Thursday, November 20, 2008
Day 6: Lava Hikes & the famed Kilauea Volcano
Had to get up at 6 AM to go on our Kilauea Volcano Adventure with Hawaii Forest & Trails. John and Greg were on this tour too. The tour guide's name was Gary. Gary has degrees in culinary arts and geology. He used to be the sous chef at Merriman's in Waimea, one of the best restaurants on Big Island. We hopped in the van and went north to the Hilton to pick up Gavin & Zanda, a honeymooning couple from London. Then we started heading towards the Saddle Road again. We were disappointed to learn that breakfast was about an hour into the tour...hungry! But eventually at 6000' elevation we had fruit, guava, taro and banana breads, tea and hot chocolate. There also included a restroom stop. Then we continued east towards Hilo. After Hilo we explored the Kaumana lava tube cave. The entrance, or "skylight" to the cave. It was dark and downright wet in there. Water drops were constantly falling on us. It was also rather slippery and uneven, and rocks had fallen in places which made access difficult. Without our flashlights, it was completely dark in there. It was definitely not for the timid or claustrophobic. At one point, at Gary's instruction, we all shut off our flashlights and stayed silent for 30 seconds. It was super-eerie! Then we all shouted as hard as we could, and there were no echos. Gary asked us why, and I gave the right answer: the cave made of volcanic rock was too porous for sound to come back. :: Proud look :: I felt so smart! We learned that only blind albino bats, spiders and crickets live in there. And people used to use them for refrigeration, burial, and to hide in during storms. I was glad to make it out of the caves! Next up, we drove back up the hill to Volcanoes National Park. We went by the Volcano House and the main visitor center, and stopped to feel a steam vent, with hot sulfer dioxide steam coming out. Our next stop in there was the Kilauea Caldera. Inside the caldera was a smaller (1/4 mile) crater called the Halemaumau Crater and a vent which spewed acidic gas. This vent only started in March 2008. Before that, Gary said he was able to drive all the way down to the rim of the crater. At different times in the past, the crater and caldera were filled with lava. One day in the 1920's it simply drained away. After a look inside the observation center and a restroom break, we traveled to the Kilauea Iki Crater, stopping at a ledge overlooking a black-lava covered crater. This is lava from a November 1959 flow. To give you some perspective, those little tiny dots that I circled are people! Gary dished out the hiking supplies to everyone: backpacks, lunches, water, binoculars, rain ponchos, and walking sticks. We hiked through a rain forest first, stopping for a lunch of sandwiches, chips, and cookies in the middle of the trail. Another view of the vent inside Halemaumau crater: Then we had a steep descent into the lava rocks. Then we crossed the lava and Gary told us more volcano facts. He has a degree in geology and seemed to know something about everything. Amongst the lava, inside the Kilauea Iki Crater, Todd got a call from his parents on his cell phone. Talk about great reception! Some more lava hiking photos: It was so neat to see tree and foliage growing right out of the lava rocks: A lava rock with volcanic glass embedded in it: Lava flows as tall as our heads: Gary explaining the volcano history: Finally, we came to the end of the crater and climbed back up the hill, which were steep switchbacks. The hike was about 3 miles and it took 3.5 hours including lunch. A brief restroom break later (by the Thurston Tunnel), we were back in the van and on our way. Then we headed down the Chain of Craters Road. We stopped at one flow which had consumed the trees in the area. But molds of the tree trunks remained since the lava cooled before the trees completely burned. In this area there were lava flows from 1974, 1972, and 1969. Next we stopped at a vista point where we could see the southern edge of the island which is also the southern most point in the US, Ka Lae. From there we could also see the ocean entry of lava, the Pu'u O'o. A nice view: After that we left the park, drove through Hilo, where Gary told us stories of the tsunamis hitting Hilo. We drove through downtown Hilo. Then we went around the top of the island, through Waimea, and finally back to the tour office. It was 7 PM at this point, 12 hours after we left. We went back home, changed clothes and dinner plans and drove to Orchid Thai. It was outstanding! We ate Fresh Vegetable Summer Rolls: Pepper Garlic Chicken: and Chili Basil with Ground Chicken: The veggies were crisp and fresh, the flavors were great and the meals not too saucy. After that we went back to the condo and we were asleep by 10:30 PM. What a day!