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Deeper and Deeper into Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

As you continue driving around and exploring Hawaii Volcanoes National Park you will find many great hiking and bicycling opportunities. Tour Guide has some 50 sights to see in the park and has details such as, parking, food and water and restroom facilities along the way.

One of the best day hikes in the park is the Kilauea Iki Crater Trail. This four mile round trip hike, about three hours at a nominal pace, will descend into the crater itself. From the floor of the crater, you will see fern, Ohia, and tropical rainforest crowding right up to the rim. The floor itself is stark desert, by comparison, as the trail takes you across and then up the other side. Make sure to bring plenty of water and maybe even some snacks for this hike.

To see even more of the parks wonders, we at Tour Guide suggest a drive down the Chain of Craters Road. This drive unlocks dozens more sights, hikes and vistas from high mountain rainforest to the barren lava landscapes and scenic ocean views below. Along this road are a number of overlooks for some fabulous photography. It ends at the sea where waves crash and spew against cliffs with steam clouds in the distance where lava reaches the ocean. Let’s see what this stunning area has to offer.

Lua Manu is a pit crater formed before written records were kept of the eruptive activity in the park. You will notice no cinder around the rim. This indicates no eruption here but a lava lake that formed inside the pit. As it drained, the pit collapsed, the latest of which was in 1974.

There are several more pit craters to see along this route and then you will come to Hilina Pali Road. This nine mile road takes you to some of the most magical views of the National Park. From forest down to the coast, the breathtaking scenery with leave you with the awe and majesty of Mother Nature and Madam Pele. For the hearty campers, Tour Guide will lead you to Kulanaokuaiki Campground. There are restrooms here but no water is available. At the end of Hilina Pali Road is an overlook not to be missed.

Back on Chain of Craters Road, Tour Guide brings you to Pauahi Crater, a large hourglass shaped crater that has held lava from many different flows over the years. Most recently, the 1979 earthquakes opened the south rift of the crater and issued steam and lava fountains. Though this episode only lasted one day, it was precursor to the current flows from Pu’u O’o in 1983 that destroyed hundreds of homes and businesses miles away in the Puna District.

Tour Guide will guide you to Kipuka Kahali’i. A kipuka is a hole or space where the lava surrounded forest or grassland but did not burn it. This one was partially devastated by the 1969 hot ash eruption of Mauna Ulu. The tallest trees survived and some hearty species of plants have returned.

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

By Donnie MacGowan

Here in the Department of Research and Eternal Spring Break at the Galactic Headquarters of Tour Guide Hawaii, we have been waiting for a break in the Spring Monsoon on the east side of the island so we could run around Puna, visit, film and photograph all our favorite places and then spend a (relatively) dry evening watching the pyrotechnics as Madam Pele marches into the sea at the lava ocean entry at Waikupanaha.

The Men of Tour Guide At Work: Photo by Donald MacGowan

The Men of Tour Guide At Work: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Well, as wet as Puna and Hilo are, we could have waited an eternity, so we decided to just pack everybody up and hit the highway. We tore down the west side of the island, past South Point, Punalu’u and the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, making our first stop (for coffee) at Pahoa, the cultural and mercantile center of Puna.

Pahoa is the Commercial and Cultural Center of Puna: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Pahoa is the Commercial and Cultural Center of Puna: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

From Pahoa, we drove sedately down through the magnificent Tree Tunnels on Hwy 132 to Lava Trees State Monument.

The beautiful Tree Tunneled Roads of Puna: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

The beautiful Tree Tunneled Roads of Puna: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Here, a long-ago lava flow swept through a wet ohi’a tree forest. The wet, cold trees chilled the lava, which coated the trees.

Lava Trees at Lava Trees State Monument: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Lava Trees at Lava Trees State Monument: Photo by Donald MacGowan

As the lava drained away downhill and through numerous cracks in the earth, the lava coating the trees cooled, leaving these basalt towers with hollow insides…the lava trees have casts of the ohi’a, bark and all, in their middles…an amazing place!

Lava Trees Cast: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Lava Trees Cast: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

We took highway 137, named the Kapoho-Kalapana Road–I imagine this is the only road in America–perhaps the world–that is named for two towns destroyed by the same volcano.

Kapoho Kalapana Road Sign: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Kapoho Kalapana Road Sign: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Driving through the jungles and beaches of Puna we came to Ahalanui Hot Pond. This man-made pool was first constructed to retain the refreshing waters of a cold spring.

Ahalanui Hot Pond: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Ahalanui Hot Pond: Photo by Donald MacGowan

During eruptions in the early 1960s, however, the plumbing on Kilauea changed and the spring became hot…and the pool became even more refreshing. Continuing on we stopped in at Isaac Hale Beach Park, which has recently had a complete makeover and is now one of Hawaii County’s first rate facilities.

Isaac Hale County Beach Park: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Isaac Hale County Beach Park: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Once run down, decrepit and populated by social undesirables, it’s now a vibrant, safe and enjoyable place to have a picnic, snorkel and just enjoy exploring where jungle meets ocean.

Isaac Hale Park Hot Spring: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Isaac Hale Park Hot Spring: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Next stop was McKenzie State Park, a real rustic gem with not much going on but miles of hiking trails, a copse of beautiful ironwood trees and some amazing, huge boulders hurled 60 feet up the sea cliffs by tsunamis past.

McKenzie State Park Tsunami-Tossed Boulders: Photos by Donnie MacGowan

McKenzie State Park Tsunami-Tossed Boulders: Photos by Donnie MacGowan

Makes you think twice about camping here!

The next part of Puna we drove through along Highway 137 is undergoing intense development–once a land of rolling jungle punctuated with lava flows and crossed by red cinder roads, civilization is finally finding Puna–too bad. Of course, Madame Pele decrees that any human settlement on this part of Hawaii Island is an “at will tenancy”–at her will–and she may reclaim the land as wild lava at any time.

Modern Carved Pohaku Iki in Puna: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Modern Carved Pohaku Iki in Puna: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

We came into what’s left of Kalapana and hiked out to the new black sand beach at Kaimu. There is an amazing story of love and rebirth centered around this tiny village which I have previously told elsewhere, but it’s a moving and gorgeous spot.

Kaimu Black Sand Beach in Winter: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Kaimu Black Sand Beach in Winter: Photo by Donald MacGowan

After getting our toes wet in the ocean at Kaimu, we turned north towards the Hawaii County Lava Viewing platform near what used to be Waikupanaha. We parked and hiked in to await dusk and see the eruptions (see video here).

Littoral Explosions as Lava Enteres the Ocean Near Royal Gardens: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Littoral Explosions as Lava Enteres the Ocean Near Royal Gardens: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Then, with full on dark enveloping us, we packed the car, adjusted the mirrors, and sat back for the 3 1/2 hour drive back to Kailua Kona…we timed it perfectly to arrive in time to have coffee and ice cream at Lava Java and to watch the evening surf pound against the seawall in Old Kailua Town and told ourselves, in the local pidgin, the same thing residents of Kona tell eachother at least twice a day…”Hey, lucky we live Hawaii, eh?”

Sunset from Lava Java in Kailua Kona: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Sunset from Lava Java in Kailua Kona: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

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

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


Exploring Mysterious Puna…

For your next day of driving, let’s go south on Highway 11 headed for the Puna District. Leave early and expect to get back just after dark because this area is furthest from Kona and contains some of the most beautiful, yet hidden, wonders on the Big Island. It is from Puna that, currently, the only up-close viewing of flowing lava is possible. You may want to pack a cooler for this day trip.

As you’re passing through Kainaliu, just south of Kona, a quick stop at Kona Joe’s Coffee Plantation, for some great Kona Coffee, will jump start your day. See their ad in the sponsors section in your Tour Guide. If you are driving straight to Puna, plan on about 3½ hrs drive time to get to the first sights in this discussion. If you have missed any sights that you wanted to see on the southern route, refer to Frank’s Travel Hints #1 and #2 and catch them on the way…just don’t forget to allow for extra time.

Along the way you will pass Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. This is a fascinating place and not to be missed, but we will reserve it for a full day later.

The first turn is about 20 minutes past the park entrance at the town of Kea’au. Look for the stop light on the highway and the Highway 130 sign. The Kea’au Shopping Center has some great places to eat, like Paradise Bar and Grill, and is a good restroom break.

The first stop, in the Puna district, is the town of Pahoa. You will think you have just stepped back into the Wild West as Pahoa has a unique atmosphere like nowhere else on the island. Cute shops, and a great farmer’s market on Sundays, lends to picture taking and shopping. Tour Guide will suggest that parking is easiest at the Community Pool just a block from downtown, and there are public restrooms here.

Continue driving further into Puna on Highway 132 through the lovely tree tunnels to a magical stop at Lava Trees State Park. This gorgeous rainforest park is filled with birds and tropical plants and flowers. What makes this park so intriguing is the lava trees. Tour Guide will tell you how old lava flows surrounded the trees, leaving spires of hardened lava, giving it an eerie look. There are trails for hiking and bird watching is spectacular. This is also a good place for a restroom break as it will be a good while before the next restrooms are available. Highway 132 leads you to Highway 137, the Kapoho-Kalapana Road–the only road in America that is named for two towns buried by a volcano.

Turning toward Kapoho on Highway 137, the next stop is the Kapoho Tide Pools where you can experience great shoreline shell collecting and fantastic snorkeling amongst vibrant corals and tropical fish in protected tidepools. Though hard to find on your own, Tour Guide again knows the way to this secluded sanctuary and ancient village. Port-a-potties and showers are the only facilities here.

Just a few miles down Highway 137 is Ahalanui Hot Pond. This tropical park is centered around a hot spring that mixes with ocean water to create one of the most relaxing and soul recharging oases anywhere. Tour Guide gives you the history of what this area meant to the ancient Hawaiians. Picnicking, hiking, swimming and “expert only” surfing are some of the things to do here. There are restrooms, showers and water available also.

As you continue along the coast road, you will next encounter McKenzie State Park. Here the Ironwood trees create an unusual ambience of a pine tree forest. The sheer cliffs and majesty of the ocean beg for photographing. Swimming would be near impossible here, but the hiking is spectacular. Tour Guide will give more information about this other- worldly park. A permit is required for camping and the facilities are a bit run down.

Not far away is Kahena Beach. This beautiful black sand beach involves a bit of a scamper to get down the cliff, but is well worth the effort. Tour Guide will give you the easiest path to take. You may notice that this beach is “clothing optional”, thus it’s popularity. Swimming here is good, but currents can be strong if you get too far from shore.

Highway 137 used to become the Chain of Craters Road in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, but it has been cut by several miles of intervening lava flows. Today, it ultimately ends at Highway 130, the road back to Kea’au and the Hawaii Belt Highway. At the intersections of Highways 137 and 130 are the remnants of the town of Kalapana, buried in the 1960 eruption of Kilauea. Tour Guide will tell you all about the eruption, the heroic recovery efforts, and lead you on a brief hike to Kaimu Black Sand Beach, the newest beach on the Island of Hawaii. From the end of the road you can frequently see the both the eruption cloud over Pu’u O’o Vent and the steam plume where lava is entering the ocean, both several miles distant. At night, the glow from streams of lava pouring down the pali can sometimes be seen from here. Although hiking to the lava can be an experience to cherish, it is dangerous and hard work. The best, and most consistent, viewing is by taking an air tour, such as Big Island Air or Paradise Helicopter Tours.

Heading back from Kalapana, you will want to take Highway 130 toward Pahoa and Kea’au, you pass the famous “Painted Church”. Tour Guide can tell you the history of this fascinating place. Just a little farther north is the intersection of Highway 130 with the road to Royal Gardens Estates, which currently leads to the Hawaii County-maintained lava viewing area. Call the Lava Hotline at 808.961.8093 for current eruption updates, lava viewing information and times of road openings and closures. As you continue towards Kea’au you will pass the Steam Rooms–a field of steam vents in small craters where locals go to take steam baths. Tour Guide has information on finding these craters and how to safely enjoy the wonders of natural, volcanic steam baths.

Upon returning to the Hawaii Belt Highway at Kea’au, one can proceed in either direction back to Kona, north through Hilo, a bit shorter and faster, or west through Hawaii Volcanoes National Park which, though longer, is much more scenic. If time permits, you may want to stop in Volcano Village, just off the highway, for some food, gasoline, shopping or maybe even some wine tasting. This may be the last gasoline available until you get back to Kona as it is many times hard to find an open gas station in the rural part of Hawaii Island after dark. Find your hotel in your Tour Guide and get turn-by-turn directions right to the door.

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.

This post has recently been greatly expanded and updated…please go here to see the more recent, and more abundant, information.

Trip 4: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and Lava Viewing Approximate minimum time start to finish (to see every site): 14 hours (return drive in the dark).

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 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 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.

Evening Light on Hualalai and Kailua Kona: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Evening Light on Hualalai and Kailua Kona: 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.

Mauna Loa Rises Above the Ka'u Desert at Warriror Footprints: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Mauna Loa Rises Above the Ka'u Desert at Warriror Footprints: Photo by Donald B. 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.

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.

Kilauea Crater and the Current Halema'uma'u Eruption As Seen from Waldron Ledge, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Kilauea Crater and the Current Halema'uma'u Eruption As Seen from Waldron Ledge, 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 Visitors Center at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Kilgore Trout

Kilauea Visitors Center at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Kilgore Trout

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.

View of Halema'uma'u from Jagger Museum, HVNP: Photo by Donald MacGowan

View of Halema'uma'u from Jagger Museum, HVNP: Photo by Donald 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 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.

Frank Burgess On Kilauea Iki Trail: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Frank Burgess On Kilauea Iki Trail: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Kilauea Iki Trail

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.

Leg 3) Crater Rim Drive to intersection with Chain of Craters Road; Chain of Craters Road to End of Road.

Hiking from the End of Chain of Craters Road to the Lava Ocean Entry at La'epuki: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Hiking from the End of Chain of Craters Road to the Lava Ocean Entry at La'epuki: Photo by Donald MacGowan

End of Chain of Craters Road

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.

In Hawaiian, "Puna" means "Spring" and Puna District in General, and the Area Around Pahoa in Particular, Is Dotted With Hot, Warm and Cold Springs: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

In Hawaiian, "Puna" means "Spring" and Puna District in General, and the Area Around Pahoa in Particular, Is Dotted With Hot, Warm and Cold Springs: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Puna District and Pahoa Town

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” 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.

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

Lava Trees State Park: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Lava Trees State Park: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Lava Trees State Monument

Under a lacey 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.

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 Hot Pond: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Ahalanui Hot Pond: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Ahalanui Pond

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.

Kaimu Beach near Kalapana, Puna Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Kaimu Beach near 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, pandanas 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.

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.

Lava Viewing At Waikupanaha, Puna Hawaii: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Lava Viewing At Waikupanaha, Puna Hawaii: Photo by Donald 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.

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.

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.

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

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

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

Kaimu Black Sand Beach at Kalapana, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

By Donnie MacGowan

On the southeast coast of the Big Island of Hawaii runs the Kapoho-Kalapana Highway, perhaps the only road in the world named for two cities that have been buried by volcanic eruptions. Before the destruction of these towns, this area harbored some of the last refuges of the native Hawaiian way of life–it was a safe haven from the ravages, temptations and noisome encroachments of western civilization. Here were villages of Hawaiians, living as they have for hundreds of years, fishing, farming and keeping their culture, their way of life, their people, alive and vital.

But life on an active volcano is uncertain. Life on an island with 3 active volcanoes, as Hawaii has, is perilous. And for this particular corner of Hawaiian paradise, Madame Pele, the Goddess of the Volcano, began to have other ideas.

In 1990 Pele determined it was time for some serious geographical reorganization. Lava flows from Kilauea’s East Rift swarmed down the mountain and engulfed the villages of Royal Gardens, Kaimu and Kalapana, destroying virtually everything. Immolated and buried were centuries-old fishing villages and a world famous black sand beach. The road ends today where Kaimu Black Sand Beach once stood, and is now a thousand yards and more inland.

When the lava came, it wiped out not just homes, gardens, crops and material things, it wiped out a way of life and a landscape cherished by generations. Imagine the staggering losses to the community. The coconut grove by the beach where, for a thousand years, the Kahunas had blessed the fishing canoes, was not only wiped away and covered with lava, but the landscape was altered so permanently and completely that none are even sure where it used to be. The spots where generations of fathers taught their sons to fish, gone. The groves where mothers sat with their daughters passing on the arts of weaving along with the family stories, gone. The beach where thousands of young lovers had walked the moonlit surf, arm in arm, for centuries, and where perhaps not a few babies had also been made, gone beneath 50 feet and more of lava. Everything gone; a landscape, a way of life, an entire culture.

It was from her vision of strength and a refusal to let her community die, rather than feelings of loss and desolation, that inspired one local resident to replant and reestablish the area. Not to just replant her land, but the entire village. Inspired, tirelessly, steadily, she worked planting hundreds, then thousands, of sprouted coconut and other palms and encouraged others in her community to join in. Even when she discovered she had a terminal disease, she selflessly redoubled her efforts, continuing her campaign to replant and recover the village, the community pitching in even more after she passed away.

Today there are literally thousands of young trees growing on the no-longer barren lava, and a new geography for new lives and new memories is being born. Her vision of rebirth, now being realized, is a moving testament to the power of love of ones’ community and commitment to ones’ culture. This living vision of young palm trees is an amazing, enduring monument to her optimism, faith and perseverance, and to that of her community. One of the truly most moving stories in the Islands, this place has to be seen to be appreciated.

When you visit Kalapana today, the devastation of 20 years ago is still obvious, but so is the vision of rebirth. Although none are yet as tall as a man, the rebuilt trail to the new black sand beach, Kaimu Beach, is lined with the young palms. You should take time to wander out to the beach, over the acres of new land, and look back at where the village of Kalapana once stood. Near the parking area along the path are fossils, lava casts, of palm trees, coconuts, pandanas fruit and other plants…keep a sharp eye out, they are everywhere. Swimming is hazardous at the new beach, so is surfing, the ocean currents being strong and treacherous. But take some time to relax, wade, feel the sand beneath your feet and amidst the lunar desolation of the fresh lava flows, contemplate the drive of one dying woman to rebuild a world she loved from a devastation few of us can imagine.

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 lave enters the sea at Waikupanaha. This is one of the few places where both can be seen easily and at the same time.

Back at the parking area at the road’s end, look a bit farther to the west and find Uncle Robert’s House, one that was spared the destruction, where a display of photos of the lava flows and the village in pre-disaster times in a miniature museum can be found, along with an interesting nature trail. The stop is worth your time, and be sure to leave a donation in the offering jar.

The extreme devastation suffered by the people of Kalapana may be a long way from our own life experiences, but we should take inspiration and example from their vision, their optimistic perseverance and their deep love of, and commitment to, their way of life.

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

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Chain of Craters Road

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is one of the great natural wonders, as well the most studied volcanoes, on earth. Few places can the visitor get as many diverse climates, flora, fauna and geologic dreamlands as inside the park’s boundaries.

Continuing down the Chain of Craters Road, there are numerous turnouts with panoramas that stretch the imagination. Tour Guide adds to the excitement with all the information about what is being seen. Take a quick stop at Alanui Kahiko. The words in Hawaiian mean old road. Here you will see portions of the old Chain of Craters Road, some 12 miles worth above and below this lookout, buried under 300 feet of lava by the 1972 eruptions. This spectacle alone is testament to the awesome destructive powers of Madam Pele, the volcano’s Fire Goddess.

A few miles further down the mountain is the Pu’u Loa Petroglyph field. It can be found along the side of the Ka’u-Puna Trail, a trail used by ancient Hawaiians. This is believed to be the largest petroglyph field in Polynesia, containing more that 15,000 carvings. The path to the petroglyphs is marked from the parking lot by cairns. Tour Guide will show you where to park and explain some of the carving’s meanings at this phenomenal spot.

At about the 19 mile marker is the current End of the Road, the location where the lava cut off the road in 1983. A year ago, you could park here and trek across the barren fields to where the lava was entering the ocean. Now, however, the lava has changed course and is sometimes entering from the Puna side of the park. There is still a ranger’s station here and many placards telling about the flows and safety precautions for hiking in the desolate area. Restrooms are available.

Walking down to the ocean at the End of the Road are some beautiful formations, most notably, the Holei Sea Arch. Tour Guide will tell you how arches and stacks are formed when the waves pound against the sea cliffs and chisel into the various lava densities. The cliff around this arch is some ninety feet, so use caution as you photograph this amazing sight.

Looking back up the mountain gives one the perspective of the destruction, yet the immaculate life giving beauty, of the fire goddess Pele who is in constant battle her sister, the ocean. Each takes life, and gives it. We as humans can stand in awe at the majesty and wonder of these two great forces, respecting each on its own terms.

As you travel back up the Chain of Craters Road, don’t forget to stop at some of the vista points and take photos and videos of the landscape, the memories and the people that are like nowhere else on earth, the Island of Hawaii.

For more information on touring Hawaii in general and the Big Island in particular, go here and here.

Deeper into mysterious Puna!

As you continue along the coast road, you will next encounter McKenzie State Park. Here the Ironwood trees create an unusual ambience of a pine tree forest. The sheer cliffs and majesty of the ocean beg for photographing. Swimming would be near impossible here, but the hiking is spectacular. Tour Guide will give more information about this other- worldly park. A permit is required for camping and the facilities are a bit run down.

Not far away is Kahena Beach. This beautiful black sand beach involves a bit of a scamper to get down the cliff, but is well worth the effort. Tour Guide will give you the easiest path to take. You may notice that this beach is “clothing optional”, thus it’s popularity. Swimming here is good, but currents can be strong if you get too far from shore.

Drive just a few miles further and you come to what used to be the town of Kalapana. Kalapana and Royal Gardens were destroyed in the lava flows during the late1980’s.

What remain are a few homes and businesses where the road now ends. From here one can see the plume of smoke coming from the vent upslope. Sometimes the lava reaches the ocean about 2 miles from this spot.

A short five minute hike will bring you to Kaimu Beach, the newest black sand beach on the island. Tour Guide will give you the rich history of the ancient fishing villages that were here and the touching stories about the palms at Kaimu Beach.

Heading back from Kalapana, you will want to take Highway 130 toward Pahoa. This is your best chance of watching Kilauea erupt. Just a few hundred yards north of Kalapana, is the old turn off to Royal Gardens. This is now the official County of Hawaii Lava Viewing Site. Drive as far as the attendants will allow you, park and walk into where you can safely view the lava flowing into the ocean. Daily updates on the volcano and conditions at site are available at the Hawaii County Lava Viewing Desk, phone number 808.961.8093; more information is here and here.

Farther along the highway to Pahoa, you will see a “scenic turnout” where you can view the Puna Geothermal Vents. Here a company has tapped the natural steam to create electricity from these fumaroles. Tour Guide will show you how, with a short hike off the road, and you can sit in one of these natural sauna vents for some real relaxation.

Now you’re ready to head back to Kona. Take Highway 130 to Highway 11 and go south. If time permits, you may want to stop in Volcano Village, just off the highway, for some food, gasoline, shopping or maybe even some wine tasting. This may be the last gasoline available until you get back to Kona. Find your hotel in your Tour Guide and get turn-by-turn directions right to the door.


Exploring Mysterious Puna…

For your next day of driving, let’s go south on Highway 11 headed for the Puna District. Leave early and expect to get back just after dark because this area is furthest from Kona and contains some of the most beautiful, yet hidden, wonders on the Big Island. It is from Puna that, currently, the only up-close viewing of flowing lava is possible. You may want to pack a cooler for this day trip.

As you’re passing through Kainaliu, just south of Kona, a quick stop at Kona Joe’s Coffee Plantation, for some great Kona Coffee, will jump start your day. See their ad in the sponsors section in your Tour Guide. If you are driving straight to Puna, plan on about 3½ hrs drive time to get to the first sights in this discussion. If you have missed any sights that you wanted to see on the southern route, refer to Frank’s Travel Hints #1 and #2 and catch them on the way…just don’t forget to allow for extra time.

Along the way you will pass Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. This is a fascinating place and not to be missed, but we will reserve it for a full day later.

The first turn is about 20 minutes past the park entrance at the town of Kea’au. Look for the stop light on the highway and the Highway 130 sign. The Kea’au Shopping Center has some great places to eat, like Paradise Bar and Grill, and is a good restroom break.

The first stop, in the Puna district, is the town of Pahoa. You will think you have just stepped back into the Wild West as Pahoa has a unique atmosphere like nowhere else on the island. Cute shops, and a great farmer’s market on Sundays, lends to picture taking and shopping. Tour Guide will suggest that parking is easiest at the Community Pool just a block from downtown, and there are public restrooms here.

Continue driving further into Puna on Highway 132 through the lovely tree tunnels to a magical stop at Lava Trees State Park. This gorgeous rainforest park is filled with birds and tropical plants and flowers. What makes this park so intriguing is the lava trees. Tour Guide will tell you how old lava flows surrounded the trees, leaving spires of hardened lava, giving it an eerie look. There are trails for hiking and bird watching is spectacular. This is also a good place for a restroom break as it will be a good while before the next restrooms are available. Highway 132 leads you to Highway 137, the Kapoho-Kalapana Road–the only road in America that is named for two towns buried by a volcano.

Turning toward Kapoho on Highway 137, the next stop is the Kapoho Tide Pools where you can experience great shoreline shell collecting and fantastic snorkeling amongst vibrant corals and tropical fish in protected tidepools. Though hard to find on your own, Tour Guide again knows the way to this secluded sanctuary and ancient village. Port-a-potties and showers are the only facilities here.

Just a few miles down Highway 137 is Ahalanui Hot Pond. This tropical park is centered around a hot spring that mixes with ocean water to create one of the most relaxing and soul recharging oases anywhere. Tour Guide gives you the history of what this area meant to the ancient Hawaiians. Picnicking, hiking, swimming and “expert only” surfing are some of the things to do here. There are restrooms, showers and water available also.

As you continue along the coast road, you will next encounter McKenzie State Park. Here the Ironwood trees create an unusual ambience of a pine tree forest. The sheer cliffs and majesty of the ocean beg for photographing. Swimming would be near impossible here, but the hiking is spectacular. Tour Guide will give more information about this other- worldly park. A permit is required for camping and the facilities are a bit run down.

Not far away is Kahena Beach. This beautiful black sand beach involves a bit of a scamper to get down the cliff, but is well worth the effort. Tour Guide will give you the easiest path to take. You may notice that this beach is “clothing optional”, thus it’s popularity. Swimming here is good, but currents can be strong if you get too far from shore.

Highway 137 used to become the Chain of Craters Road in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, but it has been cut by several miles of intervening lava flows. Today, it ultimately ends at Highway 130, the road back to Kea’au and the Hawaii Belt Highway. At the intersections of Highways 137 and 130 are the remnants of the town of Kalapana, buried in the 1960 eruption of Kilauea. Tour Guide will tell you all about the eruption, the heroic recovery efforts, and lead you on a brief hike to Kaimu Black Sand Beach, the newest beach on the Island of Hawaii. From the end of the road you can frequently see the both the eruption cloud over Pu’u O’o Vent and the steam plume where lava is entering the ocean, both several miles distant. At night, the glow from streams of lava pouring down the pali can sometimes be seen from here. Although hiking to the lava can be an experience to cherish, it is dangerous and hard work. The best, and most consistent, viewing is by taking an air tour, such as Big Island Air or Paradise Helicopter Tours.

Heading back from Kalapana, you will want to take Highway 130 toward Pahoa and Kea’au, you pass the famous “Painted Church”. Tour Guide can tell you the history of this fascinating place. Just a little farther north is the intersection of Highway 130 with the road to Royal Gardens Estates, which currently leads to the Hawaii County-maintained lava viewing area. Call the Lava Hotline at 808.961.8093 for current eruption updates, lava viewing information and times of road openings and closures. As you continue towards Kea’au you will pass the Steam Rooms–a field of steam vents in small craters where locals go to take steam baths. Tour Guide has information on finding these craters and how to safely enjoy the wonders of natural, volcanic steam baths.

Upon returning to the Hawaii Belt Highway at Kea’au, one can proceed in either direction back to Kona, north through Hilo, a bit shorter and faster, or west through Hawaii Volcanoes National Park which, though longer, is much more scenic. If time permits, you may want to stop in Volcano Village, just off the highway, for some food, gasoline, shopping or maybe even some wine tasting. This may be the last gasoline available until you get back to Kona as it is many times hard to find an open gas station in the rural part of Hawaii Island after dark. Find your hotel in your Tour Guide and get turn-by-turn directions right to the door.

For more information on visiting Hawaii in general and touring the Big Island in particular, go here.