Hawaii (Part 1)—Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

For the second time in one week, we were up above the clouds, looking down upon the Pacific paradise, the volcanic wonderland, the sandy sanctuary, the…well, you get it…the archipelago that is Hawaii.  As we left Maui, we were bid goodbye from the tip of Haleakala, the only piece of the island still visible; almost simultaneously, the island of Hawaii was drawing us in bit by bit as Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa took form.  The lower the plane flew, the higher the excitement grew for these Ramblin’ Bauers—we were ready for the adventures this new island had in store. 


If you look to the eastern coast of the island, a little above the horn feature and about half-way down, you will see the town of Hilo.  That, dear readers, is where we landed at 9:00 pm, but our day’s travels weren’t over yet.  From Hilo, we traveled south to the village of Volcano and wandered along dark, unlit roads until we finally found our night’s humble abode, Volcano Hale.  In Hawaiian, hale means house, and that’s exactly what this little place was—a four bedroom home serving as a hostel for vacationers.  This was our inauguration into the world of hostels and, frankly, we weren’t there long enough to form an opinion outside of our little room.   As a matter of fact, the next morning we were up with the sun and ready to check out the island’s big ticket item, the place we’d been so looking forward to, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. 

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Like any responsible adventurer about to tackle two days of hiking, we went in search of a good hearty breakfast and found it at the nearby Kilauea Lodge.  (Admittedly, we cheated by asking the clerk at the grocery store where to go for the best breakfast in town.)  The lodge is named for the landmark of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park,  the world’s most active volcano.  More on that subject later, let’s get back to breakfast. 

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It was here that we had our first cup of authentic Kona coffee. It was the best coffee I have ever had…ever!  Bilbo will now drink nothing other than Kona coffee.  It was just that amazing.  As for food, I stuck with your classic platter—potatoes, eggs, ham—but Bilbo took a chance on a Hawaiian favorite, the Volcano Burger.  His breakfast consisted of a burger covered in gravy and onions and topped with eggs.  That was a lot of food! 

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With very, very satisfied stomachs, we were finally on our way to the park.  Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a hot spot for geothermal activity and it didn’t take long for us to witness a display.  There were steam vents blockaded just past the entrance—a promise of bigger, more exciting things to come. 

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Speaking of bigger and more exciting things, here is a picture of a picture of Kilauea Iki in all of its glory.  In 1959, Kilauea Iki erupted leaving a lake of lava 400 feet deep.


Now hardened, this crater looks like a barren waste just beginning to come back to life.   If you look closely, you can see a trail running through the bottom of the crater.  That is the Kilauea Iki Trail, which leads along crater’s rim, through a lava tube, and ultimately into the crater itself.   This is the trail with which we began our exploration of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. 

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It begins with a meandering path through a lush rainforest vegetation, which gives one the feeling that the Smoke Monster must be just around the corner…

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Or this Dharma Initiative bunker!  Oh, wait.  That’s a lava tube—less mysterious but just as awesome! 

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When active lava flowed through this area, the lava tube was full of hot molten magma (I’ve always wanted to be able to legitimately type the words “hot molten magma” in a sentence).  Now outer layer of lava has cooled and left a tunnel.  These can be found all throughout the island of Hawaii. 

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After exiting the tube we began going down hill until we reached the crater’s base.   We were both taken aback by the number of flowering bushes growing in the volcanic debris.  In case you wondered, they didn’t have a scent. I checked.  Beyond that were piles of hardened lava that looked like a blacktop playground after an earthquake. 
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A quick, steep trip back out of the crater and we were back where we started.  Kilauea Iki…check!


As fun as it was, our 5 mile jaunt around Kilauea Iki was just our warm up for our backcountry overnight hike.  So, where did we decide to go?  We took the Keauhou trail from the top of the mountain all of the way down to the Halape seaside campground—all in all about 9 miles. 


We began in a field of lava with undulating, liquid-like patterns, some smooth and other splashing and spraying.  This lava had a different look from the black ashy variety found in Kilauea Iki.  It had a golden sparkle to it that pictures just can’t do justice for.  It was really quite beautiful.

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When we reached the edge of the lava field, the trail began a very gentle decline and entered an area vegetated with sparse bushes and a whole lot of grass.  I’m sure you’ve noticed that I am wearing a rather warm jacket while hiking in tropical Hawaii.  But you see, we started this hike at an elevation of around 3,200 feet above sea level where the temperature was in the low 50’s. Add to the equation the fact that I’m an anemic woosey and the jacket makes perfect sense.  As we lost elevation and got closer to sea level, the temperature gets much more Hawaii-like and the jacket comes off. 

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Here’s Bilbo resting during our dinner break.  I don’t know if you can see the sign behind him, but it says only three more miles to Halape!  (Notice his sleeves are rolled up now…getting warmer.)  See the little island below and the palm tree oasis?  That’s where we were headed.  Believe me, it was very exciting to be able to see our destination.  It felt like we’d been walking through that grass for ages with the ocean so far way. 

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Three quick miles later and we were looking at those palm trees up close.  Just on the other side of the palms we found a nice wall of lava rocks, perfect for shielding our tent from the wind.  Beautiful as it is, Halape is difficult to reach and that meant that it was just us and one other tent there.
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We spent a little time wandering around the beach, watched the sunset, then settled in for a tranquil night sleeping in the Hawaiian sand. 

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In the morning we were half a mile along our way when the sun came out to greet us.  There’s not much to tell about the morning.  We just walked a steep and grueling 9 miles uphill, gained 3,200 feet of elevation, finished all of our water 2 miles too soon, and were excited to see the car at the end.  Mostly because it had chairs and another gallon of water in it.  As rough as that sounds, it was a blast!  There are just some things indescribably worth pushing yourself for. 


We made a quick stop at the Jagger Museum to learn a bit about volcanoes, use an indoor restroom (any restroom facility is always a plus post hike), get a look at Mauna Loa (the mountain in the picture below, also a volcano), and snap a shot in front of Pele Hale, a steam vent named for the Hawaiian goddess of fire.

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Boy we look tired, as we very well should. After all, if you add up the 10 miles we hiked in Haleakala two days before, the 5 miles the morning before, and the 18 miles we just finished we’d hiked a total of 33 miles in 4 days.  I’d say it was time for some relaxation and rejuvenation, wouldn’t you?  That’s just what we did—in true Hawaiian style at the Royal Kona Resort Luau! 

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There was a bar made of a canoe where you could get as much as you wanted (some folks wanted a lot) including my new favorite, mai tais.  Dinner was an all you can eat buffet, which was perfect for us ravenous hikers.  The main dish was kalua pig and that is what you see in the picture below…under the mound of dirt.  That’s the imu, or earthen oven, used to roast the pig.  There we other Hawaiian dishes on the buffet as well, including the salmon salad the Bilbo liked so well, but the pig stole the show! 

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Speaking of the show, it began with the house band who played a collection of new and old Polynesian tunes while we ate and during the dances later on.  Kudos to these fellas, they were top notch performers. 

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Here’s the MC, our Hawaiian Ryan Seacrest if you will.  He explained the luau tradition, introduced us to the art of hula, and explained what each of the dances was about.  He also said a prayer over our dinner, which I thought was very nice. 


And here are the dancers!  There were men and women in the majority of the performances, which we hadn’t expected to see.  We didn’t know that the ancient dances had roles for both sexes. 

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The grand finale for the night, and where we will end our tale, was the fire dancer.  Look at that skill!  It was an exciting ending to an exciting few days. 

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Keep an eye out for more, because at this point our week on Hawaii had just begun!  Next time you’ll get to hear about our aerial tour over a volcano and our excursions throughout the island.  See you then.