Best of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island

Episode 3 January 22, 2023 00:26:03
Best of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island
2TravelDads Podcast
Best of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island

Jan 22 2023 | 00:26:03


Hosted By

Rob Taylor Chris Taylor

Show Notes

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is one of the most unusual places we've been. From lava tubs to glowing molten rock under the stars, we've explored everything Hawaii Volcanoes has to offer. Find out just what you'll see at Kilauea and the Halamaumau Crater, what you'll experience in the Mauna Loa Unit and even the unknown, often overlooked Kahuku Unit (so gorgeous!). We've got the details and you're going to want to plan a trip to the Big Island of Hawaii to experience it all!

Check out our guide to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, our ebook about the park, and our complete Big Island Itinerary!

View Full Transcript

Episode Transcript

[00:00:13] Speaker A: Welcome to two Travel Dads podcast. Here we share our favorite destinations, travel tips, stories from our adventures, and bring on awesome guests to share insights into their travelsome lives. Be sure to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts and check out our detailed show notes at. [00:00:30] Speaker B: Dash episode. [00:00:35] Speaker A: Hey, welcome to another episode of two Travel Dads podcast. I'm your host, Rob Taylor. [00:00:40] Speaker C: I'm Chris. [00:00:41] Speaker B: And today we are talking all about Hawai Volcanoes National park, which is located on the big island of Hawaii. And I gotta say, I think it's one of the coolest national parks, if not the legit coolest one possible. [00:00:55] Speaker C: Yeah, it's definitely a very unique place to visit for sure. I mean, they've got like lava tubes, the hot lava that just flows through the park at night. Pretty amazing. [00:01:07] Speaker A: Yeah. [00:01:08] Speaker B: So we're just kind of going to go through and talk about the different sites that you can see. Some hikes, there's actually three different, I guess you could call them units to the park. So it's broken into the main Hawaii volcanoes National park area where you've got Killauea and the Hale Mao Mao crater. And then there is the Mona loa side of it as well as the Kahuku unit. So we're going to talk about all three of those and hopefully answer any questions that you've got, including talking a little bit about the kind of strange and surprising wildlife that you see in the park. So where should we start? Should we start with talking about Killauea, since that's why everybody's there? [00:01:47] Speaker C: Yeah, let's talk about it. [00:01:48] Speaker B: So Kilauea is the most active volcano. [00:01:53] Speaker C: It is in Hawaii or like in the world? [00:01:55] Speaker B: I think it's actually the most active volcano in the world. [00:01:58] Speaker C: Okay, I guess I hear about it. Killer way of mostly. [00:02:00] Speaker B: Yeah. Maybe we should fact check that. But I think it's the most active volcano in the world and we're recording this in 2023. It is currently erupting and it is amazing. So when you go to visit Hawaii volcanoes National park, it's really close to Hilo. It's about 40 minutes from Hilo, which is on the eastern side of the big island of Hawaii. If you're driving from Kailuakona, it's about 2 hours. So plan where you stay. [00:02:28] Speaker C: Appropriately recommend you stay in Hilo because you want to go at night and so it's a long drive back if you're still in. [00:02:37] Speaker B: I mean, you can even stay in the park if you wanted to. If you're planning far enough in advance, you could score yourself a stay at volcano house, which is the national park lodge that is directly on Killauea's crater rim. [00:02:53] Speaker C: That would be amazing. [00:02:54] Speaker B: Yeah, it's pretty awesome. So if you plan far enough in advance, you could bick that. You could also camp in the park, which we haven't done, but, I mean, I'm down to try anything. There's some cabins as well as campsites, so maybe that is a future trip for us to take. [00:03:09] Speaker C: Yeah, we got to source some camping equipment rental company. [00:03:12] Speaker B: Yeah. And if you can't score a spot directly in the park, the town of volcano is not too far away, and you've got all kinds of options there, as well as in Hilo, like we said. [00:03:22] Speaker C: But anyway, creative with the name of. [00:03:24] Speaker B: That town, I know it's true. There's volcano and then there's a volcano winery. Everything is just volcano, everything all around there. [00:03:32] Speaker C: Keep it simple. [00:03:33] Speaker B: Yeah. So getting into Killauea and how to actually experience it, I think one of the things that makes Hawai volcanoes National park so special for everybody is that even if you're not a hiker and even if you have limited mobility, you can still get a really amazing experience of the park. You can still see the crater without having to really strain yourself, or you can be really adventurous and you can hike the entire crater rim around Killawaya or do something even more wild and hike 17 miles across lava. So it's perfect for whatever your level of adventure is. And if you want to just see the crater and you only have a little bit of time and just want to do that, you can easily drive to. Gosh, what is there? I think there's three different viewpoints that you can easily drive to. [00:04:20] Speaker C: Yeah. At least I'm sure. Yeah. [00:04:22] Speaker B: And then with those, you can actually walk in between all of them if you want, including at nighttime. At night, they've got the path that goes from viewpoint to viewpoint, very dimly lit, so that you can enjoy a nighttime hike while watching the lava glow below you. [00:04:38] Speaker C: Yeah, I think that was very helpful, having the path lit up, those little nightlife. [00:04:43] Speaker B: Yeah. So when you go, we'd recommend first stop into the visitor center, see kind of what's going on, what's active in the park right now, and then head all the way to the end of Crater rim, drive to the uwe. I should have practiced saying this first. Uwe kahuna overlook, which is the one that's furthest away. When I was just there, it was actually closed because the ninigis were nesting, which when we were there, a couple of months ago, they were getting ready to close it because the Nene geese were walking around and they thought they were going to nest. Turns out they did. So they will close different parts of the park for the geese. So just kind of keep that in mind. If you're planning to camp out and just watch lava, the area might be closed, but yeah, so start at the very end there and then you can work your way back. Killaway overlook is what's next. And that's actually where the old visitor center is. But they had to close it because of seismic activity. Know it's built on a volcano. And then I think the other part that is really cool before you get to the south side of the rim is the steaming bluff. [00:05:45] Speaker C: Oh, that's right. I remember those steam vents that we got to hike around. And it kind of smells a little like sulfur there, too, if I remember right. [00:05:53] Speaker B: Yeah, it's farty. It's kind of like Yellowstone is, which we've got some great podcast episodes all about Yellowstone, so check those out too. But yeah, steaming bluff, I think, has a really interesting view into the crater because you've got steam all around you, really dense vegetation, and then you've also got a view of lava below. So that's pretty cool. And then moving along the crater rim. So like I said, you can drive it or you can walk it. Next thing you come to is actually volcano house, the lodge that we mentioned. And it has one of the most remarkable views all the way across. Killawaya. [00:06:27] Speaker C: Yeah, the views there are extremely amazing. And what I think I really like about is the rim restaurant that's right there that you could go and have an amazing meal at and still have a great view of the crater. [00:06:39] Speaker B: Yeah, it's pretty awesome. You can do your dining and then just walk out directly from there. There's actually a trail that goes from the rim restaurant along to Byron's ledge, which then continues over to desolation. And you can literally do everything right along the rim. And it's amazing. But then the big overlook, and this is the one that when we talk more about lava glow, this is the one that you got to definitely do the hike to past Byron's ledge is the Kianakoe. So when you leave the rim and you hike past Byron's ledge, the next thing that you come to is the Kianakakoe overlook. And that is actually where you'll park or you'll hike for seeing the best lava glow and the lava flow at night. But it's an easy 1 mile walk on a paved road that they had to close because of seismic activity. And yeah, it gets you as close as you can be to where the primary eruptions are. It's amazing. [00:07:40] Speaker C: And I think when you go at night, we learned it's best to bundle up. So even though you're in Hawaii, it's not warm there at night. [00:07:47] Speaker B: Yeah. In fact, you know what? Why don't we just talk about lava glow right now? Because this is where it happens, right? [00:07:52] Speaker C: Yeah. [00:07:52] Speaker B: So lava glow is what they call it when there is an active flow and you see it at night because it's not just that you're watching lava, you're not just watching like a lava fountain or a lava flow, but you're watching the light reflecting off of everything all around the crater. So during lava glow, and you got to check out our blog post for this or our ebook or just the show notes. During lava glow, the red glow reflects off of the canyon walls and it reflects off of the volcanic fog. All the steam that's coming up out of the crater, it makes the sky purple and red and it's so beautiful. [00:08:32] Speaker C: It's like a once in a lifetime experience. It's kind of like seeing the northern lights, I guess. [00:08:36] Speaker B: Yeah. In fact, you know what? The way that the light changes, it's like watching the northern lights, but it's directly in front of you and instead of being green and sometimes red, it's orange and sometimes purple. [00:08:47] Speaker C: Amazing. [00:08:48] Speaker B: But yeah, it's really great. And the best place to watch that is from that overlook at the end of that 1 mile hike. There's lots of people on it, so you don't need to bring headlamps and blind everybody as they walk. Because one of the great things about being in the park for lava glow, from whatever viewpoint you're at, is also being able to see the stars. Because the stars over Hawaii volcanoes National park are breathtaking. It's amazing. The most crisp and clear, like the density of stars that are visible when you're in the park is just. [00:09:20] Speaker C: Yeah, there's not a lot of light pollution in that national park. [00:09:23] Speaker B: It is absolutely remarkable. So when you are doing your lava glow and trying to see it and take pictures and stuff. So we've done it a couple of times now. We found that the camera that you use doesn't really matter. I got incredible pictures with both the DSLR with my big old telephoto on it as well as just with my camera phone. So using either just the standard setting, like not changing anything, there is enough light that comes from the lava, that it makes an amazing picture. Or if you do want to use your night settings, that does even more to capture all the surrounding area of the lava and the glow specifically. [00:10:05] Speaker C: And then tripod is probably helpful. Not required, but tripod is definitely helpful to have. [00:10:10] Speaker B: Yeah, especially, like, if you want to do a really long exposure and really capture as much of the crater as possible. Like, if you get it set up for astrophotography, which. Oh, gosh. Then you can get the lava glow with the stars. And it's amazing. You've got to have a tripod for it. So you don't need a big one. Just bring a little one. One that know, be up at eye level so that it can see into the crater just fine. But yeah, and then, like Chris was saying, it's cold because you're up on a volcano in the dark and it's windy. So dress appropriately and you will have an amazing time. Anything else about lava glow that you think we should cover? [00:10:42] Speaker C: No, just if you have an opportunity to go see it, you have to. [00:10:45] Speaker B: All right. So besides looking down into the Kilauea volcano, checking out the crater there, there's a lot of other volcanic activity going on, including the steam vents, which you kind of mentioned. But there's actually a hike that you can do that's really simple. And it takes you through all these different steam vents, starting in the parking lot and then kind of going through a little meadow area in the woods. You get to walk through a really strange, really cool little tree tunnel till you get to the sulfur banks. It's funny, there's actually. I don't know if you saw this, but there's a sign as you start this trail that says that there are toxic gases and that you need to proceed at your own risk. [00:11:22] Speaker C: True. Everybody has a different potential condition. [00:11:26] Speaker B: That's true. But we didn't find the gases to be so intense during our visit. But it could be that they fluctuate because seismic activity changes. But, yeah, it's actually pretty cool to. [00:11:39] Speaker C: Check out a really nice boardwalk that you have to stay on. You can't step off the boardwalk because you just might fall into some lava. [00:11:45] Speaker B: Yeah. Thin crust. It's one of those areas. [00:11:48] Speaker C: It's just like in Yellowstone. You stay on the boardwalk. Yeah. [00:11:50] Speaker B: And one of the other things that makes that crust area so thin is when you're in the sulfur banks area, you can look down and actually see sulfur crystals that have formed along the dirt and at the steam vents. So you'll see these actual large crystalline structures that are what is coming out of precipitating out of the steam. It's really cool. But, yeah, that's an easy, like 20 minutes sort of thing. Maybe half an hour. [00:12:15] Speaker C: Oh, yeah. [00:12:16] Speaker B: And you can walk there from either the visitor center or from the steam vent parking lot. Easy to do and good for any age. And then as you kind of continue driving along, you end up coming to a different part of the park where all of a sudden you go from being like this exposed volcanic area to just the dense jungle. So that's where you can do the. [00:12:37] Speaker C: Is that where we went to the lava tubes? [00:12:38] Speaker B: Yeah, the Thurston lava tube. That's what's there. It's not very long. It takes maybe three minutes to walk through the entire thing. [00:12:46] Speaker C: Yeah. But the area feels very like Jurassic parkish. [00:12:49] Speaker A: Yeah. [00:12:50] Speaker B: So when you park, you can either head towards the crater and do the Killawaya iki trail, which actually will take you out to the crater, or you can cross the street and go down into this. It's like Ferngoli. [00:13:03] Speaker C: Yeah, in a way. [00:13:04] Speaker B: Go down into Ferngoli, through the Jurassic park ferns and into the lava tube and it is absolutely beautiful. Full of birds. Not the lava tube, but the area around it is full of birds and. Yeah, super easy and gorgeous. Moving on from there, though, that is when you start to come to the chain of Craters Road, which we've done a lot of national park trips. I think that besides the big cypress loop road, I think chain of Craters Road is probably my favorite scenic drive. [00:13:33] Speaker C: Which one is chain of craters? Is that the one that we drove on for quite a ways, trying to get down to the coast? [00:13:39] Speaker B: Exactly, yeah. [00:13:40] Speaker C: To see it wasn't the arch. What was it? [00:13:43] Speaker B: Yes. The holy sea arch is down there. [00:13:45] Speaker C: That's right. [00:13:46] Speaker B: So, yeah, chain of craters goes from the desolation trailheads and that's where you'd park for doing the lava glow hike at night. Goes from there. Winds through countless craters. [00:13:56] Speaker C: It winds. [00:13:57] Speaker A: Yeah. [00:13:57] Speaker B: Gosh. Yes, it winds countless craters all the way down until you get to the ocean. Oh, that's what I wanted to make sure we talked about. So it doesn't seem like there's a lot of wildlife within Hawaii volcanoes National park because it's so volcanic. But we saw wild pigs in the park. [00:14:15] Speaker C: Oh, that's right. Yeah. There's like about three or four of them up on the side of the road. Just happened to show up. [00:14:20] Speaker B: Yeah. So pay attention as you're driving. It's really beautiful and it's really easy. To be distracted because all of a sudden there's a crater, there's a lava flow, there's dense trees. It's gorgeous. But, yeah, there's also pigs that will run across the street. So just kind of keep that in mind. [00:14:35] Speaker C: But also, in terms of wildlife, I actually don't feel like, besides in the water, like on land, there's not a ton of wildlife in Hawaii. [00:14:42] Speaker B: I would agree. Yeah, there's a lot of birds, but again, that's one of those things that you have to kind of know where to look. And we'll talk about that when we talk about the monoloa section of the park. But you're right, there's not a ton mongooses. Lots of mongooses. [00:14:58] Speaker C: Not a lot of bugs either. [00:14:59] Speaker B: Not a lot of bugs, which I'm. [00:15:00] Speaker C: Thankful for, for being a tropical place. Yeah. [00:15:03] Speaker B: Okay. Anyways, driving chain of craters, it's beautiful. What I think is really cool about it, though, is as you kind of break out of the jungle and you start to cross the lava flows, you come into just epic views that lead all the way down to the Pacific Ocean. And on a windy day, it's cold and breezy. Yeah, for sure. But you can watch the waves just crashing up against the cliffs. And then when you actually get down to the hole sea arch trailhead, it's actually where chain of craters road ends because it used to go all the way through the park until a lava flow took out the road. So when you get down there, that's when you can see all the different lava types close up. Oh, gosh, that's a beautiful hike. [00:15:47] Speaker C: Yeah, it was a beautiful drive getting down there, but it's definitely rewarding once you finally get to the end. Yeah. [00:15:53] Speaker B: And so you park for the hole, Sierra, you park and you can just walk along the road. But then there are some hiking trails that go off into the lava as well. And some of them do go towards the cliff, so you've got to be careful. And there's clear signage that says, do not walk here because lava, even though it's rock, it can be pretty fragile and can break off into the ocean. So keep your eyes out for that. But also, another thing to keep your eyes out for is the rainbow lava. So there's. [00:16:22] Speaker C: What's that? I don't remember seeing any rainbow lava. [00:16:24] Speaker B: Ooh. I've seen a couple places, and I showed you when we were hiking there, too. But it's okay. You don't remember. That's fine. So besides black lava, different minerals will change the color of lava as it flows. So there's some portions, especially on the hole sea arts trail, where you get these patches of not only rainbow color. [00:16:46] Speaker C: I remember. That's right, yeah. [00:16:48] Speaker B: So you get like a streak of blue, streak of red, streak of greenish yellow and orange in the black lava. And I just think it's really cool and unique. [00:16:56] Speaker C: Yeah, you love rocks. [00:16:58] Speaker B: I love it. [00:16:58] Speaker C: You were so fascinated by all of the lava flow and all of the rocks and everything around. [00:17:05] Speaker B: So on that hike, it's really cool to also see that there's the two different types of lava flow in Hawaii. You've got the aha lava, which is that chunky, looks like a bunch of busted up rocks, and it just kind of flows and breaks up as it goes. And then there's the pahoi hoi lava, which is the billowy. It's like black marshmallow fluff, and you get to walk between both of them. And that's really what I think is neat to see up close is the pahoi hoy flows, and there's lots of opportunities along the chain of craters road to stop and actually to look at all that. So besides the main portion of Hawaii volcanoes National park, there's two other units that I mentioned. So there's the mona loa unit, which is actually right next to the entrance to the main part of the park. And then there's the kahuku unit, which the kahuku unit is over, actually, it's closer to Kailua Kona. It's over on the Kona coast, and they are so different. So the monoloa unit for there you go in on the Monaloa access road and it starts to take you up the mountain. And what you'll find is right after you get in there, there's a couple of different trailheads, including the Puo Lukuana trailhead, which they also call the bird hike. And the bird hike is pretty cool. [00:18:22] Speaker C: Is it because it's like, shaped like a bird or are there birds on the hike? [00:18:24] Speaker B: No, it's like the ultimate place to go for birding. So when I was just there, when we were in that area, there was, gosh, we saw pheasants. We saw some of the coolest birds. One of them was Urkel's franklin, which is this really funny looking, almost like a grouse. They were just absolutely everywhere. And then the other, which was really pretty, was the khalig pheasant, which I could count on one hand how many pheasants I've seen in my life outside of Hawaii. And both of them were just absolutely beautiful with amazing plumage. [00:18:58] Speaker C: I was going to ask what made it beautiful. [00:19:00] Speaker B: Oh, yeah, the plumage, especially the pheasant with the really, really red eyes and then the green feathers, but then the franklin. I actually hadn't seen something like that besides a grouse. And it's much prettier than a grouse. Maybe it was just much prettier because it's Hawaii and so it makes it prettier. But I think that's actually one of the highlights of both that hike and being on Monoloa Road. And as you go and you continue to drive up, it is one of the prettiest drives that you can find on the island because you're going through totally different types of forests than anywhere else that you see. And when you get to the top right now, when I was there, they still had the primary monolo lookout trailhead closed because of the recent eruptions. But when that's open, it'll take you from that dense forest, out across different types of lava and give you a totally different view. And from where the road ends, there is actually a really incredible view down into the Kilauea crater. So you can actually see the crater and see all of the steam and everything coming up from it. Ooh, I bet it would be really cool to drive up there at night and see lava glow from there. Probably next time. [00:20:07] Speaker C: I have to ask, though, because there's probably some people who are listening are like, why on earth would you go there when the volcano is erupting? Like, how safe is it, really? [00:20:15] Speaker B: Well, that's a good question. I think it is super safe. And the reason I think this is because they monitor activity so very much that they close things if they are concerned that an area is going to be unstable or dangerous. So when you're seeing lava glow, if you want to be closer than you can get from the Monola lookout, then you can hike to even still, when you hike to the closest spot, you're still at least a mile away. [00:20:46] Speaker C: So if the national park is open, you have to assume it's pretty safe because they would close everything and share warnings if there happened to be exactly nervous about. [00:20:55] Speaker B: So, I mean, in past eruption periods, there have been times where fissures have opened outside of the park, like in people's backyards, in neighboring towns, and people have had lava come up in their yard and had to evacuate and things like that. That isn't something that is currently happening. And when that happens, usually they have some good indications that there's going to be an event that's like that. But if the park is open and they've got lava viewing available, that means that it's safe enough to be there. So I have zero concern about visiting if it's open. I mean, it's the national park Service. They close things. If there was a bear that walked through an area two days ago, makes sense. [00:21:37] Speaker C: I just was thinking about, like some people might be wondering about. [00:21:40] Speaker B: No, I mean, it's a good point. So another part of the park, and this is a part that you haven't been to, the Kahuku unit. It's over on the Kona coast side. It is extremely different from either the Kilauea portion or Mona Loa in that you're not going there. Know, epic views into a crater or to look out across the Pacific Ocean. It is this totally different space with red dirt and red rock and peacock colored rocks and huge cinder cone that you can hike to. It's dense vegetation. It's the most lush green grass I've ever seen in my life. And it is a really easy place to visit. If you're not actually going to be leaving the Kona coast, but you still want to kind of get into the park and experience part of Hawaii Volcanoes National park, you can drive in. It's very close to the green sand beach and the black sand beach, so it's not like you're not going to be in the area anyways. But you can drive in and then do just one of the simple hikes as short as like a half an hour. And you can still see some absolutely beautiful, really bizarre rock formations and have some cool experiences. Lots of mongoose there and lots of bird watching. So you can get some great wildlife shots in there if you're looking to do some photography. Actually, this last time on the hike down from the top of the cinder cone, I got a great picture of two mongoose meeting. [00:23:06] Speaker C: Oh, wow. [00:23:06] Speaker B: Yeah, I surprised them. Sounds like it was hilarious, but yeah. So that's another part of the park that you can easily plan, even if you're not, if Hawaii volcanoes National park isn't your main goal with visiting the big island. So I think that's pretty cool. [00:23:22] Speaker C: I feel like probably for most people visiting the big island, the park has to be on their list. You'd think this has to be a bucket list item for people traveling to Hawai. [00:23:30] Speaker B: But it's funny because as I talk to people and gosh, even just being on the island and talking to people, sometimes that's not even something that's on their radar, like, they're there to have a hawaiian vacation, or they're there just for snorkeling and to relax at their hotel, that's not how we travel, so it isn't something that occurs to me to do, just, like, hang out at a hotel. But there are people. That's how they plan their trips. So, yeah, they might not even be aware that going to this active volcano island means that they can do something. [00:24:02] Speaker C: Lava. [00:24:02] Speaker B: I know my brain doesn't compute that, but, yeah. Gosh, I'm just trying to think if there's anything else that's really important or notable that we didn't at least hit on a little bit. I mean, I think it's an absolutely astounding place. So much so that I've now written about it probably four different times. [00:24:22] Speaker C: It was a once in a lifetime experience to be. Well, actually, for you it's twice. But to be able to go and actually see lava, I think it's just one of those things that you got to see, or at least for me, I really wanted to see. Yeah. [00:24:35] Speaker B: And I think it's a very kid friendly, kid appropriate national park we've been to somewhere maybe you don't quite feel quite as safe because there's lots of ledges you can fall off, like if you're doing some crazy hikes in Yellowstone or if you're worried about, know, in the Everglades, you have to be really cautious about that. Hawaii volcanoes, I feel like, is a very safe and really engaging place for kids also. So, I mean, if for nothing else, I want to head back just to take the kids so they can experience it, even though they don't want to do that long flight. [00:25:06] Speaker C: Get their junior ranger badge and get. [00:25:08] Speaker B: The junior ranger badge because they've got a packet there and it looks like a pretty intense one. I didn't do it. [00:25:13] Speaker C: Well, you're not a junior ranger. [00:25:15] Speaker B: I know. Well, cool. I think that kind of wraps it up for Hawaii Volcanoes National park. We've got several other episodes about the big island of Hawaii, including everything to do on the Kona coast and on the Hamakua coast. And then we've got more coming your way about Kauai and, yeah, lots of other national parks. We've been busy. So, yeah, watch for all those episodes and subscribe if you're not already. [00:25:38] Speaker C: All right, thanks, everybody. We'll talk to you later. [00:25:40] Speaker B: Bye. [00:25:40] Speaker A: Two Travel Dads podcast is created by Rob and Chris Taylor in St. Augustine, Florida. We'd love to answer your questions here on the podcast, providing both our experience and stories. To share our own insights into whatever you're wondering about, visit podcast episodes to leave your questions and to check out past episodes and show notes. Don't forget to hit that subscribe button and have an awesome day.

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