Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park

Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park (HAVO) is both an International Biosphere Reserve and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, meaning a bucket-list experience is in store for us. The park celebrates its centennial this year too!

Volcano, Hawaii-29

Leaving Kona, we pass through coffee plantations, leading to lava beds, the South Point of the island and Punal’u Black Sand Beach, where we take a few photos and admire the stark contrast between land and sea. That southern point is where the first Polynesians were thought to have landed on the Big Island.

Punal'u Black Sand Beach
[Punal’u Black Sand Beach]

As we head towards Volcano, the landscape becomes green and lush: we’ve entered the island’s rainforest zone. After about a two-hour drive, we’ve arrived at the entrance to the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.

Volcano, Hawaii-20
[Remains of 1969-1974 eruptions]

We begin our journey at the Kilauea Visitor Center, where park volunteers offer tips and historical perspective for guests. Just a bit farther down the road is the Jaggar Museum, named after Volcanologist Thomas A. Jaggar, founder of the volcano observatory.

Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park

Traversing the Chain of Craters Road brings countless moon-like lava surfaces in view, broken up by shrubs and grasses aiming for a new start in life following historical eruptions in the area (1969-1974; 1983 to present etc).

Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park
[Along the Pu’u Loa Petroglyphs viewing area]

The Pu’u Loa Petroglyphs trail’s a hot one in the early afternoon heat; by the time we’ve walked the 2.4km (1.4 mile) return trip, the heat’s done its job and we’re ready for a sandwich and more water.

[Pu’u Loa Petroglyphs]

You’ll need to pack food and water before heading out — once you’ve passed the entrance of the park (and few food outposts near it) you’re on your own through the park. The 61km (38-mile) drive descends over 1,100 meters (3,700 feet) to the coast, ending where lava’s covered 10 miles of road since 1986.

Volcano, Hawaii-21 Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park

At the end, you’re treated to a view of the sea along with an imposing 18 meter (60 foot) tall natural sea arch formed by wave erosion. As beautiful as it is, the same process will eventually be the cause of its demise.

Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park

We save the Thurston Lava Tube (Nahuku) for the drive back up and it’s a treat walking down the lush path to the dimly-lit tube below. A cacophony of birds guide the way.

Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park

A great way to actually see the lava is to return at night to the Jaggar lookout. Glowing red indicates Nature’s unpredictability and though it’s nothing huge from high up, we’re happy that there’s no need to evacuate this beautiful island anytime soon!

Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park

Volcanoes and Waterfalls Extreme Tour

There’s no better vantage point than a helicopter, and there’s no bigger thrill than leaving the doors behind so there is nothing between you and the sights! Our pilot Joyce from Paradise Helicopters did a fine job of both narrating and navigating our ride. And it’s a windy one!

Our ride at Hilo Airport: Paradise Helicopters

The four-person Hughes 500 flies with doors off, so if you’re prone to cold we suggest the front seat. We’re soon high above the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Factory, spotting the trees surrounding the white building that’s made fans around the world for their nuts (chocolate-covered, honey-roasted, wasabi, SPAM and a variety of other flavours).

Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Factory
[Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Factory surrounded by macadamia nut trees]

Kīlauea Volcano has been continuously erupting for 30 years. At 500 feet above the flowing lava and open vents, we feel waves of hot air rolling off the subsurface flows (which we’re told can reach temperatures of 2,000 degrees!).

With Paradise Helicopters above the volcano

The fiery red lava stream is faint yet definitely visible from the right side of the helicopter. We’re reminded that we’re in a tropical rainforest when the clouds start to form and we get a quick shower, exhilarating when coupled with wind gusts!


Soon enough we’re back in the dry zone and start to head towards Puna’s tropical rain forests and the waterfalls: Rainbow Falls (Wai‘ānuenue) is the most famous in the area as it’s known for sometimes sporting a rainbow when the morning sunshine hits the water. A couple of other falls come into view before we head out towards Hilo and the coast, which in my personal opinion is equally spectacular.

Above Hilo, Hawai'i with Paradise Helicopters

Along the coast and back towards Hilo Airport, our ride soon comes to an end. This particular tour is 45 minutes ($282 per person) and is one of several tours offered by Paradise. Reserve online.

Volcano, Hawaii: Kilauea Lodge

Where to Stay

Near the park entrance is historic Kilauea Lodge, nestled in the lush village of Volcano. The 12-room lodge is owned and efficiently run by a German-Norwegian couple.

Volcano, Hawaii: Kilauea Lodge

As we settled into our cozy room, we’re treated to an orchestra of tropical birds. After a filling and delicious European-inspired supper, those sounds are replaced by a lone coqui frog chirping away.

Volcano, Hawaii: Kilauea Lodge Volcano, Hawaii: Kilauea Lodge Volcano, Hawaii: Kilauea Lodge

Room rates include full breakfast, wifi and the use of the outdoor hot tub, great for chilling after hot, windy hikes around the park. With only a dozen rooms, it’s wise to book ahead.

Volcano, Hawaii: Kilauea Lodge

Insider’s Tip

Unless you’re interested in synching your body clock with that of your upstairs neighbour, you’d be wise to request a top-floor room. As well, the beds are queen size (I checked) however they’re the tiniest queen beds we’ve seen and resemble doubles. If you’re a couple, try booking a room with a king bed.

Volcano, Hawaii: Kilauea Lodge

International Fireplace of Friendship

Inside the restaurant is its prized possession: the fireplace. Built in 1938, this memorabilia-laden stone conversation piece contains ancient coins, a Mexican opal, quartz, dinosaur vertebrae and countless other treasures.

Volcano, Hawaii: Kilauea Lodge Volcano, Hawaii: Kilauea Lodge Volcano, Hawaii: Kilauea Lodge

Stones collected from the Dead Sea, Mount of Olives, George Washington’s tomb at Mount Vernon add to the eclectic ensemble, the fireplace dating to the days when Kilauea served as Hale-O-Aloha, a YMCA mountain camp.

During World War II, the camp became an army radio school, later returning to its original camper-friendly role following the war.

Volcano, Hawaii: Kilauea Lodge Volcano, Hawaii: Kilauea Lodge

Open since 1988, the lodge’s restaurant has catered to locals and celebs alike, counting Robert Redford, Lily Tomlin, Helen Mirren, Danny DeVito and Ted Turner amongst the A-list diners.

Kilauea Lodge is located on 19-3847 Old Volcano Road in Volcano, Hawaii.

[Check out our Big Island adventures in this video!]

Our Kilauea Lodge stay was courtesy of the lodge and Big Island Visitor’s Bureau. Our Volcanoes and Waterfalls Extreme tour was courtesy of Paradise Helicopters. Opinions, as always, are my own.

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