Saturday, August 15, 2009

Visit to a Volcano

We got up early one morning and made the long drive around the Big Island to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

We drove around the north end of the Big Island, but cut up and across the shoulder of Mauna Kea and through the small town of Waimea before heading south along the east coast to Hilo.

It was a fascinating drive -- about 100 miles around half of a large island and covering several different sorts of landscape.

The northern part of the Kona coast is arid and mostly lava that has been colonized by grasses. As you head upland, however, there's more and more moisture until you reach Waimea, which was fog bound and looked to be damp ranch country. The drive along the coast to Hilo was full-on tropical with jungle-clad, steep hills falling away onto a blue ocean.

Hilo is an older-looking town. We only brushed past it, along the waterfront, before starting up the slopes of Mauna Loa to reach the Park and the vast caldera of Kilauea.

We did not really have enough time to properly explore the park. I had planned to drive the Crater Rim drive around the Caldera but about half was closed due to sulphur-laden gases venting out of the Halema'uma'u crater that dominates the western part of the caldera. That's the great big hole with gases coming out in the photo above. It was impossible for me to capture the whole of the Caldera, it is really quite large.

We drove to the farthest-along overlook still open and then came back by way of the steaming bluffs, where cracks and crevasses leak steam from the great heat below. From there we hiked a trail part-way down into the caldera through a broken landscape that looks llike it was formed when a part of the caldera wall slumped-in. This trail became progressively more tropical as it descended, past plants we'd never seen, through rocks and past cliffs, until it rose again to a completely different sort of arid plain.

We also took some time to walk through the Thurston Lava Tube before having a light lunch at the Volcano House, an inn that sits on the edge of caldera wall.

We took the southern route back to Waikoloa, completing a circling of the Big Island. This is a slightly longer drive, but took even longer still as it slowed drastically to wind around along the south Kona coast. This route also features a long descent from Kilauea through a completely empty landscape of lava fields. I knew we were in an empty place as, one by one, the radio stations faded away and there were none.

So we made a circle around the island, which I'll admit I'd been thinking about. It was a long drive, though.

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