Honeymoon, Part II: Volcanoes National Park

By the time Greg and I finished our drive from Kona to the opposite side of the island, we were ready to crash. As we approached Volcanoes National Park, we were amazed that we could see the plumes of smoke from Kilauea on the horizon. We pulled into the tiny town of Volcano, situated in the rainforest on the slopes of Kilauea, and grabbed dinner at the Lava Rock Cafe.

When I say tiny, I do mean tiny. Despite its prime location, there are really not a lot of places to stay in Volcano. We were lucky to stay at the Chalet Kilauea, a small in right in the middle of the rainforest. They only have five rooms, and we had the continental suite. The inn had a wonderfully peaceful and relaxing main room with games, books, and hot tea to keep warm in the constant rain.

The Ohana Room

The grounds (and the hot tub!)

Going on a walk through the grounds felt a little bit like wandering through Jurassic Park, but it was a very cozy and relaxing place to stay for three days. After we rested, the next morning we got up early and went straight into the park. One thing that amazed me was that five minutes from the rainforest, the landscape changes into desert. At our first stop, the Jaggar Museum, the landscape was bare and arid.

The view of Mauna Loa from the Jaggar Museum parking lot.

The Jaggar Museum has a viewing station with a fantastic view over the Halemaumau crater of Kilauea. We were shocked by how big it is. The pictures can’t even do justice to the scale.

After gawking at the crater for awhile, we went inside and explored the Jaggar Museum. It’s small, but has some very interesting information. My favorite part was the bank of active seismographs, with a large map indicating which spots are constantly monitored.

After the Jaggar Museum we went to the nearby steam vents. We watched steam float from the sides of a large bluff over the crater.

We went to another part of the park that afternoon to enjoy a hike to the Thurston Lava Tube. We were back in the rainforest, again just a few minutes up the road from the desert.

The lava tube itself was really interesting. It was much bigger than I expected, just a giant chamber through which magma from Kilauea used to flow.

We also stopped by the Kilauea-Iki crater, another enormous crater that erupted in 1959. The floor of the crater still steams! We considered doing the 2 1/2 hour hike to the crater floor, but we were pretty tired and hungry. We hiked around the rim a little, though.

Some sense of the scale – those are the hikers at the bottom!

After dinner we drove back up to the park. First we enjoyed the eerie, apocalyptic misty dusk at the steam vent bluff. Then we drove back up to the Jaggar museum viewing area to see Kilauea at night. I have to say, I wasn’t really expecting to see much – there were no active lava flows within reasonable distance to view at night. But when we pulled up we could see the glow. It was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen, and definitely a highlight of the trip.

It was an incredible, primordial sight. We don’t often get to see the earth at its rawest, most elemental. Standing above it, all I could think about was how old our planet is, and how powerful the forces are that shape it. It puts the brevity of human life into a different perspective.

Our second day in the park was equally awe-inspiring. We started out fairly early in the day and drove down Chain of Craters road. It’s about a 30 minute drive that takes you through rainforest, down through an amazing number of lava fields to the coast.

We kept passing signs that would tell us where all the lava came from – eruptions in 1974 and so on. Eventually the road started to curve down and we got glimpses of the sea in the distance beyond the vast lava fields.

We eventually pulled over to hike the Puualoa Petroglyphs Trail. It was a relatively short hike, but surprisingly strenuous. Walking over lava is very different from your average hike through the forest. The wind was blowing like mad, and the weather kept changing on us – on the hike to the site it was hot and sunny, and on the way back it started spitting cold rain. Almost no one else was on the trail, and it was eerie at times to be alone on that vast plain of stone.

The petroglyphs were a very different sight from the raw power of Kilauea, but equally humbling. They’re between 400 and 700 years old, and we don’t know what all of them mean. This spot was considered a sacred site, where Hawaiians would come to bury the umbilical cords of their children. Once we spotted one, we realized that they were everywhere.

By the time we made it back to the car, we were tired and chilled, but we continued down to the end of Chain of Craters Road, mainly to get a look at the Holei Sea Arch, formed by lava flowing into the sea.

We drove back up Chain of Craters and back into Volcano, where we stopped at the delightful Volcano Garden Arts Ono Cafe for a meal. It’s a tiny little organic restaurant and gallery owned by an eccentric guy whom we were fortunate enough to meet. While we ate, we were serenaded by the resident goat, Ernest.

Then, on the rainy drive back to the inn, we were rewarded with a nene sighting! The endangered Hawaiian state bird was just hanging out by the local skate park. It was an awesome end to our time in Volcano.

Our flight out from Kona didn’t leave until 8pm Sunday evening, so on Sunday morning we packed up and checked out to drive the northern half of the island. We passed through Hilo, the largest city on the island, before entering the rugged Hamakua coast. We took a little side trip to Akaka Falls State Park.

Akaka Falls was stunning, but on the way back to the car we got caught in a deluge. Both of us got completely soaked to the bone. You’d think we’d have learned our lesson about Hawaii’s microclimates by then, but we forgot to bring the umbrella with us. Of course.

The rest of the drive was easy and fascinating. We took in the rugged cliffs of the Hamakua coast, passed through the beautiful ranching town of Waimea, and got to see the barren lava fields of the Kohala Coast before coming back to Kona.


Kohala Coast – people write messages with coral.

In Kona we relaxed at a Starbucks, checked out a great used bookstore, and grabbed some dinner before we turned in the rental car and went to the airport. We were tired and in for three very long flights back to Chicago, but Hawaii sent us off with one last lovely sunset.

It was an incredible trip. And it wouldn’t have been possible without all the people who helped us through our registry at Traveler’s Joy! I’m so glad we registered for our honeymoon instead of for “stuff.” It was the kind of experience we will probably not be able to enjoy again for awhile. Hawaii is magical, beautiful, and memorable. If you’re looking for a place to visit, I couldn’t recommend it highly enough.


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