Two of the highlights in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park are Crater Rim Drive + Chain of Craters Road (which branches off of Crater Rim Drive). We stopped by the visitor center, hoping that it would be open just before 6 a.m. even though we knew there was no way. Even if it isn’t open (which it wasn’t) it’s a good idea to stop because the outside of the center can still have loads of info. We looked at some of their outdoor displays and maps along with the map they gave us at the entrance gate. We got on the Crater Rim Drive near the visitor center and began our journey that would eventually lead to the Chain of Craters Road.
We stopped at one of the first pullouts that was a small trail through the rainforest that looked out over some steam vents and you could see the white plumes of smoke coming from the caldera in the distance. It was tough to hold my excitement and continue on this road, knowing it would be time to get there eventually.
That white smoke that’s going up and blending with the clouds is the steam coming up is Kīlauea!
The steam vents looked pretty cool and we saw several people going down to hike around them. We were on a tight schedule and had a sea arch to see!
This is a male kalij pheasant, an invasive species introduced to the island in the 60’s. He puffed up when we got a bit too close for his liking.
The trail through the rainforest. I could not get enough of the rainforest.
The morning new collected and was dripping off the leaves. It was so pretty and peaceful-looking.
This trail crossed the street and to another trail – the trail that led to the Thurston Lava Tube (Nāhuku). At only 1/3 of a mile, even if you’re not a hiker, this can’t be missed. This lava tube was formed in prehistoric times and was discovered in 1913 by Lorrin Thurston. I had never seen anything like this! Even though it seems a bit like a cave, you know that it is totally different because it was formed from flowing magma.
The top of the trail looks out over this lush area of bright green plant life.
This wild-looking thing is the entrance to the lava tube. Doesn’t this look insanely wild and exotic? The inside of the lava tube is lit, which is really cool because you can really see the detail. There are lines on the walls of the lava tube that show how high the lava actually flowed. It seriously just blows my mind that this tube was created by hot lava.
Excuse the blur, a man was about to step in front of me and I flinched, but you get the point – it’s pretty cool to look out of too. Check out that moss dripping from the top.
Looking into the lava tube from the opposite end! Seriously cool!
Exit to the lava tube.
We found a female kalij pheasant to go with the male. She wasn’t nearly as still or threatened as the male though!
After these first two stops we continued on to the Chain of Craters Road. That was a really incredible drive and afterward we were hoping to see some lava flow, but at that time, the ranger at the visitor center said it was quite the hike to see not a lot of flow, but he told us that we should come back the next morning around 4 a.m. to look down into the caldera.
Matt and I woke up at three in the morning and hit the road back to Kīlauea and the overlook at the Jagger Museum. It was pitch black, but we used our cell phone flashlight to get us to the overlook. A few people were already there taking in the view. My heart absolutely raced as I saw the steam rising up, but it was different than the view I had yesterday – the steam was rising up in with an orange/red hue. Everyone spoke in whispers, like the volcano would suddenly go dark if she heard our voice. Matt and I held hands, grinning from ear-to-ear looking back and forth from Kīlauea to each other.
A few minutes later the small group left and we were alone there for about 5 minutes. Matt took this amazing photo, but I wish it could capture the sound and energy as well. There was no sound except the crackles and groans coming from the volcano. It was incredible and I am so glad that we didn’t miss this view. It was beyond waking up early for. We decided not to watch the sunrise here (especially since we had a little over an hour before it rose), but decided to drive to the nearby black sand beach to watch it rise. Part of me is glad that we walked away from this view because it’s my last and most lasting view from Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.
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