~as written by my husband Our trip to the big island just wouldn’t have been complete without a visit to the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. We fortunately arranged an Evening Volcano Tour with KapohoKine Adventures. This tour gave us an unforgettable trip through some of the most active volcanoes on earth. Our excellent local guide, Grant, picked up at our hotel and chauffeured us and 10 other tourist around the island in a comfortable van filled with lively and informative discussion ranging from unique tourist opportunities and the reality of life on an active volcanic island.
In Hawaiian, Mauna Loa means “long mountain”. Not only is this mountain long, it is huge. It is the largest volcano on earth and rises to an elevation of 13,680 feet. Our tour around it was 200 miles! This mountain is enormous, and though it is not currently erupting, the scars of recent eruptions cascade down its slopes in every direction. And this is only one of the 5 volcanoes on the big island. The KapohoKine Evening Volcano Tour circles Mauna Loa, provides vistas filled with the volcanoes Kohala, Mauna Kea and Hualalai, and visits the most active volcano in the world Kilauea.
Our tour began with a convenient pick up at our accommodations in Kona. After a pleasant 10 minute or so wait spent conversing with a Australian tourists also taking this expedition, our gracious guide apologized for the wait and explained that another couple on the tour was not at their designated pick up. Upon getting on the road, the guide apologized again and made the announcement that we were going to quickly backtrack and pick up the missing couple. No apology necessary, should it have been us that had missed our pick up we would have greatly appreciated the flexibility and dedication shown by the KapohoKine staff in ensuring that all parties expected where accounted for on the tour. A 10 minute detour was well worth it when we were able to meet the pleasant German couple who misunderstood the pick-up location at their hotel.
Once on the road we headed south along the west coast of the island meandering through forests, macadamia nut orchards and fields of coffee occasionally crossing a barren lava flow all of which appropriately described by our guide who encouraged questions to which he always had an informative answer. We made a rest stop at Manuka State Wayside Park to have a quick snack and use the facilities. The big island is home to a variety of ecosystems and this stop is a prime example of Hawaii’s commitment to preservation, it includes the forested hillsides of the west slope of Mauna Loa volcano and some historic sites from this portion of the island. Continuing southerly along the Hawaiian Belt road we passed through Hawaiian Ocean View Estates (HOVE) a location on the island where real estate booms and busts have left ample opportunity for those wishing to own a piece of this island paradise. Further south we passed South Point Road; this is the road to take if you want to visit the southernmost point in the United States if you have the time.
Next stop Punalu’u Bake Shop, the “Southernmost Bakery in the USA!” The bake shop is a definite must, free samples of the three varieties of Portuguese sweet bread, traditional, guava, and taro are sure to satisfy and typically lead to a purchase for the road. The shop and bakery are surrounded by lush tropical gardens with a variety of interesting flora for perusal.
Then it was back on the road yet now having rounded the southern flank of the mountain we were now headed north. While traveling in this area, a stop at Punalu’u (black sand beach) is a must. The picnic grounds south of the beach was teeming with locals celebrating a first birthday. It was explained that a first birthday is a joyous occasion celebrated by all in the area and anyone is welcome to join in… too shy to join we were content embrace the kinship of the islanders from afar. A few steps from the parking lot our slippahs were flipping pure jet black sand against our calves. To watch the waves melt into the black sand beach is a sight to behold, a sharp contrast to the typical brown sand back home. Amongst the black rocks and sands, a number of green sea turtles graced us with their presence lounging on the beach and frolicking as only turtles can in the water.
North of Punalau’u the southwest flank of Mauna Loa is covered with acres of Macadamia Nut trees. Passing through Pahala, the scenery begins to change, lush vegetation begins to give way to more and more lava flows. Ascending toward the Kilauea summit the road gradually climbs parallel to the geologically tantalizing “Great Crack” with the Ka’u Desert stretching west to the sea and the cloud shrouded canyons and cliffs of the Ka’u Forest Reserve dominating the east. Our guide jokingly pointed out a Nene Xing sign stating that he’s never seen a Nene (Hawaii’s State Bird) anywhere near when seconds later we passed a group of 6-8 grazing along the roadside.
We now entered Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. This is the home of Pele, the Hawaiian volcano goddess and she is alive and well as is evident by the numerous vents of steam and the ever present vog (volcanic smog). The park entrance was a part of our tour package and we went directly to the Halema’uma’u Crater overlook at the Jagger Museum.
A vast wasteland of rocks stretch out to the horizon which is dominated by a gigantic crater 2/3rds of a mile in diameter, billowing steam and emitting eerie sounds of devilry as if from the core of the earth itself.
The Jagger Museum is a treat for all and includes a special mix of art and science as only Pele herself could inspire. The amazing history of the Kilauea Volcano is on display and depicted in detail with a variety of exhibits for all to enjoy yet so totally unbelievable: The amazing birth of raw planet happening just outside the door. The melted hammer and burned volcanologist’s clothing has an eerie yet exciting quality about them. Kilauea means “spewing” or “much spreading” in Hawaiian. This is an opportunity to visit our planet as it is born. While our visit did not encounter any red flowing lava, the sounds, smells and scars of planet building are abundant and impressive.
Heading out along Crater Rim Drive we stopped at a roadside parking area where we were treated to a warm mist of steam emitting from a number of cracks in the ground. As recommended by our guide I promptly walked through the steam and had my glasses thoroughly cleansed by mother earth herself. Soon after we visited the club house to the onsite golf course and enjoyed an included meal of Chicken Katsu for me and Kung Pao for my wife. Here we caught up and learned more about Grant our guide an a few fellow tourists, it was a nice break.
Back on the road 5 minutes later we stopped at a parking lot surrounded by dense jungle. Now in the twilight we strode off into a forest of fern trees down steps and into the darkness of the Thurston Lava Tube. This tube was formerly a molten subterranean river of lava that now offers a walk under the crust lined by damp walls oozing water as if the earth was perspiring with the roots of the Ohi’a tree dangling from the ceiling (quite possibly the armpit of Pele). We exited the tube in complete darkness, surrounded by the sounds of the jungle quite an experience in itself.
The highlight of the trip came next as we returned to the crater overlook and immediately upon exiting the van we experienced Ke’a weo I ka lani (Reddish glow lighting up the sky.) The Halema’uma’u Crater illuminated the sky and the clouds of smoke billowing up from the depths of the crater glowed red-orange. Knocking and banging echoes rattled off the walls of the crater and radiated the visual of a massive blacksmith at work within foundries of the netherworld. I am at a loss for words to say anymore would be a disservice to the experience. This is a sight to be seen by any and all who have the opportunity.
After getting our fill of the Volcano we left the park and headed back to Kona via Hilo and Saddle Road. A DVD player in the van played a variety of documentary footage of volcanic activity on the island and our guide gave a very cool discourse on his experience as a construction worker in the Hilo area in the 1980’s where he assisted in the evacuation of homes that were in the path of the lava flows. A quick restroom break on the saddle between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa provided an eye full of stars and a brisk reminder that you need a jacket at 6632 feet above sea level. Then down the mountains back to the tropical seaside resorts and villas of the Kona Coast.
A truly unforgettable trip. KapohoKine Adventures Evening Volcano Tour is the best way to catch as much of the volcano as is possible in a day. Our guide was sure to inform us that while it is impossible to see it all this was his best attempt to expose us to the most possible and encouraged us to return when possible because even after living on the island for 30 years he is still amazed at the wonders of the Hawaiian Volcanoes.
Our tour was hosted, gratuities and opinions are our own.