The Hawai’i national parks have always been on our bucket list but weren’t something we expected to visit anytime soon. We were planning to take a trip somewhere in March and still trying to figure out where to go. I casually suggested Hawai’i if we could do it cheap and next thing you know I was trying to figure out it. Spoiler alert: Hawaii and cheap cannot be used in the same sentence. We did it as inexpensive as we could but honestly, once I had researched everything there was no way we weren’t going to make it happen.
We flew into Kona and rented a car through Turo. It was my first Turo experience and I loved it. I’m all for anything I can do myself. We left the airport, picked up our car which was waiting for us in the airport parking lot, and hit the road to Hawai’i Volcanos National Park. It’s a two hour drive which after a 5.5 hour flight was a little long, but sometimes that’s how ya roll.
We stayed at the Volcano House because we wanted to be near the crater so we had the best chance of seeing lava. Unfortunately for us, the volcano stopped erupting several days before we arrived. We saw a tiny orange glow the first night but then it stopped. The Volcano House made a great home base though.
When I first started planning for Hawaii, so many of the top things to do lists were suggesting visiting active lava flows. I eventually learned that lava flows come and go, which makes sense, and seeing active lava is not something you can really plan for. Just an FYI if you are planning a trip and expecting to see lava flowing into the ocean like I was. Prior to our trip, I followed USGS Volcanoes and Hawaii Volcanos National Park on social media so I could stay current on the lava situation. Between when we booked our trip and arrived, Mauna Loa erupted once and Kilauea started and stopped multiple times. Basically, don’t get your hopes up.
We visited in March and it was really rainy. The side of the island where the national park is is more rain foresty so that means it rains often. Be sure to bring a rain jacket but don’t let the rain prevent you from planning a trip. Granted I live in the desert and rain is a treat, but the rain added to the adventure.
We don’t own rain jackets so we borrowed some from friends for this trip. On our first full day on the island we woke up to rain but were really excited to use our rain jackets so we hopped in the car and set out to adventure in the rain. I’m sure you can see where this is going. Our first stop was Crater Rim Drive to see into the crater. It was pouring rain so I’m not sure why we actually left the hotel but we thought our rain jackets were going to save us. They didn’t. Turns out, the rain jacket I borrowed was actually a wind breaker, and rain jackets don’t protect your pants from the rain. We were sopping wet in about 60 seconds.
We got back in the car, went back to the hotel, and changed into dry clothes. Because my rain jacket was actually a wind breaker, the down jacket I was wearing underneath ended up soaking wet. Overall this was a hilarious and humbling experience. Just a reminder of how little we can actually control in life. After using a hair dryer to dry my down jacket, we drove into Hilo so I could buy an actual rain jacket. We learned two lessons in this experience. 1. Exploring in light rain is fun. Pouring rain does not make for a good experience even if you are fully waterproof. 2. Make sure your gear is actually waterproof.
Over the next two days we explored as much of the park as we could in short bursts. Rain was is the forecast so we didn’t want to do anything that would leave us out in the elements for hours on end. That meant shorter adventures but we still saw so much and had a blast. The Chain of Craters Road is 18.8 miles and takes you from the visitor center all the way to the ocean. It’s a beautiful drive with stops all along the 18 miles. Some of our favorite stops were:
Thurston Lava Tube. The lava tube itself was a little anticlimactic but the area is beautiful. Oh, and it was raining so being in the tube gave us a quick rain break.
The parking lot for the lava tube is on the opposite side of the road of the trail…just a little FYI. There is a trail right in front of the parking lot so we started down that. Eventually we turned around and figured out where to go. The walk to the lava tube is through the rain forest and the flora is just gorgeous.
Pu’u Huluhulu Cinder Cone Hike. This hike starts at the Mauna Ula Trailhead parking lot. It takes you through a lava flow from the 1969 – 1974 eruption of Kilauea and to the top of the Pu’u Huluhulu cinder cone. The trail is marked with cairns so be sure you’re paying attention.
We were hiking in a drizzle so we basically had the trail to ourselves. The contrast between the lava and flora is beautiful. The lava carrot below is one of my favorites. Nature is the coolest.
Holei Sea Arch. The Chain of Craters road ends at the parking lot for the Holei Sea Arch. It’s a 90 foot arch carved cut into the lava flows by the sea.
The drive down to the sea is gorgeous. Prior lava flows ran all the way to the ocean and you can see it on the drive. When it was active it looked like a lava water fall running off the cliffs.
The sea arch is a short walk from the parking lot. In general there isn’t much to do down here but it is gorgeous.
Just passed the arch we noticed a small grouping of coconut palm trees so we walked over. I’m not sure of the story behind them. They either grew out of the lava or the lava somehow missed them. So random.
On our way back up the road we stopped at the top of the hill to eat lunch and take in the view one last time. The reflection of the clouds on the ocean was breathtaking. I could have stayed there all day.
Our final night in the park we ate dinner at the Volcano House. Exploring and hiking all days works up an appetite and the food was fantastic. The restaurant overlooks the crater so we were treated to sunset with dinner.
We had a great time and are glad we made the trip to Hawai’i Volcanos National Park.