The State of Hawaii has two National Parks. It was inevitable. Someone had to go and we weren’t about to draw straws.

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We expected Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to be different, if nothing else for the allure of a volcano with active lava flows. We had no idea the vast quantities of lava rock we would encounter until we arrived. You have to see to believe.

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Located just thirty minutes from the condo, we made multiple visits to thoroughly explore the park,

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On our first visit we got our bearings and checked out Kilauea Volcano, the most active of the five volcanoes that together form The Big Island. The fumes from within the crater were clearly visible long before we reached the Jaggar Museum to gaze upon Halema’umu’u Crater, where it is said that Pele (the Hawaiian volcano goddess) holds court. We have to admit there is a certain feeling of “otherworldliness” that permeates the senses.

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On one of our visits we were fortunate to take in some traditional hula presented by a public charter school at the Volcano Art Center. It was quite cold and windy with bouts of rain and the students had the option to perform indoors, but, we were told, chose the special outdoor site for its full significance to the dance. Just beautiful!

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The Chain of Craters Road, descending 3,700 feet to the coast, is a thirty-eight mile round trip drive along a winding paved road. On Crater Rim Drive, we passed six pit craters that in recent years erupted and oozed massive amounts of lava upon the island. The craters are all part of Kilauea and as the island moves slowly northward the craters seem to pop up in that direction as well.

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The winds were heavy as we descended south towards the ocean where we found ourselves peeling off our long sleeves. The road abruptly ends due to the 2003 lava flow and you have to turn around. Don’t miss the Holei Sea Arch before ascending to the top.

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On our return drive we stopped for a 1.4-mile hike over the lava to the Pu’u Loa Petroglyphs. Tradition says that it is good luck to come here after your child is born and to dig a hole in the lava and bury the umbilical cord. There are thousands of holes and other writings.

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On another day we returned to hike four-miles through the Kilauea Iki Crater which erupted in 1959. Hiking along the rim before descending 400 feet into the crater we noticed all of the steam vents along the way.

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On the other side we took a walk through the Thurston lava tube formed where the outside of the lava flow hardened and left a long cave like channel now empty but once full of flowing lava. These lava tubes are evident throughout the park and on The Big Island.

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We ended the day with another trip to the Jaggar Museum patiently waiting dusk. As the sun descends and nightfall approaches what was stream and smoke during the daylight hours becomes an eerie red glow from the crater after dark. Temperatures tend to fall about 15 degrees cooler at the park than near the ocean so while it might be 68 degrees at night at the condo it felt about 53 degrees at the crater. After hiking in shorts all day we froze our booties off! Well maybe not off, but you get the drift.

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We soon discovered the best hike in the park. The Pu’u O’o crater was our goal and it is a fourteen-mile hike to get within a couple miles of it.

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The hike over this lava field was brutal as our feet never landed on a flat surface and the terrain constantly rises and falls.

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Stacks of lava rocks mark the trail and only a fool would try to navigate this trail at night.

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After five miles of fun filled lava terrain we entered a jungle with thick vegetation that pulled and stung our bare arms and legs.

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When we weren’t agonizing over the pain, or wishing that Santa would make an early Christmas present delivery of a machete, we marveled at the lushness and growth on this part of the lava. At the overlook, which was at the rim of another crater, we ate lunch making sure not to get too close to the edge.

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Completing the journey back, and as is often the case at the end of a challenging hike, we celebrated the decision to go.

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Kudos to the park rangers of Volcanoes as they are locals and know a great deal about the park as well as are able to weave in the Hawaiian history and stories. Calling out Rangers Travis and Dean specifically. Great talks guys!

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Next up: Big Island Highlights – West Coast