Hawaii’s Big Island is a volcanic wonderland! Volcanic activity has literally shaped the past and continues to shape the future of the island. Along with the destruction, the activity has left behind a plethora of natural beauty. Most of this wonder can be seen at the Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island.
Volcanoes National Park
The Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located on the Island of Hawaii (Big Island). It covers two active volcanoes, Kilauea, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, and Mauna Loa, the world’s most massive shield volcano.
A vast majority of the park is covered in wilderness and showcases some of the most lush flora I’ve ever seen. Thanks to the volcanic activity, it also has its own micro-climate and often seen volcanic fog sweep in after rains. And yes, it rains a lot in the park.
Access to the park area where the visitors’ centre and museum are located costs $20 per vehicle (to be revised in $5 increments each year). The pass is valid for 7 days, which is more than sufficient for the time one spends on the island.
Once inside, spend some time at the Visitors’ Centre to get to know the history behind the park. After that, the park offers many attractions to check out. Of course, given the size of the park it’s worth noting that you need a car to get around.
The Volcano House
The Volcano House is right across from the Kiluea Visitors’ Center. It offers guest rooms, a dining area, snack bar, lounge, and gift shop, along with cultural events and demonstrations. As the Volcano House is on the edge of the Caldera, the views are breathtaking. It’s the only place in the entire park that you can grab something to eat or drink, with dramatic views of the smoldering crater.
Thomas A. Jagger Museum
The Jagger Museum is located at the end of the Crater Rim Drive. Currently, the museum offers the best sights of the Halemaumau crater, in the Kilauea caldera. The museum, as informative as it is, is no match for the glow of the crater and fumes just outside it. Which is probably why we spent such little time inside the museum.
The park is open 24/7, which means so is the area around the museum (even if the museum shuts at 8 PM). Make sure that you come at night to the Thomas A. Jagger museum to witness the glow from the crater illuminate the night sky! It’s the best time to witness the crater in action.
Sulphur Banks Trail
The Sulphur Banks Trail is a short walk form the Kiluea Visitors Centre. The path cuts around an area of intense sulphur activity. As you admire the sulphur fumes rising from the ground, be careful not to step off the path. The ground is hot and makes you wonder how so much flora survives in it.
Also, while we were there it was raining, and the rain contributed to the fumes making it slightly unbearable to stay there for a long time. The Sulphur Banks Trail is definitely an easy attraction to accomplish.
Halemaumau Crater & The Kīlauea Caldera
Let’s face it, this is the main attraction at the Volcanoes National Park. The show-stopper if you will. Mother nature in all its living glory. The caldera is visible from any point around the Crater Rim Drive. It looks spectacular from inside the Volcano House, where the dining area, lounge, and bar overlook the caldera. From inside the caldera, rise the fumes of the Halemaumau Crater.
Like I mentioned earlier, the best views of the crater are near the Thomas A. Jagger Museum, and at night (bring a jacket as it gets quite cold). Once we saw the views from the side of the museum, all our plans to go to the Thurston lava tubes went out the window.
There is nothing more beautiful than to watch the lava inside the crater glow at night. Well, until you get to where the lava meets the sea.
Watch The Lava Enter The Sea
The next day we embarked on the journey of a lifetime!
The lava from volcanoes and craters on the Big Island eventually flows into the sea. You can catch the dramatic action of hot molten lava pouring into the cold water either from land or sea. We chose the latter, and we are glad we did.
Taking the Lava Boat Tour is not cheap. I repeat – it is not cheap. But it is totally worth it! The boat ride to the lava point is an adventure in itself. Riding the enormous waves at breakneck speeds quite literally break your neck. It is most certainly not for the fainthearted (or people with recent injuries, frailness, obesity, osteoporosis, pregnancies, back, neck, joint issues).
Once the Lava Boat reaches its destination, you can expect magic! The boat takes you within touching distance of the flowing lava for some spectacular views. Get ready to have the fumes from the lava surround you as the guide brings a bucket of sea water for everyone to touch.
You can choose to hike to the lava point too, but after a two hour hike to the Kalapana viewing area you’ll never get as close to the lava as the boat does.
The whole experience felt surreal! See the photos for yourself. Also, it’s worth mentioning that you should keep an eye out for lava flow updates before visiting the park or even taking the boat ride.