A Well Deserved Winter Break in Hawaii

Justine and I got married five years ago this week, and so we wanted to head back to Hawaii where we got married, to celebrate the occasion and enjoy some R&R in the sun. We've been to Hawaii twice, both times to the island of Maui. As that was where we got married, it was where we wanted to go back to. We also wanted to explore a little bit more, so we decided to make it a two island trip and so we decided to spend the first few days on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Our trip started with a very early flight from Vancouver to Kona on the Big Island, via San Francisco. With the early start we were in Kona by 1:00 p.m. local time. The weather was OK when we arrived - not great, but pretty nice, but this ended up being a theme throughout the trip. The reason we picked the Big Island for the first leg of our trip was to spend some time in Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, to see the active volcano. This has been a big wish list item for both Justine and I, and the Kilauea volcano has been particularly active of late. Since about the new year, there's been a huge lava spout pouring into the ocean, and active lava flows on land. We wanted to see that!

The entrance to Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park

The other attraction is the National Park - we've been collecting visits at the U.S. National Parks, and the old lodges in the Parks. Volcano House, in Volcanoes National Park was another to check off on the list. The Park is clear on the other side of the island, about a two hour drive away. So we picked up our rental car and started across the island. The drive was pretty nice, and not all that eventful. We got our first views of the 14,000' Mauna Kea (which we'd be visiting later in the trip), and it's equally huge counter part Mauna Loa. Before long we were in Hilo, the major town close to the Park. The plan had been to stop and pick up a few things in town, but we didn't see any obvious places to stop before we were on our way out to the Park. 

Crazy clouds on the slopes of Mona Loa

Crazy clouds on the slopes of Mona Loa

One of the interesting thing about the Park is that there are a set of old cabins in one of the Park's campgrounds the you can rent out. Not the most luxurious of accommodations, but lots of character (and relatively inexpensive). We had to check in at Volcano House, which also gave us an opportunity to stop in at the park's Kilauea Center to see what was going on. It was a good stop, as they pointed us to a local General Store at the nearby military base, and also provided some good tips on viewing the crater and an update on the volcano's activity. It was all looking very promising. 

The crater of the Kilauea volcano, from Volcano House

At check in, we were given a mimosa, which we enjoyed while looking over the smoking Kilauea crater. The reason Volcano House is so special, is that the hotel and restaurant have a view of the crater, that glows completely at night. It was still full daylight, so all we were seeing was the steam rising from the crater. Still, it was pretty cool. So we hopped back in the car and headed towards our cabin. We stopped at the general store and picked up the few things we'd need, then headed to the cabin. 

The cabins were built in the 1960's, and provide basic accommodations. The one thing we didn't really think about was that with the Park sitting at about 4,000' of elevation, this wasn't the tropical paradise we were used to at Maui. The temperatures were in the mid-60's during the day, and as we discovered got very cold after the sun went down. We had packed some warm cloths and we ended up needing all of them! 

After getting settled in, we drove over to the Jaggar Museum, which was supposed to provide the best views of the crater. And the view didn't disappoint! You could see right into the crater, and see active lava in the crater. It was pretty amazing, even in the light of day. And as the Museum was a short half mile hike from the campsite, we would be able to walk over to the crater at night to check it out after the crowds were gone. 

From the viewing area at the Jaggar Museum, you could clearly see lava in the Kilauea volcano crater

From the viewing area at the Jaggar Museum, you could clearly see lava in the Kilauea volcano crater

As we still had some daylight left, we decided to drive down to the end of Chain of Craters road, a road that goes down to the ocean, and that has been covered by recent lava flows in the park. There is a cool sea arch at the end that you can get to relatively easily, and so we decided to do the drive. The drive was absolutely spectacular, covering about 20 miles each direction, through lava fields that date from all of the recent eruptions. The road stays up high for the first half, then abruptly drops down a cliff towards the ocean. There were many places that we could have stopped to explore, but we were rapidly running out of daylight. 

Lava formations along the Chain of Craters road

Life starting to take hold on one of the lava fields from a 1970s eruption

As the sun set, the light was beautiful.

We got to the parking lot at the end of the road, and were surprised to find it still very busy. It seems that people were walking out to where the active lava flow was entering the ocean, despite the fact that daylight was going to end soon. We weren't that ambitious, so we checked out the sea arch and watched the sun set, before taking the drive back up to the lodge. 

The sea arch on Chain of Craters road, as the sun was about to set

Looking back down the coast, from the sea arch

The rugged coast looking up the coast from the sea arch

Looking towards the spot where the lava was flowing into the ocean. We weren't prepared to hike out there after dark, so it would have to wait a couple of days.

Sunset from the Chain of Craters Road

Volcano House has a nice restaurant in the hotel, and I had booked dinner for in on Friday night to have dinner after the sun set, overlooking the crater. They also have a more casual bar/lounge, and so we decided to grab some dinner in the lounge this evening. The food was pretty good, and the view of the crater was really cool. After dinner we drove back to the cabin, and dropped off the car to walk over to see the crater from the museum. 

A view of the Kilauea crater from the Jaggar Museum viewing deck after the sun had set

There was a short half mile trail that leads from the campsite to the museum, and so we were happy to have brought our headlamps, making the trip over in the dark much easier. The sky was amazing, so clear and full of stars, but even from a distance it was easy to see the glow of the crater. It took about 15 minutes to walk over, and the view was spectacular! You could see down into the crater, and the lava was super active, bubbling up in places, with intermittent bursts of lava creating explosive displays.

A close up view of the crater

The only problem was how cold and windy it was! It was literally freezing out! The wind was howling so hard that even my big camera on my heavy duty tripod was unable to keep everything steady in the wind. It also mean that we could only enjoy the show for a short period of time, before we needed to head home because it was too cold out. We were hoping that it would warm up some (sadly it never did). 

The crater looked amazing at night

The temperature dropped into the 30's at night, and as out cabin did not have any heat we were happy to see that there were lots of extra comforters in the cabin for us to cuddle up under. We slept well that night, after a long day of travel as some exciting views of the volcano.

It wasn't idea for shooting the Milky Way, but I gave it a go - sadly even from half a mile away, the volcano throws out so much light that you see the glow in the sky