Volcano tour on Hawaii’s Big Island

The highlight of my Hawaii Holiday was making it to Volcanoes National Park on Big Island. How could we go to Hawaii and not see a bit of the...

Volcano tour: The Kilauea Caldera and the steaming Halema'uma'a Crater
The highlight of my Hawaii Holiday was making it to Volcanoes National Park on Big Island. How could we go to Hawaii and not see a bit of the volcanic activity that this place is so famous for? As we were flying into Kona airport on Big Island, I had noticed the volcanic mountains that made the backdrop for the airport. I had also seen the dark traces of volcanic activity of ages ago, and was filled with awe. Soon we were driving towards our hotel further north on the west coast and I got a better look at the proof of Mauna Kea’s eruptions and the effect it had on the landscape. I had never seen anything like this before. It was also interesting to see the smaller cinder cones in the area and see signs that molten material once flowed that way. (some pics in here)

When I was doing my homework just before we set out on our holiday, I had learnt that Big Island was not only the biggest of the islands that made up Hawaii but was also bigger than all the other islands (of HI) put together. Not just that; this island has been growing bigger, thanks to the Kilauea Volcano that has been erupting since 1983, letting magma flow off the southern part of the island and into the Pacific Ocean. When I got there, I learnt that this volcano actually erupted out of the sea.

Volcano tour: Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii
We had set aside a day of our Hawaii Holiday for a volcano tour and if possible, also see a beach that owes it very uniqueness to the volcanic activity on Big Island. And ever since we drew up our itinerary, I couldn’t help getting excited about this day.

Volcano Tour

We were put up on the west coast of Big Island, and Volcanoes National park happens to be on the south-eastern part of it. So it was a long drive. We got on to Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway once again, this time going north for a little while, before turning right towards Waikoloa Road and getting on to Saddle Road that would get us right across the island to Hilo, a historical town on the east coast of this Hawaiian island. Saddle Road as its name suggests took us by some ranches so we spotted some horses and some sheep. It was mostly deserted though. Now if I were to say there were many hills on the way, you are likely to imagine a road that meandered around the hills, right? This road however, seemed strange to me as it would go up a hill, go down it and go up another hill, so on and so forth. Here instead of the `blind curves’ you have blind uphill roads and steep slopes. Honestly, they did make me a little uncomfortable. I sure was happy to get to Hilo where we saw lush tropical plants and some human beings, once again.

By the time we had gotten to Hilo, we had had a long drive across Big Island so we made a stop on the way, stretched ourselves and picked up some lunch before we were on the road again. Soon we were on highway 11, continuing towards Volcanoes National Park, which was south of this town. It was almost noon when we got there. The first thing we did was walk into the visitor centre, pick up some information about the current situation with the volcanoes and clear our doubts about the points of interest that we had marked out.

Volcano tour: Steam Vent

A steam vent (left)

A few minutes later, we were dashing across the visitor center and driving on Crater Rim Drive to see steam vents(pic. above), the large Kilauea Caldera and the Halema’uma’u crater. Standing at the crater and watching the gas spew out of Halema’uma’u crater, honestly got me stunned. I could barely believe my eyes. Neither could I believe that I was standing beside one of the most active volcanoes in the world. From where we were standing we couldn’t see the magma as the lava lake was below the Kilauea Caldera. Around that time, most of the lava flow was taking place underground for some distance before it emptied itself in the Pacific. Maybe if we had done the volcano boat tour, we might have seen some of the red hot substance, but that was so out of our way. We had planned to do the Crater Rim Drive, a lava tube and the Chain of Craters drive at the Volcanoes National Park.

Volcano tour: Halema'uma'a Crater

Halema’uma’a Crater

When we visited, a part of the 11-mile Crater Rim Drive (the road on the rim of the Kilauea Caldera) was closed to public so we went up till the Jagger Museum, which was the overlook closest to the steaming crater. We had a look inside the museum and saw different lava rocks, photographs and a whole lot of interesting exhibits before we retraced our path and turned off towards Chain of Craters Road that promised several smaller craters and hiking trails (there’s even one that let you walk on a dry crater).

Na Huku

One thing we thought we shouldn’t miss was Na Huku. Also called the Thurston lava tube, Na Huku is a cave-like thing that you get into, in the middle of some lush green rain-forest. Although they describe it as a cave, I would say it is like a tunnel. Hot boiling magma once gushed down this way and the outer part later cooled and hardened even as the flow below, continued. When the flow eventually ceased and the last of what could be drained, was gone too, what was left was a tunnel like thing that looked like this:

Volcano tour:Thurston Lava Tube

The mouth of Na Huku (on the left) and inside the Thurston Lava Tube (on the right).

As we walked through this lava tube, I could imagine the magma and the force of its flow and thought myself so privileged to actually stand in a place where this powerful natural phenomenon once occurred. Seeing Kilauea and Thurston lava tube were an opportunity of a lifetime. I don’t understand why all visitors to Hawaii don’t do this. I really, don’t.

Later, we drove down Chain of Craters Road for a couple of miles and then made a turn as we knew we had seen the most important things in the area. Moreover, we had been told at the visitor center that at the moment red hot lava was not visible from the spot at the end of this road where there is a marked viewpoint. However he did encourage us to stay till late evening or return to Kilauea at dusk, when the natural light would be dim, allowing us to see the glowing steam; the glow from the lava below. We saw a picture of it and wished we could stay back. But we had a long drive back and yet another point to cover before sundown.

Our next stop on the volcano tour was a place that was a half an hour away. We got onto highway 11 once again, this time going westward. Soon we where in Punaluu Beach and we were there to see Black Sand. Yeah…black sand; black from volcanic activity. That is a rare sight, so you have a board that tries to prevent people from taking away the sand.

Now that the black sand beach was also checked off our list of attractions, we took the coastal drive again back to the Kohala Coast. By the end of the day, we had done a total of 220 odd miles. We had travelled across the island and driven more than half of the east coast, the whole of the broad south coast and once again– more than half of the west coast. One long drive that was, and we were exhausted from the volcano tour. But it was all worth it. The day was well spent.

Coming soon: pictures of the black sand beach and a beach with black-and-white sand. Please do return to Tipsy from the Trip.

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34 Comments on this post.
  • Archana
    27 September 2011 at 9:09 am
    Leave a Reply

    Thanks for sharing div. Such an interesting read! Beautiful pictures too.

  • dNambiar
    25 October 2011 at 12:12 am
    Leave a Reply

    Thankoo Ach ๐Ÿ™‚

  • magiceye
    17 August 2012 at 1:30 am
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    Wow! Must have been so thrilling!! Lovely images!!

    • dNambiar
      17 August 2012 at 9:00 pm
      Leave a Reply

      It was. It really was. ๐Ÿ™‚
      Thank you Magiceye.

  • Meoww
    17 August 2012 at 6:38 am
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    Hot Pics ๐Ÿ™‚ And i love pic of the lava tube! Surely it would have been an interesting walk!
    Waiting to have a hot adventure myself, in neighbouring Jeju!

    • dNambiar
      17 August 2012 at 9:02 pm
      Leave a Reply

      The walk through the lava tube was an experience of a lifetime. You should do it, Meoww. Go check out those volcanoes asap, ok. And do write about it. I'm already looking forward to your write up and pics. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • jaish_vats
    17 August 2012 at 8:43 am
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    That tunnel tube was amazing…Awesome post Divya!

    • dNambiar
      17 August 2012 at 9:03 pm
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      Thanks Jaish. That was one of the best parts. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Pattu Raj
    17 August 2012 at 9:59 am
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    An experience of a lifetime.Living so far away, I cant imagine how it would be.
    Thanks for sharing it.

    • dNambiar
      17 August 2012 at 9:06 pm
      Leave a Reply

      Sharing it is such a pleasure. I couldn't believe I was at a volcano I once studied about. I kept thinking of my Geography teacher the whole day. I wished she could see it.
      You're welcome. Thank YOU for coming by. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • AmitAag
    17 August 2012 at 10:05 am
    Leave a Reply

    …great as always, though thrilling too this time:) Thank you Divya for taking me to where I can't imagine in my wildest dreams:)

    • dNambiar
      17 August 2012 at 9:10 pm
      Leave a Reply

      Amit, it's a pleasure, as always :). I never thought I'd be able to see these sights. I do think it was such a privilege, even though we didn't get to do the boat tour or stay back and watch he glow at dusk. It was a great experience.
      Sharing this also feels really good. Thank YOU. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Kishan P
    17 August 2012 at 10:30 am
    Leave a Reply

    Wow! Interesting place! Just the kind of place I would like to go with my biggest foes ๐Ÿ˜€

    • dNambiar
      17 August 2012 at 9:23 pm
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      haha! Wicked, wicked Kishan! :D.
      It really was a very interesting experience. I was awesome feeling the steam from the steam vents on my face and walking through the lava tube and all. You'd love this place. They have several interesting trails around here.

  • Ghazala Hossain
    18 August 2012 at 6:15 am
    Leave a Reply

    I want to go here, such a scenic place ๐Ÿ™‚

    • dNambiar
      18 August 2012 at 11:01 pm
      Leave a Reply

      You'll learn a lot too. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Arti
    21 August 2012 at 4:03 am
    Leave a Reply

    Interesting, especially the walk through the Lava tube tunnel! Your pictures and words tempt me to be there and walk it myself someday ๐Ÿ™‚

    • dNambiar
      23 August 2012 at 4:23 am
      Leave a Reply

      That was one of the best parts of the tour, Arti. ๐Ÿ™‚
      I do wish you get to do this some day. It's amazing.

  • Rachna
    22 August 2012 at 3:28 am
    Leave a Reply

    That must have been so amazing to see!

    • dNambiar
      23 August 2012 at 4:24 am
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      It was, Rachna. I wonder why a lot of people travelling to Big Island don't go and check out this place. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • lovelytxt (Annia)
    23 August 2012 at 11:53 am
    Leave a Reply
  • gunjan kumar
    26 August 2012 at 10:27 am
    Leave a Reply

    r u on an adventure trip…
    nice pictures.

    • dNambiar
      30 August 2012 at 3:41 pm
      Leave a Reply

      This is from a trip we went on last summer. This was an adventure, really :).
      Thanks Gunjan, shall be back to blogging real soon. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Rajyalakshmi Vathyam
    5 September 2012 at 10:30 am
    Leave a Reply

    Awesome post, and it comes right before my Hawaii trip, although I am going to Maui. I have to start planning, haven't done yet, so any personal tips and tricks to get around, do let me know!! That lava tube looks scary to me, not sure if I will be able to make it there!

    • dNambiar
      18 September 2012 at 5:25 pm
      Leave a Reply

      Wow! Have fun. I look forward to the pictures and your write up. Enjoy Maui, Raji. I'm sure you'll love Hawaii and the people and all the energy.
      Do a trip to Big Island, next time, ok.

  • Sabyasachi Patra | Tales from Wild India
    15 September 2012 at 6:48 pm
    Leave a Reply

    Nice to see a post about volcanoes. The tube looks awesome. Loved reading this.

    • dNambiar
      18 September 2012 at 5:27 pm
      Leave a Reply

      Thank you, Mr. Patra. The experience was awesome too. So glad you liked it. Thank you for coming by, again.
      Shall come by your blog soon. I was gone for a while. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Dina Hady
    26 May 2013 at 4:26 pm
    Leave a Reply

    Thank you so much for this article.It is very useful, hope you will share with us more.
    hawaii volcano tours

  • Avinash Dwivedi
    6 June 2015 at 9:19 am
    Leave a Reply

    You have just mentioned the feeling and the excitement about the Long Island Wine Tours.

    This is really an exciting place, Thanks for sharing an attractive blog.

    Long Island Wine Tours

  • sonia dsena
    26 December 2016 at 10:44 am
    Leave a Reply

    Interesting article. Thank you for sharing

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    […] We were on this highway on Big Island, Hawaii, when we were returning to the Kona area from the southern part of the Island, where we had made a stop to see a Black Sand Beach — Punaluu Beach. Earlier that day we had been exploring Volcanoes National Park.ย  […]

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