The Hawaiian Islands are relatively new pieces of land on the globe, and nothing reminds people of this more than a visit to Volcanoes National Park, where new land is being formed every day by the very active Kilauea Volcano.
Even in lava flows formed in the last 20 years, plants begin to take root wherever they can find proper nutrients and a little bit of water. This is how the islands were populated with life from their beginning—seeds were brought by the waves or by birds flying from far-off lands and some found places to be nurtured and grow.
If you get a chance, drive down Chain of Craters Road and note the changing landscapes of different lava flows and how much vegetation has been able to thrive over the years on different flows.
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Wild Orchids in the Park
Volcanoes National Park is a fascinating place made more beautiful by the flowers that take root in the mineral-rich soil.
Hawaii is home to a variety of orchids that can be found at markets and shops throughout the Island, but I always appreciate seeing them in the wild where nature curates their color and blossoms are free to show their pretty faces as the seasons permit!
Keep an eye out for wild orchids around the Steam Vents, Steaming Bluff, and Ha‘akulamanu area of the Park.
If you have the time, and can stand the heat, I suggest a visit to the very end of the Chain of Craters Road within Volcano National Park. With the every-changing landscape along the way, you will be enthralled with the visuals as you take your journey to the very end of the line. However, in order to reach this exact spot, you must leave your car at the final roadblock and hoof it for about another 3/4 of a mile or so. Prior to your desert-like walk, there is a restroom and a small stand selling drinks and snacks. If you are really ambitious, you may continue your trek along the ancient lava field, which goes on for many more miles.
In 1959, a massive fountain eruption created a huge lava lake in Kilauea Iki on the Big Island of Hawaii. Slowly, over the next three decades, the lake solidified all the way through, but the center of this lake still registers warmer temperatures.
The Kilauea Iki Crater Trail is a path that Volcanoes National Park visitors can take across the vast empty crater floor where steam still rises in places. The National Park Service offers a helpful trail guide (linked below) so hikers can learn about the historic explosion and some of the flora and fauna in the area.
Volcanoes National Park is home to a variety of ferns that grow in the rich soil. These uluhe ferns unfurl in a fashion that makes them look like manmade metal rods with flourished tops stuck in the ground.
The peculiar fern initially grows in shades of pinkish purple to steel blue before unfurling into green fronds. The fern is unusual and eye-catching—gorgeous decor for the outdoor environment of the Park.
Along the Kilauea Iki Crater rim ferns grow thick and flowers can blossom in beautiful colors. These buds were in various forms of opening on my hike around the top of the crater. With stunning variegated petals from yellow to red, each one caught my eye in the midst of so much green.
Regardless what time of year you visit Volcanoes National Park, inevitably some floral color will spill into the tropical forests around the steam vents and craters.
Although ohelo berries are edible, it is not allowed in Volcanoes National Park, where the endangered Hawaiian Nene Goose (similar to a chicken) also dines on them regularly.
The berries are said to appease Pele (the volcano goddess) and grow around the park seemingly in tribute to her.
They add quite a bit of color to volcanic soil, and if the berries are growing, you will not miss them when you walk by.
Pele, the Hawaiian volcano goddess, is still actively destroying and creating land on the Island of Hawaii and in the ocean to the south of the Island. To appease her, some people of Hawaii bring her flowers and fruit to be laid on the Halemaumau Crater.
Though the caldera has been active and the crater rim is closed off, if you see cut flowers placed in the area, you will know they are meant for Pele.
Volcanoes National Park is full of flowers that captivate hikers and sightseers with their color and variety of blossoms. The wild kahili ginger is an invasive species in Hawaii. As such, it is locally more of a weed than a flower, but the spindly flowers with pretty blossoms at the end are curious and carry their own beauty in the forests around the Park.
Known to grow in rich, well-drained, but moderately wet soil, the shell ginger flower grows perfectly in the ground at Volcanoes National Park on the windward (and rainier) side of the Big Island. The flowers open up to look like a hungry mouth with bright red and orange blossom interiors.
The plants leaves have medicinal properties and are used in teas and even the mochi dessert that is commonly served in Hawaii.
The very active Kilauea volcano spews magma temperamentally. Before arriving on the Big Island with expectations of seeing a massive lava fountain, check out the latest status on the volcano at the USGS website.
Most often, a gray crust covers the Halemaumau Crater, and the lava lake in the crater can only be observed by air at night when the hot magma glows through the cooled shell. Alternatively, visitors to the Jaggar Museum at night will see a glow hovering over the crater.
At times, lava flows can be found down the flanks of the volcano and even into the Pacific Ocean. The best way to observe these is at night with a guided tour company like Poke-a-Stick Lava Tours.
Rare Volcanic Eruption on the Big Island of Hawaii
How do I attempt to describe a totally unexpected, rare experience that will forever remain a precious memory? I'm not sure but I'll venture to give it a try.
I just returned from the Big Island of Hawaii, where I spent a week attending conferences, inspecting resorts, and networking with suppliers. We were also treated to a few special activities like Ziplining over Akaka Falls and a Twilight Volcano Tour.
Our Volcano Tour was hosted by Hawaii Forest and Trail. Our spectacular guide, Mark, generously shared his love and passion for the Big Island with our group. We learned about Hawaiian culture and myths, the diversity of the islands, and so much more.
When it came time to finally experience our Twilight Volcano Tour, Mark went above and beyond to make sure we were comfortable (yes, those warm jackets made a huge difference) and had everything we needed, hot chocolate included. His offer to me of a tripod for my camera was more prescient than any of us could have realized at the time!
We were cautioned not to get our hopes up too high, as the volcano had last erupted in 2008. At best, we might see a light red glow. At worst, we might not see anything but cloud cover. We arrived early enough to find our ideal viewing spot, and were excited to glimpse the red glow, brightening by the minute.
Without any warning, however, we were shocked when the volcano began to erupt! It was a rare and beautiful moment, captured here forever. What a memory!
"The tides swirl, Pele o’ermounts them;
The god rides the waves...
Who shall sit astern, be steersman, O, princes?
Pele of the yellow earth."
– A verse from the first song of the hula to Pele.
And a quick way to loosen up the hips for a hike around Volcanoes National Park.