We arose mas early, got coffee, and headed back to Volcanoes National Park. Stephanie made the drive in about 2 hours, which is remarkable; it’s only 90 miles, but then it’s also Hawaii. We took Chain of Craters Road 20 miles down to the southern coast, where Kilauea is still actively producing lava.
On the way, I called the 800 number to get the lava update. They tell you where red lava was last sighted in the park, and give you about a million safety precautions. You drive down to the ranger station at the end of the road (it used to be a much longer road until it was buried in lava), you hike in a half-mile, and then you start climbing. They tell you to come fully prepared for a hardcore hike, and not to even think about it if you’re any kind of pussy.
The park ranger at the station explained to us where the lava was sighted: they had four beacons set up, three following the coast to mark the do-not-cross-or-fall-in-the-ocean-and-die line, and then the fourth inland near the furthest reaches of the safety zone. He said the lava could be found somewhere around the 3rd and 4th beacons, somewhat inland. We set off on the hike.
I’m having a very hard time explaining the hike through the lava field. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before, and nothing I ever expected to see in my lifetime. It was the most surreal, barren, and beautiful landscape. It makes me cry to think about it now; it was completely unbelievable.
lava spilling into the pacific
As we climbed lava hills along the coast, we could see the steam plume rising from the ocean. We had been warned that the vapor from the plume contained hydrochloric acid and bits of lava glass. To get out to the fourth beacon, however, you kind of have to spend some time near the plume. It made me nervous.
The route out to the first beacon was marked with little glow-in-the-dark tabs to lead the way. People hike the route at night, because it’s easier to see the red lava. (Having done that hike during the day, I think anyone who does it at night is either insane or suicidal.) Once you get there, you’re on your own… you know the general direction of the beacon, but it’s way too far away to see it. You just walk and hope to find it. We managed to find 2, then completely missed 3 somewhere near the coast. As we were about to collapse from fear of being lost in the lava field, we found 4, and took triumphant photos with it (involving rock hands, as usual).
I was pretty worried at that point about the steam plume. I licked my lips and had the most horrible taste in my mouth. In addition, the lava out that far was a lot less stable. There were big collapsed holes where gas bubbles had burst. I’d walk over areas that were much, much hotter than the rest. We knew there had to be fresh stuff nearby, but didn’t know how much longer we should be out there. Finally, we saw a couple walking back from much farther out; they said they saw some red rocks about 45 minutes away, but no flowing lava or anything. We didn’t want to die and were running low on water, so we decided to head back. It was a hell of a long hike, and it was hot.
fresh lava – still glass
Halfway back to the ranger station, Stephanie slipped and slid down onto a rock. Well, lava being like glass, it did some damage. She had blood running down the back of her leg like crazy. We did our best to clean it up with Kleenex, and she had to limp the last couple miles back to the ranger station. By the time we got there, we were out of water, covered in this strange volcano dust probably consisting mostly of acid, and exhausted.
We went to Volcano Village and found nothing of use, so we drove into Hilo for supplies to patch her up. We then drove back around the top of the island (which is now known as the ‘fast route’), and arrived in the Kona area around six.
We drove south 20 miles or so to the national historic park of Puuhonua o Honaunau. It had been a sacred site and place of refuge in the 16th century for warriors and people who had violated kapu (taboo). [Note: kapu quickly became one of our favorite words of all time.]
the big’un was about 6″ long.
We arrived at the perfect time. The sun was starting to set, and the place was beautiful and serene. It was a salt-and-pepper sand beach around an inlet, with ceremonial huts and tiki idols. We climbed on the lava rock amongst tidepools and and looked for sea turtles.
puuhonua o honaunau
We both spent time wandering around by ourselves, and I felt like it was one of the most perfect, calming places I’d ever been. I took almost 40 photos there, just trying to capture it.
We stood with the tiki statues at the mouth of the little inlet and watched the sun disappear into the ocean. It’s a place and time I’ll never forget.
After dark, we drove back to Kona Town and the touristy strip again for dinner. This time it was enchiladas at a Mexican place. I realized as I was sitting there overlooking the street that I had become completely accustomed to that constantly-sticky feeling one gets from excessive heat and humidity. It’s something that drives me crazy at home, but in Hawaii it just seemed to fit.