Hawaii, The Big Island - Part 2

Traversing lava fields in Volcanoes National Park. Photo by Peter Constantinople.

Traversing lava fields in Volcanoes National Park. Photo by Peter Constantinople.

Day 3

Our third day on The Big Island began with a delicious breakfast at the Kilauea Lodge and Restaurant. A couple we ran into at Waipi’o Valley recommended it to us, and it certainly did not disappoint! After our tasty meal, we decided to head back to Volcanoes National Park and hike the End of Chain of Craters Road Trail. This trail leads you to witness active flowing lava. You get a first row seat to the creation of land!! So incredible. We love to use an app called AllTrails to discover new hikes wherever we are, and on AllTrails, this hike is rated as hard. The majority of the terrain itself is not actually too hard to hike - it’s pretty much completely flat on a gravel path - but, what makes it hard is the distance. AllTrails says 10.3 miles roundtrip, but we actually calculated closer to 11. Plus, if you do actually want to hike over to be within a few feet of the active flowing lava, you do have to walk across fairly recently cooled lava, which IS uneven, brittle, and in certain areas, quite delicate. The best time to do this hike is in the late evening or early morning. During the day, it’s much harder to distinguish actively flowing lava from the recently cooled lava. It’s only in the dark that you can properly see that expected red glow. I’ll be totally honest with you, this hike definitely scared me a bit! Even though we had heard that it was actually safer to hike in the dark, I was nervous about hiking something in the dark that I had never done in the daylight. Plus, it didn’t help, that we had heard a few horror stories about people getting all turned around and lost because everywhere you look, the view looks almost the same.

So, that’s why we decided to do a scouting mission first. We set out to hike the trail during the day, to get a feel for what the path and terrain were like, and get a general sense of where the active lava was, so that we’d know where exactly to set our destination when hiking the next morning. On our way out, we crossed paths with a couple of tour guides that lead group hikes to the lava before sunrise each day. How serendipitous! They confirmed that it was best to view the lava at that time of day, and, they pointed in the general direction where the lava flow was currently happening. We realized that it would be much easier to maintain a sense of where you are in the dark than we thought. Now that we had an understanding of what the surrounding land was like, we learned that the lava flow would actually be like our compass. We felt much more prepared and excited to hike to the lava early the next morning.

We had been totally prepared to hike all 11 miles of the trail on our scouting mission, but, since we ran into the tour guides and they informed us of pretty much all we needed to know, we ended up hiking only about half of it. That left us with extra time in our day, so, we decided to hike the Pu’u Huluhulu Trail. This trail was another apocalyptic-feeling trail, as we once again traversed over fields of cooled lava. This time, the destination, the Mauna Ulu Crater. Sometimes it felt as though we were wandering aimlessly in the middle of nowhere, as at times, the ahu (cairns) were hard to follow. It brought upon this eerie but also somewhat exciting feeling. Eerie, because of the lack of other people around and the massive cracks, holes, and lava-carved caves in the ground. Exciting, because we were walking on land that had been formed in our parent’s lifetime. How crazy is that?! 

Standing on the edge of the Mauna Ulu Crater felt particularly spooky and exhilarating. Soaking in the view of great amounts of steam rising up from the bottom of this massive hole in the ground got my heart racing like I had just gone for a run. It felt as though at any moment, the ground I was standing on would crumble below me and I would plunge into Mauna Ulu’s grasp. I’m not saying this to scare you, or to suggest that you shouldn’t hike to the edge of Mauna Ulu. On the contrary, standing there, I felt ALIVE. More importantly, I felt the depth of what it means to be a living creature on this magnificent planet. I understood the importance of feeling it all, of seeing it all, and of experiencing it all. It reinforced the significance of appreciating every little moment and part of this life.

After our hike, we actually headed back to the Kilauea Lodge and Restaurant for dinner (because it was that good!!). We turned into our tranquil treehouse shortly after to catch enough zzz’s before our early rise the next morning. We couldn’t wait to finally hike to and witness the active flow of lava.


Day 4

Another 3:30am wake up call and an hour drive later, we were at the trailhead ready to rock and roll. We could already see the lava glowing off in the distance. It was fiercely beautiful. As we made our way towards it, I couldn’t help but think about Pele, the Hawaiian Goddess of Fire. Not only a goddess of fire, she also governs lightning, wind, volcanoes and violence. She is said to have created all of the Hawaiian islands. Pele is both a creator and destroyer. How undeniably true it is that nothing new can be created without first the destruction of something else. The two totally go hand in hand. In order for a new creation to manifest, the space for that creation must first be formed by the end of some other chapter. To be able to view this process taking place in front of our eyes, well truthfully, there are really no words to describe how fascinating it was.

As we approached the flowing lava, the ground below grew hotter and the sun began to rise. We were slightly disappointed, as we realized we were a bit mislead by the tour guides the day before. I think there was just some sort of miscommunication between us, because we had left the conversation with them thinking that the lava flow was a bit closer than it actually was. By the time we finally did reach the activity, the sun had totally risen. We could still see a bit of the glow, but the majority of it had already faded away. This was slightly unfortunate for photographing, but still, incredibly wild to be standing next to. The lava was so hot, waves of heat were visible in the air. Smoke billowed up from cracks in the earth. Pele, the destroyer, was hard to miss. After hiking so many miles - in general on our trip so far, and, across so much uneven terrain on this particular trail - we left with blisters and sore muscles. Even so, our hearts were full with appreciation for experiencing this once in a lifetime opportunity, and a magnificent understanding of the fascinating, natural cycle of life.

After our adventurous morning, the afternoon called for some much needed downtime. So, we headed south to Punalu’u, a gorgeous black sand beach. We thoroughly enjoyed some time napping beneath the shade of palm trees, giving our sore muscles some love with a short yoga practice, and watching as a group of sea turtles swam near the shoreline. One of the most beautiful parts of this beach was actually a pond we were surprised to find parallel to the ocean. Adorned with lotus flowers, surrounded by lush vegetation, and occupied by the local Nene bird, this little pond certainly added to the tranquil aroma of the location.

Feeling at peace, we grabbed some dinner at Hana Hou, the southernmost restaurant in the United States. After, with hearts and bellies full, we crashed for the evening to rest up before the exciting adventures were to continue the following day.


(To be continued…)