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Hawaii Island

By Jeanne Cooper • Photo by Jack Wolford

Although lava was not flowing into the ocean, the world’s longest continuing eruption continued to put on a good show at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park at press time, with molten rock surfacing on the coastal plain and in Haleamaumau Crater’s spattering lava lake. The vast park, 96 miles southeast of Kona, is also home to many other fascinating reminders of destruction and rebirth, as well as culturally significant landmarks.

Understandably, nearly all of the 1.8 million annual visitors want to ogle the belching caldera of Kilauea Volcano and to walk gingerly through the eerie tunnel of Nahuku, aka Thurston Lava Tube. Park superintendent Cindy Orlando urges first-time visitors to also make time for other “special places and unique experiences” within the park.

“The drive down Chain of Craters Road to the coastal area is pretty amazing. You drive through lava fields that open up into this incredible lava landscape and as you come down the pali (cliff), you’ve got ocean forever,” she notes.

For when you’re en route to a photo op at Holei Sea Arch, Orlando recommends the “relatively easy” two-mile round-trip hike to the Puu Loa Petroglyph Trail, where ranger-guided tours now take place most afternoons. “It traverses older lava flows and when you get to the boardwalk, you’re viewing Hawaii’s most extensive petroglyph field. It’s just a very special experience.”

The park entrance fee of $25, valid for seven days, also includes access to the Kahuku Unit, 42 miles west of the main Kilauea Visitor Center. The former ranch in rural Kau became part of the national park in 2004, but it took several years to fund necessary infrastructure and staffing, Orlando says.

The area is open Friday to Sunday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. with at least one guided hike every weekend on some of its nine miles of trails and dirt roads. “You’re going to drive through open pastures, alongside the most epic eruption in Kau from 1868, with trailheads connecting to trails,” Orlando says. “It will be a loop that just immerses you in that whole southwest rift of the lava flow.”

“Always stop at the visitor center to get the latest information and latest conditions,” Orlando says, adding that the park website also offers lava-viewing updates.

Anyone who hikes to see lava inside the park, including those who start from the county’s viewing area in Kalapana, should “wear sturdy closed-toe shoes — not rubber ‘slippahs’ — and long pants, because lava is glass and it’s sharp,” Orlando says. “They should also wear sunscreen and hats, and bring water, and, if they’re staying after dark, a flashlight with extra batteries.”

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