The Big Island – Hawaii Volanoes National Park

1 08 2007

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park ( is one of the state’s treasures. It is home to two of the volcanoes on the Big Island, big ol’ Mauna Loa (yup, the macadamia nut company is named after it) and the still active Kilauea volcano. Now I’m not really a big park person, but this was definitely an experience I didn’t want to miss. It’s not often that you have an opportunity to walk on a live volcano (unless, I guess, you live in Hawaii).

A view of the volcano crater that we walked on via the Kilauea Iki trail.


HVNP is located in the southeast part of the Big Island about an hour south of Hilo. On the way to HVNP, we actually did stop by the aforementioned Mauna Loa macadamia nut factory because it’s one of Charles’ favorite foods. It was neat because you drive down a few miles of macadamia nut trees and they have signs that tell you about the production of these wonderful nuts. We mainly went there to go to the Mauna Loa factory store. I love outlets and Chas loves macadamia nuts so this was a logical stop for us. We bought an ungodly amount of macadamia nuts in seemly every shape and form for, um, gifts. Yes, for gifts.

There is a small village just outside HVNP called, quite appropriately, Volcano Village. There is one main road on which there are several charming bed and breakfasts. Be forewarned though, as there seems to be just one general store and a gas station and that’s about it. We stayed at the Kilauea Lodge in Volcano Village because of its restaurant’s great reputation. There are several types of buildings containing 4-5 rooms from which to choose. We stayed in the newer building, and found it very clean and rustic. The restaurant was fantastic! You can read all about the restaurant just by googling it, but the restaurant is situated in a large log building with a huge stone fireplace and specializes in game. I had the hunter stew and tristan lobster and it was excellent. The free breakfast of French toast we got the next morning was also yummy. Most people recommend that you stay in Volcano Village for two main reasons: so that you can spend more time at the park and the so you can go see the lava flow at night. Also, it’s a long drive from Kona.

We had planned on trying to see the lava, but the accessibility of the lava flow depends on Madame Pele (the volcano goddess). When we were there, you had to hike 2 miles from the end of Chain of Craters road to see the flow so I chickened out. If you want to see the lava flow, you need to check with the park beforehand online or by phone to ask about the lava flow for that day/week. However, there is still plenty to do even if you don’t see the lava flow.

When you first drive into the park, stop by the visitor center. You can check current conditions there and learn a little about the history and science of the two volcanoes. There are also bathrooms there. There are a plethora of activities in the park, including seeing the Thurston lava tube, hiking several great trails, and of course lava hunting. If you are short on time, you can simply just cruise around the park on Crater Rim Drive and see the highlights of the park, including recent lava flows that have hardened. This road takes about 40 minutes by car to make the loop. HVNP is often referred to as a “drive-thru” park because of this feature.

The rainforest portion of the Kiluaea Iki trail.


Since we only had one day at the park, we decided to do the Crater Rim Drive, then go hiking, and then drive down to the end of Chain of Craters road. There are several great hiking trails in the park but we chose to go on the popular Kilauea Iki trail because it is about a 2-4 hour hike that leads you through a rainforest and through the crater floor of the Kilauea caldera. The rainforest was very peaceful, green, and gorgeous in the way that only nature can be. The crater floor was really really hot. Sunglasses and lots of water are musts. Although at times when I was in the crater I felt like I was on a death march, I was really glad that we did the hike. The hardest part is making it back up from the floor of the crater. We started in the rainforest portion first because it is said to be an easier hike.

Unfortunately, my camera battery died and I left my charger in Chicago so I don’t have a lot of pictures of the park visit. In case you ever need to know, nowhere on the island can you find a place that has a Canon charger.

Next: Restaurant Reviews




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