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Excursion with the Baby Boomers: A Tour to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.

In Sina's Posts, Tamás' Posts, Trips on June 20, 2012 by SN

Tamás and I are both fascinated by volcanoes – not just since the Iceland volcano canceled our weekend trip to Istanbul in 2010. Therefore, we decided to attend a tour that examines this fascinating geological phenomenon. After all, Big Island is one of few islands in the world where  volcanoes are still active. Kilauea is one of the five volcanoes at the southern tip of the island which has been erupting since 1983 – the longest running eruption so far and the reason why Big Island is still growing.

Our tour guide Jimmy picked us up in the morning. The van was already packed with a girl from the military and four couples who spend their retirement in Florida. They booked a tour of three islands Maui, Honolulu and Big Island was their last. They were in a good mood and cracked funny jokes. We were sure: This would be a fun trip.

Yet, the tour turned out a bit different from what we expected. We thought we would drive directly to the volcano and do smaller hikes around the caldera. Jimmy actually took us not only to the volcanoes, but took a little detour to the Eastern city of Hilo via the mountaintop road Saddle Road between the volcanoes Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea. We stopped at Rainbow Falls near Hilo and continued our trip south in the Puna district. At a macadamia nut farm we had a deli-style lunch. Macadamia nuts are indigenous to Hawai’i, but Hershey’s bought the last working macadamia nut farm and shut it down. The farm we had lunch on was privately owned and allowed us to crack our own nuts. Around 2 pm, we went onto lava for the first time, a bit late if you consider that we had been in the car since 9 am.

Rainbow Falls, Hilo. One of the Additional Destinations.

Our first volcano walk in Kalapana area lead us to a lava field which was created from a 1991 lava stream. It is one of the few ones that are younger than Tamás and I are. Imagine that the lava field formed when the Soviet Union collapsed, Germany struggled with its post-reunification crisis, and Euro Dance dominated the charts. The stream poured onto the Kalapana shore and filled this cute little bay with thick black pahoehoe lava, the smooth flowing lava. Besides filling up the bay, it also overflowed the Kalapana village which is now buried under a thick layer of black molten rock. We walked on this lava field all the way to the new coast line which was rough, choppy, and cracky. We were stunned by the sheer size of the stream even though we just walked the very tip of this mile-long stream.

Kalapana Bay: Former Shoreline (left), 1991 Lava Stream Poured into the Bay.

Pahoehoe Lava.

New Shoreline. Ocean Breaking Up Lava.

After exploring one of the most recent streams, we drove up the Kilauea caldera where we were finally able to see the Halema’uma’u crater. Halema’uma’u is a smaller crater within the larger Kilauea volcano crater which has re-entered an active phase last year. Because of this, parts of the streets and hiking trails were closed for the public. From the Jagger Volcano Museum viewing platform Halema’uma’u looks like a huge steaming soup bowl. Only the slow ascending white clouds hint at the volcano’s activity inside the big round hole in the earth. Only at sunset, the true dimension of the caldera becomes visible: The crater starts to glow in countless shades of orange and red like the abyss of hell, but the entire scenery is very peaceful and quiet. No tremor, no rumble, not shakes.

Not Your Average Nissin Cup: Halema’uma’u Crater.

Halema’uma’u at Night.

This was also the only possibility to see the glowing volcano. We did not see lava flowing down the hill or entering into the sea. This indeed is a very rare and dangerous occasion. We could see former lava flows, so-called lava tubes, that formed underground channels. We hiked down the Thurston Lava Tube which was created more than 400 years ago and looked like a cave.

Inside a 400-year Old Lava Stream. Thurston Lava Tube.

We enjoyed the volcano tour and liked especially the Kalapana lava hike and the lookout over Halema’uma’u. However, despite fact that the tour was advertised as one of the Hawai’i highlights, we both had a bit a different opinion about the tour. We thought we would see more of the area in the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park itself, going down the Chain of Craters Road, hiking down the Kilauea Iki Crater or driving on the Crater Rim Drive. We mostly spent the day in the van learning much about Big Island and Volcanoes, but we felt that the best parts had been kept from us. Instead we stopped at Hilo and Rainbow Falls which was nice, but a bit unnecessary for our taste. We felt that we could have done this volcano tour also with a car and the maps given at the National Park entrance. If we come back to Big Island, we might as well do that.

For more pictures on our volcano tour, please visit Tamás’ Flickr page.

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