It was awesome. Hot molten lava spilling into the ocean! Tour boats so close we believed their hulls surely must be made of asbestos! We sat for almost an hour entranced by the spectacle, waiting impatiently for the late afternoon sun to give way to darkness, revealing the red, hot lava within the steam spiraling skyward.
Our trip to the Big Island was a celebration of both my birthday and our anniversary. Yes, that’s right. Several years back I got a shiny new husband on my birthday so we now have two reasons to celebrate on that day. We’d hopped a plane to the Big Island, checked into lodging in Volcano, then headed down to where the lava enters the ocean. “Pop up” bike stores at the end of the road rent bikes for about $20 for 3 hours for the 45 minute ride over the crushed lava path to the “site.” You can also walk, but it will take you about 1.5 to 2 hours to cover the 4.5 miles.
Along with the bike you can rent a basket, headland for your hat and a helmet. Then off you go! The “road” is relatively flat with a few small hills. Don’t worry – you won’t be the only one out there so even if you need to take your time, there’s plenty of others doing the same.
Make sure you go out during daylight – we arrived around 4:30PM which was perfect. It was light enough to enjoy the views going out (plus we knew what to expect coming back) and just in time for stunning sunset views. Don’t bother going before 3PM as the parking attendants are not there and visitors are sometimes cited if they just park along the road. Anytime from 3:30 to 9 is good.
As if the lava pouring into the ocean wasn’t enough, this amazing sunset provided the perfect backdrop. We didn’t stay much past sunset as it was finally dark enough to see the “red” in the hot lava plus we wanted to get a head start on our ride back.
Surprisingly, upon returning there were all new “pop up” eating “establishments” in case you’d worked up an appetite. It was quite an adventure and certainly well worth doing! There are several bike rental “shops” to choose from but we rented from kaimurentals.com. To reach the viewing area from Volcano, drive towards Hilo on Hwy 11 (Mamalahoa Hwy;) turn right on Hwy 130 just outside of Kurtistown, and stay on 130 until the end which is Kalapana.
Our next adventure was into Hawaii Volcanos National Park to see Madam Pele in person. The last time we explored the park, which is open 24/7, was several years ago when the lava was barely visible. The recent activity is quite different, and very dramatic. The best viewing is from the Jagger Museum at the far end of the park, where there are permanent spotting scopes for up close and personal views. Even without the scopes, the bubbling lava can easily be seen by the naked eye, even though the actual lava is about a mile away!
While the view from Jagger is far and away the best, there are other view points. One we particularly like and recommend is from the Volcano House, a lodge located within the National Park. Here, you can book a room or simply enjoy a meal while viewing the caldera. We had dinner there twice and loved it. The first night was without reservations (recommended) so we opted to dine at the bar.
Although the caldera is the obvious focal point, there are also sulfur banks, steam vents, a visitor’s center, a lava tube and a hike across the dormant Kilauea Iki crater to explore. All of these are easily reached while in the park. The lava tube is a cool respite if the day is warm and is well lit and large enough so that you do not have to duck. It was fun to explore and the rainforest surrounding it is simply beautiful.
You can also hike the 4 mile dormant Kilauea Iki loop which is fairly barren. If it’s a hot day, best to go in the early morning. The trail starts high on the ridge and descends gradually to the floor which is where the vegetation gives way to lava rock. It’s not hard to imagine that you are hiking on the moon!
If you tire of volcanic activity, Hilo is a short 45 minute drive away down Hwy 11. You can also go the opposite way on Hwy 11, towards Kona, and visit the famous Punalu’u beach, also known as Black Sand Beach. Turn makai (towards the ocean) between mile marker 56 and 57 on Alanui Road. We made the drive and our efforts were rewarded with the opportunity to see several turtles resting on the beach. Remember to stay at a minimum of 25′ from them if there are no barriers, and if there are barriers, respect those also!
The Village of Volcano is charming and quaint. There are quite a few restaurants for all price ranges. If coffee is your “thing.” as it is ours, you’ll find a coffee counter inside of the Kilauea General Store that will whip up just about anything you want! We had a great time exploring both the Volcano Village, as well as the National Park and the surrounding areas. Highly recommended! If you’d like to see more photos of our trip to Volcano, please check out our Facebook page where we posted several others.