Volcanoes National Park

The Volcanoes National Park is the result of nearly 70 million years of volcanism, migration, and evolution in the Hawaiian Island- Emperor Seamount chain. The Kilauea and Mauna Loa are active volcanoes.

Many Native Hawaiians trace their lineage to Pelehonuamea, a woman regarded as a deity for her power over volcanic eruptions and lava flows. Hence, these lands covered by Volcanoes National Park are still sacred. 

Note: Areas of Volcanoes National Park may be closed if levels of poisonous sulfur dioxide get too high. During our visit, the Crater Rim Drive was off limits beyond the Jaggar Museum.

Dining options at Volcanoes National Park include the Volcano Village Lodge and the Kilauea Lodge. 

Punalu’u Black Sand Beach

One of the more famous black beaches in Hawaii, Punalu’u Beach is located on the southeastern Kau coast, between Volcanoes National Park and the town of Naalehu. The black sand is made of basalt, formed by flowing lava exploding when coming in contact with the cool ocean water. 

If you are lucky (which I wasn’t), you can find the protected Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles basking on the shores.

Crater Rim Drive

This 11 mile drive is one of the top attractions at Volcanoes National Park. It has two main points of interest:

— A prehistoric cave carved from lava flow known as the Thurston Lave Tube 

— The Jaggar Museum which is dedicated to volcanology and has an overlook of the Halema’uma’u Crater 

Thurston Lava Tube

Also called Nahuku, the trail takes visitors through a forest of thick ferns till they reach a 500 year old lava cave. Discovered in 1913 by Lorrin Thurston, the ceiling of the roof was covered with lava stalactites.

Unfortunately, they have all been lost to souvenir collectors and today the ceiling is covered with fern growth owing to high moisture levels.  A must-do for visitors to Volcanoes National Park.

Jaggar Museum and Overlook

Last stop on the Crater Rim Drive, the Jaggar Museum is named after MIT geologist, Thomas A. Jagger. There are several displays of the types of lava, eruption by-products, monitoring equipment and seismographs. There are also several exhibits about Pelehonuamea, the Hawaiian deity of volcanoes. 

Further Reading

Volcanoes | Products of Volcanic Eruptions

You have a great view of the Kilauea caldera and the Halema’uma’u Crater from here. This is without a doubt the main highlight of Volcanoes National Park. The Kilauea is one of the world’s most active volcanoes. The caldera itself is 2 miles wide and more than 3 miles wide, with Halema’uma’u being the main pit crater. 

I totally recommend making a trip into Volcanoes National Park at night. The bright red magma against the jet blackness of the new moon sky is striking to the eye. 

Chain of Craters Road

Driving this 20 mile long road is another popular activity at Volcanoes National Park. The road takes you over lava fields and paths carved by previous explosions.   

The last stop of this drive is the Holei Sea Arch. Sea arches are formed by the erosion forces of sand, wind, wave and rock. One can also see piles of lava rock known as sea stacks along with sea caves.  

Kilauea Lodge

Kilauea Lodge was originally built for the YMCA in 1938, so that children traveling on volcano expeditions could rest here. In 1986, Kilauea Lodge was bought by a honeymooning couple, Lorna and Albert Jeyte. They converted the place into a new resort that would welcome visitors coming to Hawaii.

While visiting the Volcanoes National Park, I stopped by the lodge to have lunch. I had the Vegetarian Portobello Mushroom Sandwich with a side of French Fries. The sandwich consisted of sauteed Portobello mushrooms, eggplant, caramelized onions, Big Island tomatoes, mozzarella, arugula and roasted bell peppers and tapenade on a grilled Lodge Hoagie. #delicious 🙂

Sighting Nene

This was a surprise and I definitely did not expect Nene at Volcanoes National Park. I found the critically endangered goose on the side of the road, near the cars parked by Holei Sea Arch. It’s really rare to come across them, especially in such close proximity. Talk about luck!

Kalapana Trail

No trip to Volcanoes National Park is complete without hiking the Kalapana Trail. Kalapana used to be a fishing village, but this got destroyed when Kilauea volcano erupted in 1986.

Today, Kalapana serves as a great viewpoint for the lava activity from Kilauea’s Puu Oo Vent. The viewing site is located at the end of Highway 130 in Puna. Droves of visitors flock to Volcanoes National Park to marvel at the spectacular lava flow into the ocean amidst clouds of bellowing gases.

The 7.2 mile trip (roundtrip) takes three hours to complete on foot, but the day was cloudy and the weather cool. There is no significant elevation gain, and the hike takes you through lava fields.  

— Bike rentals are available.

— Snacks and beverages are obtained at the trailhead.

— There is no drinking water accessible on the hike itself.

— Porta potties are located at half point.