Day 5: I Saw Lava!

Volcanoes have been a life-long fascination of mine so you can imagine that I was excited to visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

The Park was a long drive: approximately 80 miles along the windy, two-lane highway that circles the island. We started the journey around nap time so that kids would snooze most of the way. It was a pleasant drive, passing through many macadamia nut orchards along the windy highway.

About halfway to the park you pass by the aptly named South Point Road. As you might guess, this is the southernmost part of the island and the southernmost part of the United States. Many of the businesses in tiny Na’alehu advertised themselves as “Southernmost blah in the World!” with “blah” being bakery, restaurant, dry cleaner, whatever.

Just after Na’alehu you find Punalu’u Beach, one of the most accessible black sand beaches on the entire island of Hawaii. We stopped and spent about an hour marvelling at the dark sand and the hawksbill turtles that sunned themselves on the shore. I know it is hard to believe but, yes, the water was that blue. (My guess is that the black sand beneath the waves had something to do with it.)

We finally arrived at Volcanoes National Park a few hours before sunset, with just enough time for a few minutes in the Steaming Bluffs and then a short hike on the Devastation Trail before looking for flowing lava.

Devastation Trail is a short hike around Puu Puai (the fountain hill) that formed during the eruption from the Iki Crater in 1959. The Iki Crater was an amazing sight today. I can’t even imagine what it might have looked like as a molten lake with a 1000 foot tall jet of lava lighting the sky.

Pictures just don’t do it justice. It’s hard to get a sense of just how large a rent in the earth the crater is. Can you see the teeny, tiny people walking across the crater floor? (Look closer.) It’s massive… and still tiny when compared to the main Kilauea crater.

Following our short hike it was time to jump back in the car for the 20 mile drive down Chain of Craters road to a spot where the lava meets the ocean. Once you arrive at the bottom of the road you’re forced to park and start walking. It’s pretty clear why you must walk: after about a mile the road abruptly ends, covered by recent lava flows (1992 – 2003.)

I left Marla and Kids near where the road ended (about a mile from the ranger station where you park) and continued hiking along the open lava field, racing against the sunset hoping to make it nearer the flowing lava. I made it about a mile and a half further before it was too dark to continue.

It was an awesome sight. Though I’d seen it countless times on television actually seeing earth created before my very eyes was breathtaking. I’d expected cheers and chatter from others watching but it was really a fairly quiet, almost reverent, bunch.

After watching for a half hour or so I headed back to Marla and the kids and we started the long drive back to Ono Mango.

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