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Hawaii Volcano Adventures

Hawaii Volcano Adventures

The Eruption’s over in Hawaii, nothing to see here, but there are still many exciting volcano adventures. (Header photo by Alan L.)

You can hike through chirping Ohia forests, stand on the edge of a giant crater. Then explore an underground cavern. You too can be Indiana Jones. Head to the Volcano and live it for yourself, have an awesome experience you will remember forever.

Ash plume glowing red at night over Halemaumau crater
Ash plume at night over Halemaumau crater. Photo by NPS/S.Geiger

I’ll tell you about Hawaii volcano adventures in a minute, but first I will tell what it’s like to see the volcano going off. There is nothing more exciting than seeing a volcano going off at night.

I witnessed the dazzling Kilauea Iki (Kee’lah-way’-ah, ee’kee) eruption. It was long ago but I remember that night clear as day. It was dark as we drove up the mountain seeing a red glow shining in the distance. We pulled up and walked through some bushes and there it was! Like every volcano you ever saw in a movie! The pyramid-shaped hill with gold and red fountains gushing out the top shooting into the night sky!

The crimson lava flowed in bright rivers, like long orange snakes slithering in the night. Very scary, and hot. We were a half-mile away and our faces were stinging  like standing next to a bonfire. It was my first volcano and not my last. There were many more.

Now the scorched Earth is calm, but if you want to see something out of a science fiction movie or visit Mars without a space ship, you have to visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. To get to the park is easy, head south up the mountain out of Hilo, drive about 30 miles. You can’t miss it, it’s the 2 mile-wide crater on the left.

Rainbow Over Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Entrance
Rainbow Over Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Entrance. Photo by Paul Bieschke Jr.

Volcano Adventure #1 – Halemaumau Crater

Once inside the National Park head to the visitor’s center. Park rangers will tell you all about the exciting geography of the place, yes, geography can be exciting with erupting volcanoes. After becoming an expert on Volcanology, the study of volcanoes, you have to see the deepest hole on Earth, the Halemaumau (Haul’-ay maow’ maow’) Crater (Hawaiian spelling – Halema’uma’u). It is 2,000 feet deep and 2 miles across and as you stand on the edge of the deep crevasse you’ll shiver and shake.

Hawaii Volcano Adventures - Halemaumau crater on the Big Island
Halemaumau crater. Photo by Prayitno

You might drive a short way to the steam vents, openings in the earth with hot steam pouring out. Don’t get too close, you could fall in. Around the corner are the sulfur banks, round steaming tables of hot sulfur spilling over in yellow liquid. Like another planet, you feel you are in a Star Trek movie.

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Volcano Adventure #2 – Thurston Lava Tube

Next, you can walk through an underground cavern (without the rolling boulders and shooting arrows). A short drive from the steam vents is Thurston Lava Tube, a 150 foot  long, dripping cavern. There’s an easy walkway through it without any big spiders, but still thrilling enough. It is lit up with  lanterns, ferns hanging down, maybe a bat or two. It’s been thrilling visitors for 500 years.

A story to tell back home. Be sure to take pictures or a movie with your smart phone. Maybe send it to Steven Spielberg for Indiana Jones 5 or is it 6?

Thurston Lava Tube. Photo by NPS Photo/Janice Wei

As you walk out of the cavern, into the parking lot, you might see a flock of Nene (nay’nay) Geese waddling around. They are twins to the Canadian Goose, fat, grey body, long black neck and friendly. They are so innocent you’re almost afraid for them. They walk right up and peck at your pants begging for a handout. If you have some bread or chips in the car, come back with the snacks and they will eat out of your hand.

They are the loneliest birds in the world. I read that they arrived in Hawaii 500,000 years ago, and didn’t see another living thing for a quarter million years. No wonder they’re so friendly.

A pair of nene geese in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Photo by Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

#3 – Volcano House

After peering down into Halemaumau, taking selfies at the steam vents, hiking through a mystical cavern, and feeding the Nene Geese, you might be ready for lunch. Drive back near the front of the park to the famous Volcano House, a rustic hotel with rooms upstairs. It’s perched on the side of the caldera, a fancy name for this opening in the Earth. It has great food at the restaurant and drinks at the bar where you can have a cocktail on the edge – another volcano adventure!

The Volcano House was built back in 1846 when  it was a little grass hut, and through the years has grown to become a real nice hotel.

View on Halemaumau from Volcano House
View from Volcano House hotel. Photo by Volcano House

At the bar you might be sitting at a table where Mark Twain sat, he had a drink or two in the bar back in 1866. As he sipped his whiskey he described it as a “neat, roomy, well-furnished hotel”. He also said that he was “so surprised at finding a good hotel in such an outlandish spot, that it startled him more than seeing the volcano”.

If you are too tired to drive down the mountain, you can rent a room at the Volcano House and sleep next to a live volcano. Do not go sleep walking, you might fall in and be deep fried.

The rooms are very nice, with all the amenities, cable, WiFi, free coffee and free bikes to ride around the park all day. Select rooms look out onto the main attraction.

They also rent nice cabins outside of the park, three miles away. Very reasonable, and they are magical little cottages tucked away in Eucalyptus trees. The campground is called the Namakanipaio Campground. If you can pronounce it you get a discount… maybe.

A cabin at Namakanipaio Campground
Photo by Volcano House

#4 – Volcano House

One more volcano adventure before you head back. For all you oenophiles, a Greek (or Geek) word for people who love wine, there is a winery a few miles from the park. It is the Volcano Winery.

It has a good Pinot Noir but most of the wines are blended with local fruit. They have a guava wine and papaya wine, if you can imagine that. A real sweet place to visit. Buy a bottle, get some cheese and crackers and sit and sip and smell the cool mountain air.

Now you’ve probably had the most exciting Hawaii volcano adventure – you journeyed like Mark Twain to the volcano, had lunch overlooking a steaming crater, trekked through a dark cavern and fed crackers to a Nene Goose. You even had a glass or two of papaya wine.

Time to say aloha to the volcano and descend down the misty mountain for more adventures. As you leave, the volcano folks will wave and say,

A hui hou! (ah-hooey’- ho!)  “see you again”.

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