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Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on Big Island, Hawaii
If you visit Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island of Hawaii, you’ll see many of Hawaii’s endangered species, including the Hawaiian nene goose and i’iwi, the Hawaiian honeycreeper, in its rainforest and along the Crater Chain in the moonlight. You may also see steam and ash from the latest eruption at Halema`uma`u Crater, and you may see aurora at night.
When packing for your Big Island vacation, remember that at higher elevations like Volcanoes National Park, it gets very cold at night, often freezing. In contrast to the year-round daytime temperatures of 75° to 85° on Hawaii’s beaches, daytime temperatures here rarely rise above 60 and 70 degrees, and cool winds and precipitation can make it feel colder. Temperatures often drop to 40 degrees at night. Many homes have fireplaces, as do campsites.
Volcano Lodge has a huge fireplace where the fire is said to have been burning for over 100 years. You can stop by and check it out. You don’t have to stay in the cabin. Many who go inside to check out the gift shop or grab a hot cocoa or drink at the bar will sit for a while by the fire.
A must-see is the park’s visitor center, which offers hiking trail maps, driving maps, and lots of useful and interesting information. For no other reason than to be safe, stop here first.
In the park, you can visit a series of volcanic craters (including the steaming Halema’uma’u Crater, where you might want to leave a lei for Pele), several steam vents, and a rainforest that’s a birdwatcher’s paradise, culminating in a walk through the Thurston Lava Tube. This particular area has a well-paved path and steps. There are many hiking trails in the park and through some of the craters.
Volcano Village is populated by many artists who are drawn to Pele’s creative energy. In this small town you will find many hula workshops, fine arts and crafts at the Volcano Art Center. Cedars are everywhere, and horses and cows graze in the pastures above the village. Wild animals, however, are quite different. No bear or cougar. Wild pigs are running around, but we haven’t seen any yet.
In the summer, yellow ginger blooms profusely along the Volcano Highway (Highway 11, which leads to the park and to the southern end of the island, where you can continue to Kona). Mauna Loa and Kilauea are also popular spots among locals to pluck maila for special lei, berries for jam, and all kinds of treasures for Hawaiian Christmas wreaths.
The park also offers beautiful, pristine campsites that cost no more than the national park entrance fee. If you’ve ever thought about camping in Hawaii or just enjoy camping, you can camp here for free.
Last but not least, you may see the glow of the erupting Hale`ma`uma`u. It is often seen from the terrace of the Jaggar Museum in the park. When everyone goes quiet, you can hear it crackle! During the day, you’re likely to see steam and ash, but not lava – unless things change, and Pele has been known to change her mind without notice!
The lava flow tour is actually outside the park on the coast in Kalapana at the end of Hwy 130. It is operated by the Hawaii Civil Defense. Sometimes you can see lava flowing into the sea (about 3/4 mile away) and a ribbon of lava flowing across the terrain on the way to the sea. The second time you see nothing.
Update: Due to the eruption of Halema`ma`u, sulfur dioxide levels can occasionally be high enough to close the national park. Those with lung problems and those who are very young or very old, pregnant, should consult their health care provider before departure. You can also get a level report by calling the National Park. Due to the new eruption, you cannot walk to the edge of Halema`uma`u, but you can view from the lanai (terrace) of the Jaggar Museum in the park. It can be steam and ash by day, and shine by night. When people aren’t talking, we hear the crackle of an eruption. The lava itself here at the crater is only visible on the park’s web cam as of this writing. But you can see the lava flows in other ways, such as by helicopter, boat or at the Kalapana viewpoint.
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