After Ironman, Race to the Volcano


October means one thing on Hawaii’s Big Island: the Ironman World Championship, when more than 2,000 triathletes will compete in their sport’s most iconic event. It’ll be a pretty tense week of pre-race jitters and last-minute training in Kailua-Kona leading up to the Oct. 12 race, but afterwards you can expect to see lots of competitors and their families quickly heading off to explore the rest of the island.

There are lots of places to go post-race, but what should be the don’t-miss spot on everyone’s sightseeing list this year should be Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, stunningly transformed and almost fully reopened after the historic lava flow of 2018. At 1.5 miles in diameter and a depth of some 1,600 feet, Kilauea volcano’s Halemaumau crater is now three times as wide and more than five times as deep as it was before eruption-triggered earthquakes shook the park for several months last summer. While there’s no longer a lava lake, emerald ponds have started appearing on the crater floor, which is now apparently lower than the water table. You can get a closeup look into the crater, including a fallen portion of Crater Rim Drive, from the Keanakakoi Trail.

A couple near the Keanakakoi Crater Overlook have a sweeping view of the recently expanded Halemaumau Crater. Photo courtesy of NPS Photo/Janice Wei.

The best way to experience the national park and appreciate the effects of the eruption is to take a guided tour with Hawaii Forest and Trail. Not only do you learn all about the formation of the islands and recent volcanic activity before you enter the park’s gate, you’ll see all the highlights of the park, including the easy Keanakakoi hike, the still-billowing Steam Vents, and geological landmarks along Chain of Craters Road. Bonus: While the park’s Thurston Lava Tube remains closed temporarily, Hawaii Forest and Trail’s Epic Island Journey not only includes all the must-see sights within the park but also an excursion through a privately owned lava tube system.


Jeane Cooper

Travel and features writer Jeanne Cooper fell in love with Marin and the Bay Area as a graduate student at Stanford University. After 20 years as an editor and writer for the Washington Post, Boston Globe and San Francisco Chronicle, she began a freelance career that has taken her from the Austral Islands to Zimbabwe, with many visits to Hawaii in between. Her stories have appeared in numerous national and regional magazines, including Hemispheres, Sunset, San Francisco and Nob Hill Gazette, as well as Marin and Local Getaways. The author of several Frommer’s guidebooks, she now lives on the Big Island, where she’s active in animal rescue. She still enjoys exploring Northern California with her husband and friends.