After exploring the north side of the Big Island, we headed south towards a stunning string of waterfalls. The north-east side of the Island is exactly what I imagined Hawaii would look like: a rainforest of big intensely green plants. There was plenty of backtracking in the car to drive down little one-way roads at 20 Mph while we gawked at the scenery, windows down to breathe in that humid forest air. And every once in a while, when we reached a waterfall, we’d actually get out of the car to take a look. Favorite falls: Akaka Falls (for sheer drama alone). Falls with the most segments: Umauma Falls (3 segments). Falls where you actually have a chance to climb up to the top and scramble around rocks (although we didn’t have time to do this ourselves, it looked extremely popular): Rainbow Falls (right outside Hilo, also check out Boiling Pots down the road).
The day ended at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park where we arrived just in time to take a short hike through more tropical forest and a field of steam vents smelling strongly of sulfur. Less dramatic than Yellowstone, but at least Hawaii has an active volcano to even the playing field. We stayed in Volcano village, literally a mile from the national park entrance. I comforted myself that if the volcano exploded in the night, nowhere on that side of the island would be safe, so there wasn’t any point staying 20 min further away. At least we were able to arrive back at the park early enough the next morning to start on the KÄ«lauea Iki crater hike before most of the tourists (and before it go too hot). The hike takes you around and down one of the older craters so that you can walk across a bed of solidified lava. Of course the steam vents across the crater bed made me wonder if it was more of a “dead” crater, but since I noticed a number of scientific instruments stuck into the rock, I figure someone’s keeping an eye on things… right???
After the crater hike we walked through Thurston lava tube, drove down Chain of Craters Road, and ended up at the bottom of the mountain by the ocean where you could see the cooled lava beds falling into the ocean. Seven miles down the coast one could clearly see the steam/poison plumes of hot lava flowing into the ocean. As awesome as it would be to hike to the active lava flow, there are a couple serious problems. First, during the day, it is absurdly hot, exacerbated by the fact that you are walking on black rock. Second, the black lava rock you are walking on is uneven, has huge cracks in it, and is sharp as glass. Third, the area where the lava flows into the ocean is highly unstable, and huge pieces of “new land” break off and fall into the ocean without warning (so don’t go too near the ocean cliffs). Fourth, if you decide to do the hike at night to get around the first problem, you will not be able to clearly deal with the second and third problems due to lack of light. The only good thing about doing the hike at night is that you can more clearly see the lava flows. And, if you’re ballsy, you can take the 4 mile route from the other direction over private land.
The day ended with a glimpse of reflected lava lake light in the main KÄ«lauea crater. During the day you can only see steam (poisonous gas) from the lava lake just below your line of sight, but at night, the steam glows red from the lava. It’s pretty spectacular. If my camera battery hadn’t died earlier in the day I would’ve taken pictures, I promise.