Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Hawaii Day 5 - Big Island Volcanoes

Day 5 - Going to see volcanoes...
Volcanoes National Park

Today was the day that both John and I had been looking forward to - Volcanoes! Staying near Kona instead of Hilo meant that we had a 90 mile trip one-way instead of 30 miles but we weren't afraid of the challenge. The weather was cloudy and we ran into something that we in Atlanta are all too familiar with - signs saying Warning - Poor Air Quality. Happy to say that in this case it is caused by the active volcano spewing out sulfur dioxide instead of a jammed city full of cars.
We started out early about 7am after enjoying the hotel's complimentary breakfast buffet. What a wonderful treat that really made us miss our children. When you are a parent, hotel's with this kind of breakfast service is really a bonus. It was fun to see the children with their smiles beaming as they loaded up their plates with pancakes and sausage.

The drive took us southward along the Kona coast and past too many coffee farms to mention. Too bad we aren't coffee drinkers. About 1 1/2 hours into the drive we came across a oasis in the form of a local Hawaiian sweet bread bakery named for the small village where it is located -Punalu'u. We arrived just as they opened their doors and were treated to a full case of local sweets. We enjoyed one of the local favorites - guava iced malasadas. Wonderful, warm and sweet. A perfect way to perk up from the long drive.

Panalu'u Bakery

The bakery grounds really looked like an oasis.

Volcanoes National Park
As we arrived at the park we were greeted by the air quality advisory and told that a large portion of the 11 mile Crater Rim Drive and the 36 mile Chain of Craters Road was closed due to the air quality. Darn... But we didn't let this get us down because there was still a lot to see and do.

View of the new vent that opened March 2008 -
source the road closing gases

One of the many steam vents

Highlight #1 - Kiauea Iki Crater Hike
The two big highlights were the 1 1/2 mile hike down to the floor of the Kilauea Iki Crater and the Thurston Lava Tube. The Kilauea Iki Crater hike descends from the crater rim down 400 feet through a lush rain forest full of tree ferns to the crater floor. The crater floor is a rough, dry and steaming lava bed that is looks like an asphalt parking lot that is being broken up but the surface is not smooth like asphalt at all. It is quite rough and sharp, just like you imagine it to be. The hike down and back up was a lot easier than we thought and well worth this once in a lifetime opportunity.

Michelle on the trail down to the crater through forest of tree ferns.

Michelle on the crater floor.

Another view of the crater floor.

Highlight #2 - Thurston Lava Tube
Lava tubes are basically cave-like tubes that are formed when slow moving lava flows harden while the still molten lava streams below. These tubes can run for miles and are all over the Big Island. The Thurston Lava tube is one of the big attractions in the park and judging from the bus load of people entering along side of us, nothing to be afraid of. As you descend again through a lush rainforest you see the lava tube appear. The trail continues down a lighted path but after about 1/4 mile you come to the point where you have to make a decision. Are you a tourist or are you an adventurer? You have two choices, either descend up the stairs out of the maintained and lighted portion of the tube or go beyond the gate to the undeveloped (and unlighted) lava tube. At this point I asked the quintessential question, "what would Carl do?" For those of you who don't know of whom I speak, Carl is a friend and co-worker and second only to my father, the smartest man I know. Carl is a GIS guru and a spelunker (caver aficionado) who would love to have to make this decision. I wanted Carl to be proud of me for going beyond my comfort level so John and I ventured on - (flashlight in hand) down the 1000 foot lava tube. Of course it helped that there was a family with two small children who had just made the same decision. It was amazing to experience true darkness. John was quite proud of me and I know that Carl will be as well.

Michelle at the opening of the Thurston Lava Tube.

Decision point - go beyond the gate or not?

We went beyond and lived to tell...

After a great adventure at the park we started the 2 1/2 hour drive back to the hotel. Of course we stopped again at the Punalu'u bakery for a great sweet bread sandwich. As I blog now I am sitting looking out at the setting sun and the tidepools below. I am sorry that we are not going to be able to stay longer to enjoy this wonderful hotel. Tomorrow morning early we leave for our last stop on this dream itinerary, the island of Kauai.

One last activity however before we go. Heather has come again to the rescue and we have dinner reservations at one of the Big Island's top fine dining restaurant - Pahu ia.

More to come from Kauai!

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