Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
1. Pu'u Loa Petroglyphs
This was a short, roughly 1.5 mile round-trip hike off of Chain of Craters Rd. not far from the ocean. The main attraction is the petroglyphs carved into lava at the end of the trail, but the views along the way are great and walking on lava is a unique experience.
2. End of the Road
Located at the end of Chain of Craters Road, this trail follows just over a half mile more of the road out to where it was buried by a lava flow. You are free to explore all over the lava, but must people just go 10-20 yards out and then head back. This easy walk has some surreal scenery. It was wild seeing bits of the road and old signs poke out from under the lava.
3. Kilauea Iki Crater/Thurston Lava Tube
Walking on a frozen lava lake was one of the most unique experiences we had in the park. The lake was very unfrozen in 1959. Even though the lake is completely solid now, parts of it are still cooling, and steam was rising out of numerous vents and cracks on the surface. The Kilauea Iki trail (shown below) is a 4 mile loop, but we only did the part shown in blue. Lined with huge tree ferns and dense vegetation, the hike down to the crater feels like walking through a rainforest. Then the trail levels off and shoots out onto the buckled and cracked black surface of the crater. People wander all over the area, but you the trail runs in a straight line and follows rock cairns to the other side of the crater. It was interesting seeing the ferns and other early successional plants growing in such an uninviting environment.
Located across the street from one of the Kilauea Iki trailheads, is the short Thurston Lava Tube trail. This easy, family-friendly walk takes you through the forest, and under it, via a tube/cave formed by flowing lava hundreds of years ago.
|Kilauea Iki Crater|
|Thurston Lava Tube|
|Thurston Lava Tube|
Mauna Kea (Visitor Information Station)
We really wanted to visit the summit of Mauna Kea for the great views, interesting sights (snow in Hawaii, huge telescopes, etc), and great stargazing. Though supposedly quite rare, we were snowed/rained out two days in a row and had to settle for exploring the area around the Visitor Information Station located six miles up the Mauna Kea Access Road at 9,000 feet. (Lesson: make your reservation/plans for the top early in your stay so you can reschedule if necessary)
Luckily, there are plenty of trails around the Visitor Station of various lengths and difficulties. You can even hike from there to the summit on the 6 mile Humuula Trail that gains roughly 4,500 feet in elevation.
I didn't have the time, acclimatization, or nerve to hike through the thundering clouds to the snow covered summit and back so I explored around the center. In addition to the old dirt roads and the very short, easy walk around the Silversword Trail there is a trail around a cone at the base of the road.
|Mauna Kea Humuula Trail|
|Silver Sword Plant|
Green Sand Beach - South Point
Located at the end of South Point Rd. near the southernmost point in the USA, on government (HI Department of Home Lands) property, Green Sand Beach is not widely publicized out of safety and/or desecration concerns. The beach gets its color (really more of a yellow-green-brown) from the presence of lots of olivine. The hike in is not that difficult but does expose you to plenty of wind and sun. I don't know what the rules are on this, but there are friendly locals are willing to take you one or both legs in their 4WD vehicles for a fee. There are lots of old dirt roads and trails weaving together along the way and you can follow any of them, just keep the ocean to your right on the way to the beach and you'll be fine. The trail closest to the water is very scenic, but rough and less direct.
|Look Down at Green Sand Beach|
|Climbing down to the Beach|
|The Trail/Road to Green Sand Beach|
Lava Trees State Park
I highly recommend this simple 0.7 mile stroll in Lava Trees State Park if you are staying near Pahua. The park gets its name from the interesting tree-shaped molds left behind when hot lava flowed around trees that resisted the incredible heat long enough for the lava to cool. While the trees are gone, their shape remains. The lava trees were great, but we also really enjoyed the surrounding forest and its jungle feel where vines with enormous leaves climb the highly invasive, Falcataria moluccana, or Albizia, trees that tower over the road to the park. You can see their interestingly shaped, massive canopies in the satellite-imagery of the map below.
Pololu Valley Beach
Located on the north side of the Big Island, the Awini/Pololu Valley Beach Trail is a short, moderately difficult highly-eroded dirt trail that heads down a steep slope from the Pololu Valley Lookout at the end of Hwy 270 to the beach and beyond. The beach is beautiful and the wooded area nearby is quite scenic as well and has plenty of great places to sit in the shade.