Hawaii’s Big Island has a lot to offer besides warm water and sandy beaches. As a matter of fact, beaches is the least of what this island has to offer. How often do you get the chance to see volcanoes spewing lava, black sand and turtles?
I chose to visit Hawaii’s Big Island exactly because I wanted to see something different.
On my first day of touring, I drove from the west coast of the island, Waikoloa Beach, via 19 towards the east coast. My first stop was the Waipi’o Valley Lookout.
From there I continued along the Hwy 19 scenic drive toward Hilo. This area is not only scenic but also has a lot of agriculture. Second stop was Akaka Falls State Park.
My destination was ‘the end of the road’, Volcanoes National Park and the current lava flow, which everyone was talking about. I was told to park at the end of the road and walk the 4 miles to where the lava hits the sea.
By the time I got to the parking lot it was about 4 pm. Sunset was 6:30. I was unprepared for the walk over the lava, in the heat. Luckily there were about 15 bicycle rental tents. For a negotiated $15, I got a bicycle, a backpack, a bottle of water and a headlamp. At the time, I didn’t think I’d need the headlamp.
I don’t think I could have done the walk out and back, but it was possible on the bike. The “trail” out to the lava flow was actually a gravel government road over lava, but with road blocks. The Volcanoes National Park border was marked with a gate.
There are ropes and danger signs keeping tourists out of the danger zone. To get a really awesome view, it would be best from the water.
Crowds gathered at the edge of the ropes and waited for sunset. I watched as the light faded, and with it, the glow of the lava became ever more evident.
I wish I had packed a tripod. Many had. As darkness fell, the lava flow became more and more impressive. As I climbed onto my bike to pedal the 4 miles back to the parking lot, I could see the rivers of lava flowing down the side of the volcano, which I could not see earlier in the light of day.
Returning to the west coast, I drove the shortest route back, Hwy 200 over Mauna Kea. Mauna Kea’s elevation is 13,796. I’m not sure of the pass elevation, but I navigated through clouds, heavy rain and lightning as I made my way westward.
As I was leaving the ‘end of the road’ parking lot at about 730 pm, I saw people just then mounting bikes with headlamps headed to the lava flow. I understand now why they left that late. The temperature was much more manageable after sunset (the path was all black lava), and the most spectacular views were in the dark. You live and learn.