain of Craters Road has numerous craters, tons of hiking trails and several breathtaking vistas for great photographs. Upon exiting the Park, continue through Puna to Kea’au and Highway 130 (food stop). Proceed to Pahoa and the junction to Highway 132 and Lava Trees State Park. Here trees were inundated with fast flowing lava. When the trees rotted, it left these Lava Trees. Then on to Highway 137, following the coast past Ahalanui Hot Spring to Kalapana and a 20 minute hike to the lava viewing area at Waikupanaha. (Arrive about dusk for optimal viewing.) From Kalapana back to Kona is a 3 1/2 hour drive (after dark).

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 Ka’u Desert/Warrior Footprints Trail.

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Vog-Tinged Sunset at the Reconstructed Hapaiali'i Heiau, Keauhou Historic District, Kona Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

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.

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 Kona Coffee can be found here.

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Frank Burgess hiking on the Ka'u Desert Trail, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Ka’u Desert Trail and Warrior Footprints, Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park

Just where Hawai’i Belt Road enters Hawaii Volcanoes National Park from the West, is a small parking strip that is the gateway to a host of wonders within the Ka’u Desert section of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Although eruptions here are generally characterized by leisurely outpouring of lava, it is not unknown for Kilauea to violently erupt in a blast of steam and ash. It is this ash that preserves some human footprints, believed to have been formed in 1790 when enemies of Kamehameha the Great were caught by one such massive, explosive eruption. Perhaps as many as 400 men died in this eruption. An emergency phone is available here; there are no other services. Do not venture from your car here without carrying water. More about the Warrior Footprints and the hike can be found here.

Leg 2) Continue south 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 Kilauea Iki Crater.

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Kilauea Crater and Eruption at Halema'uma'u, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park

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.

Kilauea Visitor Center

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Fran Burgess peruses Kilauea Visitor's Center Book Shop at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donnie 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.

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

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The Eruption at Halema'uma'u Crater, as seen from the Jagger Museum, glows sickedly at night, as if someone had left the door to Hades propped ajar...Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donnie 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.

Kilauea Iki Trail

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Looking from the rim down on hikers in the crater on Kilauea Iki Trail, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Perhaps the finest short day hike in the park, a four-mile, 2-3 hour trip down into, across and back out of Kilauea Iki Crater gives one an intimate feel for volcanoes, Hawaiian-Style. Along one side, thick fern and ohi’a forest skirts along the rim and on the other, lush tropical rainforest crowds to the very brink of the crater; bleak volcanic desert lines the crater walls and covers the floor. The start and finish of the hike are along well marked, wide trails. The remainder is an easily followed, well marked trail with stone ahu (cairns) over the crater floor. As always when hiking in the Park, it is wise to avoid the noonday sun, and to remember that afternoon showers are common, especially near where this hike meets the crater rim. More about hiking the Kilauea Iki Trail can be found here.

Leg 3) 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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Most years, it is possible to hike to see flowing lava from the end of Chain of Craters Road in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donnie 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 destroyed the 2 million dollar visitor center. When the lava is 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.

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.

Leg 4) 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.

Puna District and Pahoa Town

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Remember...Puna is wet! The Malama Market sign is reflected in a rain puddle in downtown Pahoa, 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.

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.

Remember that the return leg of this trip to Kona will be made at night .  There is no food or gas available between Kea’au in Puna and Kailua Kona, so be sure to fill-up the tank and buy plenty of food while you can.

Leg 5) At Pahoa, get on Hwy 132 to Lava Trees State Park.

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A lava cast of an ohi'a tree at Lava Trees State Monument in Puna, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Lava Trees State Monument

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. You can find more about the Lava Trees Monument and the famous, lacy, canopied roads of Puna here and here, respectively.

Leg 6) 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

Also called “Secrets Beach”, this spring and ocean-fed, man-made 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.  There is more about Ahalanui Hot Spring and pool here.  You can find information about nearby Issac Hale Beach Park and Pohoiki Bay here.

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The Big ISland's newest Black Sand Beach, Kaimu Beach, at Kalapana, Puna Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Kalapana Disaster of 1990/Kaimu Black Sand Beach

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.

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. More about Kalapana and Kaimu Black Sand Beach can be found here.

Leg 7) 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.

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

Lava Viewing Near Kalapana

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.

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 explosion plume at Waikupanaha lava ocean entry, Puna Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

The easy trail, a 20 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.  Much more about lava viewing at Waikupanaha can be found here.

Leg 8) Return to Hwy 130; Hwy 130 north through Pahoa to Kea’au and jct with Hwy 11. Hwy 11 west to Kailua Kona. Take Hwy 11 west to Kailua Kona.

Remember that this leg of the journey takes about 3 1/2 hours, you will be driving it in the dark and there is nothing in the way of gas or food available between Kea’au and Kailua Kona at night.  If you find yourself low on gas and hungry at the end of the trip, the best bet is to drive into Hilo (about 1/3 hour away through Pahoa, get gas and eat there, then drive back to Kailua Kona on Highway 19 through Waimea.

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.

Waikupanaha ocean entry, 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.

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

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All media copyright 2009 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, available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

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