Saturday, February 13, 2010

Volcano Notes

Since we’re on the subject of Kilauea (January was Volcano Awareness Month), I thought it’d be a good time to share some additional information about visiting Volcanoes National Park.

First, the Park is beautifully laid out for visitors and booking a guided tour to experience it isn’t necessary.  (However, if you happen to be there when a ranger offers a guided walking tour, please take advantage of this.  Our guests that have been lucky enough to happen upon one of these have appreciated the naturalist/geologist-guide’s insight.)  There are two main roads that pass through the Park: Crater Rim Drive (which circles the main crater), and Chain of Craters Road, which runs down to the water.  The tour buses stick to these two main roads, so all the small hikes/walks/viewing spots set just off these main roads are clearly marked and easily accessible. 

However, if you would like to participate in a tour, here are a few that our guests have tried and enjoyed: 

By Boat:

By Bike:

Private walking/hiking tours:,,

The Park is always open; you can go at any time.  We do suggest, however, (if it is a concern) that visitors check the Park website to determine if any parts of the main roads are closed due to volcanic emissions (this is a safety precaution) before they head out, or to find out specifically where live lava can be viewed (if this is something they want to do).  It is also important to be prepared with the proper attire as the weather in the Park is notoriously changeable.  Please bring good walking/light hiking shoes, and an extra layer in case of rain.  For serious hikes outside the park and/or lava viewing, hiking boots, water, flash lights, and rain gear are necessary. 

Our favorite small hike within the Park itself (there are several extended, serious desert hikes outside of the main park which need to be properly prepared for) is Kilauea Iki (little Kilauea).  The trailhead is located right of Crater Rim Drive.  We like this hike because although it’s short and not difficult (it took us just a couple of hours total) you get to see four distinct volcano environments in one relatively small area.  You pass through one kind of rainforest and exit through another (which means you get to see beautiful plants and hear lovely birdcall).  And as you cross the crater you get to see several different types of lava.  The day we were there it was sunny, hot, and clear and the olivine deposits in the rough lava (a’a) shone like green diamonds in the sun.  Native hawks circled overhead and way down in the crater there was no sound but wind.  It was one of the loveliest short hikes we’ve enjoyed on the island.

Sometimes the question about vog, or volcanic smog, arises.  Sometimes the smog is so thick in Volcano town or in the Park itself that it is visible and accompanied by a strong sulfur smell.  If emissions within a portion of the Park (normally near Halemauma’u crater where Pele is believed to dwell) are considered too high to be safe (emissions are constantly monitored) then that part of the road is closed temporarily.  If a guest has a preexisting condition that makes them sensitive to respiratory irritants, they should take appropriate precautions (don’t get too close to the plume, carry your inhaler if you’re an asthmatic, etc.).  However, vog should not be a worry for most guests.  I can speak to this personally because I have asthma.  It took two months after moving here for me to see that I had an allergy to the vog, so guests who are here for a regular visit of a week or so will most likely feel nothing.  My symptoms are completely controlled on medication and, although I carry my inhaler with me when we visit the Park, I’ve never had a problem.  As far as vog traveling around the island, it's completely dependent upon the winds.  Trade Winds blowing across the island can push it up to Kailua or even as far north as Oahu.  The Kona Winds blowing down here push it back the other way and keep our little spot down here near the water nice and clear.

Lastly, it must be said that while Volcanoes National Park is a major draw for visitors, if it doesn’t sound interesting to you, that’s okay!  We’ve had some guests who fall in love with the Volcano, some who drive through it in a day and are done, and some who have no interest in it at all.  It’s perfectly fine not to go if you don’t want to.  We’re not big proponents of “check list” traveling.  Just relax and do what you feel like doing – it’s your vacation.


No comments:

Post a Comment