Long day #2 on the big island of Hawaii!
There are no fancy breakfast pictures for this morning because I rocked the free breakfast at my hotel. Just a bagel with cream cheese, sausage links, and a cinnamon roll. I added some Hawaiian flair by going with guava juice though.
By the way, I discovered that guava juice is the most delicious of all the juices.
The main goal for the day was Volcano National Park, which was roughly in the opposite corner of the island than where I was staying. So that meant all day in the car. Normally, I wouldn’t mind that but normally, I’d be in my truck and comfortable seats. Instead, I spent the day crammed into my Ford Focus Hatchback. Never has my butt been so sore from sitting and my feet ached from being cramped at the end of a day of driving.
As with any other open-ended road trip I’ve ever taken, every sign along the way that sounded remotely interesting, I pulled off on the side of the road to explore, adventure, and take too many pictures. I’m like Lewis and Clark version of cats chasing laser pointer dots on a wall.
That roadside farm had cows with monstrous horns, buffalo, a donkey, and a zebra. Sure. Because that’s normal.
A scenic overlook along the way was pretty interesting. Not only could you see the southernmost point in the United States off in the distance with its wind farm but there was a good representation of different lava flows in the area. In the panorama above, there are at least four different flows. The color determines the age – the darker the black, the newer the flow. You can also tell based on the type of vegetation growing in it.
A couple of miles past the overlook, there was a sign pointing down a road to my right. “South Point 12 miles”.
I watched the sunrise in the Easternmost point in the US (Eastport / West Quoddy Head, ME). I’ve driven to the Westernmost point in the North American Highway System (Anchor Point, AK). I’ve been to the Southernmost point in the continental US (Key West, FL).
I wasn’t NOT going to the Southernmost point in the country!
If you’re ever on the big island of Hawaii, please make this trip. The 12 miles takes awhile to get through since it’s 35 mph and the road is maybe a lane and a half wide. But it is one of the most gorgeous, relaxing drives you will ever take in your entire life. It’s nothing but rolling hills through farmland with horses and cows surrounded by the bright blue Pacific Ocean on three sides.
Now I can say, at one specific point in time, I was the most Southern person in the country. This South Carolina native is super proud of that.
I was going to make my way back to the main road. But not if the road to the Southernmost point forks! And especially not if that fork takes you to a beach with green sands!
So I backtrack and take the left fork. A ways down the road, everything seemed to dead end into a makeshift camp/market. Parking was on the left, a group of pickup trucks on the right, and a run down shelter in the middle selling drinks, ice cream, and any food item you’d find in a bait shop minus the moon pies.
It made me leery, for sure. So when a guy from the pickups in board shorts, sandals, and nothing else but a beer belly walked my way, I was cautious. Turns out, the green sand beach was a 3 mile trek from this area. The guys and their pickup trucks were essentially cab drivers to get you there. Since you’ve seen my rental car and the drive required a 4×4, I just held my breath, hoping his price wasn’t too rich for my blood. Round trip? $15.
Done! Green sands, here I come!
An Indian couple I bumped into at the Southernmost point went too. So we hopped into the bed of his truck. It was exquisitely lined with AstroTurf and a sun-faded couch cushion was your seat. I overheard our guy tell one of the other drivers how he was about to “make some real money” because he had three people at once. Thirty VERY bumpy minutes later, we made it.
You don’t get stories like that taking vacations to all inclusive resorts and playing it safe.
After the thirty minute ride back to the car, it was time to get the show on the road. I had volcanoes to see! I made my way back to the main highway and pointed the car northeast to finish looping around the island.
Oh wait, look! Black sand beach sign! I can’t go to the green sand beach and NOT go to the black sand beach as well.
Around 2:00pm, I finally made it to Volcano National Park. I swung by the visitor’s center to get my passport stamped and check with the rangers on what was worth seeing and what I didn’t have time for. There were a couple of short hikes (0.75 – 1 mile) around the visitor’s center that were doable and one long hike (4 miles) that went through the crater floor from a 1959 eruption. That’s a long hike at the end of a long day. But how many times would I be able to say I’ve had the opportunity to hike across the crater of a volcano?
Of course I’m going to do it!
First up was the Sulphur Banks trail. It started from the visitor’s center and went 0.7 miles past sulfur fumes still emitting from the ground. It was wild how quick you would go from walking in jungle conditions to wide open spaces (minus the Dixie Chicks). Also, it was eerie to be walking through the woods and see sulfur gas engulfing a group of trees. It looked like special effects.
The Sulphur Banks trail ended at the Steaming Bluff overlooking the Kilauea caldera and the very-much-active Halema’uma’u crater.
From the caldera rim, I took the ‘Iliahi trail 0.7 miles back through the jungle to the visitor’s center to pick the car up.
I refilled my water, packed up, and headed over to the Kilauea Iki trail head. This trail walks through the rainforest circling the Kilauea Iki Crater rim, drops down 400 feet through steps and switchbacks to kick you out onto the crater floor, over the cooled lava for 2.5 miles, then back up the same 400 feet on the opposite side. I really enjoyed the hike. The pictures will never do the size of the ridges and chunks of lava justice, as everything was massive.
The end of the trail came out at the beginning of the Thurston Lava Tube. This was a relatively short walk (0.3 miles) through an old lava tube. When lava is flowing, the outer layers obviously cool quicker, as they’re exposed to air and the elements. Once they cool enough to harden, this essentially creates a river or pipe of flowing lava on the inside. After the lava has finished flowing, the hollowed out tubes are left standing.
At this point, I’m practically dying from hunger. On my way to the Jaggar Museum, I made a pit stop at the Volcano House to grab a bite to eat at Uncle George’s Lounge. I went with the Kuahiwi Ranch Burger.
1/3 lb. of Big Island grass fed beef topped with cheddar cheese and Johnson Farms lettuce & tomato on a Punalu’u bake shop sweet roll. Served with sliced onion, pickle spear and
French frieschips since the fryer was down.
Ripe local bananas are layered in graham cracker crust with a house-made pastry cream. Topped with fresh coconut whipped cream and chocolate toffee brittle.
Both were amazing.
One last stop before calling it a day and heading back to the hotel was the Jaggar Museum. At the museum, there are displays of old and modern seismic and other volcano equipment. It also gives a run down of Hawaii, the extinct, dormant, and active volcanoes on the islands, and samples of the different kinds of lava.
Fun fact: Mauna Kea claims to be the highest (not tallest) mountain in the world at 33,480 feet from its base (underwater) to peak. 13,796 feet are above sea level.
The main attraction is the overlook into the Halema’uma’u crater. The Kilauea volcano is one of the world’s most active volcanoes, so you can see the lava spewing from here. It’s best to view it at night, given the contrast between the dark night and bright lava. But I still had 2 and a half hours of driving left, so I took what I could get.
So after a long, long 13 hour day, I retraced my steps around the Southern tip of the big island and headed back for Kailua Kona to a much-welcomed hotel bed.