Saturday, March 13, 2010

Hawai'i: Volcano National Park

Hawaii's Volcano National Park is probably one of the coolest places you could ever visit. It is a bizarre combination of lush tropical rainforest and harsh moon-like lava fields and craters. We sent the majority of our time in the park on Kilauea. Kilauea is still an active volcano. While we were their it was spewing huge amounts of sulphur dioxide, which meant they had to close some roads and trails because of the danger to human life. Our first night in Volcano we went to check out the glow of lava inside the vent. The best time to do this is at night.
It was very cold because of the elevation but so super cool to see that glow. I wish we could have gotten closer but the gases are too dangerous. We decide to spend the entire next day exploring the park. We started the morning with a ranger guided tour. Luckily we were the only ones that showed up so we got a personal tour. Ed was really knowledgeable and so enthusiastic about the volcanoes. We started by touring the sulphur banks. It was an interesting sight; all those bright yellow crystals.
Our tour with Ed also included a trip to Halema`uma`u crater, some steam vents and the nearby forested areas. The steam vents are revered as a health treatment. Many people (locals and visitors) some to bask in the purity of the steam that comes from within the earth. It was nice, since it was a cool day, stand over the vents and enjoy the warmth.
 It was great to be able to ask questions about all the really interesting plants we saw. There was tons of fern. All kinds, some even towered over me. We also played around with some sleeping plants (when you touch them their leaves shrink away from you). There were wild orchids, berries (some that we got to taste) and beautiful trees. My very favorite plant (which is actually a tree) was the Ohia tree. Their blossoms, Lehua, are said to be manifestations of Pele (the Hawaiian god of fire that lives within the volcanoes on the islands). The bright red fire-esque flowers are all over the park and I just loved them.

After we parted ways with Ranger Ed, we decided to do the Kilauea Iki trail. The trail took us through some amazing rainforest. The ferns were beautiful, the trees were towering and the random flowers delighted me. We kept our eyes open for Nene but never saw any. The trail takes you down into the Iki crater. The change in terrain is dramatic.
Once you are inside the crater is like you've left Earth. The volcanic rock feels strange beneath your feet, it crunches as you walk on it (almost like glass). There were jagged edged and large vents. But still amid all the black rock there were little plants finding a home in any little crack.
 The hike out of the crater was unpleasant. It had started to rain and it was steep. I was soaked by the time we reached the top. We had spent 5 hours hiking that day and the fog was setting in so we called it a day. We were wildly impressed with all we got to see that day.
 A couple days later we decided we wanted to see some surface flows. So we drove out to a lava field near Pu'u O'o vent. We walked about 1/2 mile over 4 month old lava (it was still a little warm and had a very glassy and metallic look) and watched some lava flowing down the mountain side. It was something I will probably never see again
Driving out from the lava flows you drive through a town that was wiped out by Kilauea's power. The town is now a lava field with the exception of a few houses and some pieces of road. It gives you a great respect for the power that is within the Earth. Our time inside Hawaii Volcano National Park was amazing and an experience I recommend to anyone. It is educational, awe-inspiring and accessible to anyone. For more information including live web-cams at the craters at Kilauea visit

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