Sep 202010

     When we visited Hawaii’s Big Island we spent a lot of time outdoors (see our Top 10 must do list of Hawaii Big Island activities here).  Hawaii is truly a land still being created and we were constantly amazed at the abilityof stunning plants to thrive in what appeared to be barren volcanic soil.  We thought you’d enjoy a look back at the colors and contrasts of life in the volcano zone.

     The active volcanic areas such as the Halema`uma`u crater at the Kīlauea summit and the ocean entry, where new lava pours into the sea, feature large smoking plumes of sulfur-laden gas that create a pretty hostile area for any kind of flora or fauna.

A smoldering Halema`uma`u crater on the summit of the Kīlauea volcano

     Amazingly however, plant life quickly establishes itself and works to transform the landscape.  Examples of the powers that the island’s plant life have to re-emerge after the lava cools were abundant.  Along the Devastation Trail, the cinder field left from a 1959 eruption is showing signs of new life.

The Devastation Trail shows the results of a major eruption

      But amid the cinders, new life takes hold and blooms.

Amid the cinders life renews

      Along the Chain of Craters Road, which offers access a number of trails and lava viewing overlooks, the lava fields show signs of new life.  Even in the East Rift Area, where the flows are active, the plant life returns quickly.

The lava ocean entry in the East Rift Zone

Green emerges in the most barren areas

     In older volcanic areas, such as dormant Mauna Kea which last erupted 4,500 years ago, a wide range of vegetation has returned including some very rare plants like the Silversword.

Silversword at 9,200 feet altitude near the Mauna Kea Visitor Center

     Finally, in rainy areas where volcanic activity occurred in the distant past, ferns and large trees return to stand next to ancient lava trees.

Lush ferns at Lava Tree Monument

      We felt like we were in Jurassic Park!

Lava Trees are left behind when lava cools around a live tree

     Hawaii’s Big Island is a wonderful family vacation for teens and tweens.  The challenges of hiking, snorkeling and exploring the island assure they will never get bored.  We highly recommend making the trip.

    We included a link to this post in the Delicious Baby Photo Friday round-up.  Stop by over there for more fun family travel photos.

Exploring Volcanoes National Park With Teens and Tweens

 Posted by on December 20, 2009  Comments Off
Dec 202009

This is the first in our series describing our Top 10 Big Island Adventures.  If you go to the Big Island you MUST see the volcano!  We recommend a minimum of two full days.

Volcano Overview

Each Hawaiian Island has its own personality that needs to be considered when deciding where to go.  The Big Island is one of the youngest islands and it dominated by three volcanic peaks:

  • Kilauea, the smallest but most active belches an ash-heavy plume from its summit caldera while lava flows towards the ocean through underground tubes, emerging in fingers of glowing molten streams at the edges of the mountain’s flanks.
  • Mauna Kea is Hawaii’s tallest volcano and is currently dormant.  It is home to a visitor station at the 9,200 foot level.  Travel at that level is open to all but going much higher is only for individuals older than 16 years of age due the risk of altitude sickness at the highest elevations.
  • Mauna Loa towers over the island.  It has erupted 33 times between 1843 and 1984. 

When planning a volcano visit it is important to think about timing and driving distances.  Many visitors try to make their tour of Kilauea a daytrip from Kona or Kohala but we think this is really a mistake.  The drive across the island takes several hours each way on winding, mountainous roads where speeds are slower than what you would expect on a normal stateside interstate highway.   A day trip means a very long day, cranky teens and your having to really limit your explorations.  If you came all this way, invest in staying over at least one night or more.  This is particularly important if you plan to visit the ocean entry where the active lava flow hits the ocean and creates spectacular ash-laden steam clouds. 

Kilauea Highlights

We opted to stay near Hilo on the eastern side of the island so that we would have a relatively short drive to the summit in the morning.  We started at the Kilauea Visitor Center which provides an excellent overview of the park and is the best  place to speak with park rangers about the status of the eruption and to get some pointers on the best hikes and views for your family.   The park is very large and it can take several hours to drive from the Visitor Center down Chain of Craters Road near the ocean.   

The Road can sometimes be shut down if sulfer clouds from the eruption are too heavy and there are portions of the road where signs will advise you to keep your windows rolled up.  The landscape is amazing lava desolation but those with asthma or limited time may only want to venture part way down the Road.  Since we spent an entire day we were able to view the Halema’uma crater on the summit as well as the Sulfur Banks, the collapsed Thurston lava tube (Bring a flashlight and explore beyond the lighted areas!), and a hike on the short but aptly named devastation trail  to see up close how destructive lava can be and how nature will regenerate from the ashes .   We drove the full length of  the Chain of Craters Road, which links the summit to the ocean and stopped at many overlooks and turnouts along the way. 

The Ocean Entry

We added a second day to visit the Kalapana ocean entry which requires a lengthy drive from the summit but is a fun day trip from Hilo. 

Although there are some active lava flows inside the park, for the most part access to them from Chain of Craters road requires miles of difficult hiking over lava flows.  This was more than our band of travelers was up for.

Access to the Ocean Entry is maintained by the local county and times are limited to late afternoons and early evenings.  Nights are the most recommended time to go so you can see the lava illuminate the night skies but be warned that you will be off the grid so bring flashlights, hiking boots, water, and a picnic.  Vendors are happy to sell you all these things on location but expect to pay premium prices for them.

Hilo Highlights

As I mentioned above, we stayed in Hilo and treated it as a central base camp for seeing the eastern side of the island.  Other options include Volcano Village which is very close the to Park and offers a number of B&Bs.  Some folks choose to rent a cottage or house in the Kalapana area which is very local and a bit bohemian.  The hot ponds sound interesting until you start to read about the levels of bateria found in them.  If you look into renting in that area check carefully to be sure you know what you are getting. We opted to stay out of the hot ponds.

As for Hilo, it is more industrial than touristy and the the hotels are nothing special – some reviews call them revolting.  We spent a fair amount of time looking into a range of options and ended up with a beautiful 2-room suite at the truly delightful Island’s Goode B&B located just outside Hilo in a lush, tranquil setting.  We loved the fresh breakfast served at our room daily! Sitting in the hot tub watching the stars at night was an unexpected bonus!

While you are in and around Hilo, here are a couple of other don’t miss activities in the general area

  • Akaka Falls State Park: lovely hike loop hike to 442 ft waterfalls.  Don’t leave valuables in the car although local neighborhood watch does try to keep an eye on things
  • Hilo Farmers Market: Wednesday and Sundays on Mamo Street – we missed it but everyone says it is worth an hour or two
  • Big Island Candies: a must if you have a sweet tooth

Hawaii’s Big Island Top 10 Adventures

 Posted by on December 15, 2009  Comments Off
Dec 152009

     It is hard for even the most jaded teen to be untouched by the beauty and mystery of Hawaii’s Big Island.  From volcanos to hiking, snorkeling, beaches, swimming, and of course shopping there is something for everyone. 

Top Ten Activity Links

     If you want to learn more we have created a post with details, links and pictures for each of our top 10 activities so click the links below to learn more.  We are also providing some book recommendations at the bottom of this post if you need more resources to help plan your own trip.  Enjoy! 

Please add comments or links to your own favorites below