Big Island Volcanoes and the Kilauea Iki Trail

Visiting Hawaii was one trip that I wasn’t sure I’d be able to check off my bucket list, but as luck would have it, one of my cousins decided to move to Oahu and choose this lovely island as the place she would be married.  So in 2012, my husband, my parents, and my extended family made the eight hour flight across the Pacific Ocean.  And while I thoroughly enjoyed my time on Oahu, the best part of my Hawaiian adventure was a day trip to the Big Island to pay a visit to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.  


I can’t drive past a sign without a photo op. This is outside the eastern entrance to the park.

My mom and I decided to plan the day out and surprise my dad.  We booked the first flight out on Hawaiian Airlines, and as we flew to our destination, the sun began its rise for the day.  One short hour later, we were getting our rental car and hitting Ken’s House of Pancakes for a little sustenance to start our day.

From Ken’s it was off to Rainbow Falls, a short car trip.  Here I hoped to see the light display the falls were named after, but it turned out to be a cloudy morning, and we were not lucky enough to see the rainbows promised on most early mornings.  All the same, the falls were lovely.  The lemon hibiscus that lined the paths were too much for me to ignore, and I had to pick one to shove behind my ear Hawaiian style.  After a quick photo shoot at the falls, we were on to our real destination, the volcanoes.


Rainbow Falls lacking the rainbows.


Me and my hibiscus



Ready for a day of adventure on the Big Island


Hawaii is synonymous with volcanoes, and Kilauea has been continuously erupting for thirty years.  While it’s difficult to see the red-hot lava unless you are on a helicopter tour, we were able to see the steam vents in full force on our day trip.  Our arrival began with a stop at the visitor center where we were offered the best views of the steam plumes.


Our first view of Pele at work.


Unfortunately, this is the only lava I saw on our trip.

From there it was off to explore some lava tubes before stumbling upon an overlook of a giant crater of what was once a lava lake.  As we peered down to the crater floor, we saw people that looked to be the size of ants creeping along the caldera floor.  How did they get down there we all asked each other.  And slightly to our right we saw the trailhead, the Kilauea Iki Trail to be exact.


Thurston Lava Tubes…lava used to run in rivers through this tunnel.

 “Hey, that looks like a fun, easy hike,” were the famous last words we heard before heading onto the four-mile-loop.  My mom had broken her foot earlier in the trip and was in a boot.  She was determined to get some hiking in, and the trail looked mostly flat, so we decided to tackle the four miles.


View from the Kilauea Iki Trailhead.


More views of the caldera we will hike down into.

We began the easy part, the downward descent.  The trail rolled through the rainforest slowly bringing us lower and lower to the crater floor.  Along the way we were enveloped by the lush green ferns and trees that I can’t even begin to pronounce.  Everything is vivid shades of green.  It’s hard to imagine that red-hot lava once shared the space below my feet.


Fauna along our hike.


Flora along our hike.

Emerging from the rainforest we felt like we had just landed on the moon, albeit a black one.  Shades of black, red, and brown razor sharp rocks replaced the lush verdant foliage.  And while these lava rocks looked like they weighed tons, the didn’t.  Upon picking up a rather large one, I was surprised to see how light it was.  Each of these remains were filled with numerous air holes causing them to weigh considerably less than what you might think.


Inside the caldera with a view of cooled lava floes.


A piece of surprisingly light lava rock

As we traversed the floor of what used to be a lava lake, I saw puffs of steam off to the left.  Rising through the cracks in the floor are steam vents reminding me that this is still a very active volcano.  While it would be pretty awesome to see hot lava, I was hoping that Pele wasn’t going to choose today to reemerge from the flowing lava underneath our feet.


Walking along the floor


Making our way out of the caldera



Life in the strangest places

The temperature at the bottom of the crater was considerably hotter than at the top.  My taste buds were dry and craving a gulp of water, but we didn’t bring any with us.  So we ascended those 400 feet we had so easily traipsed down an hour earlier quite dehydrated.  This time all of our minds were on water so the ascent was quicker than I thought it would be, though somewhat challenging.  Along the way it was so easy to watch the landscape change from desolate to lush within the matter of steps.  Orchids and Fiddlehead Ferns dotted the trailside helping me forget my thirst.


Wild orchid on the return trip up the side of the crater


Then we were emerging from the crater with our car in view.  Four miles down into an old lava lake was definitely something that was bucket list worthy, but none of us could think of that at the moment,  all we wanted was water.  As I gulped from the container in the car, I had a vague sense of deja vu to backpacking in the Grand Canyon.  Didn’t we once do a hike before without enough water?  I guess we never learn.


Four miles completed and not too worse for the wear

 What I did learn was that I must make a trip back to Hawaii to the Big Island.  One long day in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park was not nearly enough time.  There were so many more trails to explore, the coast to view, and Mauna Kea to drive up.  Yes, I think another trip to the islands sounds perfect.


I can’t wait to go back!