The list of potential hazards handed out at the entrance gates is dire enough to make some travelers wonder whether they should pursue the adventure that lies ahead. Yet the likelihood of collapsing benches, acid fumes, flying rocks and scalding waves is almost nil. Once visitors to Kalapana Lava Viewing Area, on the Big Island of Hawaii, carefully negotiate the 3?4-mile walk across a lava field — aided by flashlights or headlamps at night — then settle in to ooh-and-ahh at the bright-orange eruptions in the distance, they will realize that the risk was worth taking. They will literally, in fact, be watching the Big Island get bigger.
The same forces that created the Hawaiian Islands themselves are still at work today, spewing magma skyward from deep within the Earth — a superheated cataclysm that travelers can currently see daily about an hour’s drive from the entrance to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Kilauea Volcano is one of the most active volcanoes in the world, and RVers willing to negotiate the tricky terrain of the lava field to the viewing area can watch the dynamic reactions that occur when lava and sea collide.
RVers don’t, however, have to make any lava-field treks to appreciate Kilauea’s impressive plume — a seemingly endless white column that visitors to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park can and should view from Volcano House, located near the park’s only entrance on Highway 11. Across from Volcano House sits the Kilauea Visitor Center, where visitors should check on the status of the volcano’s eruption and plan their visits.
A drive along either or both Crater Rim Drive and Chain of Craters Road grants travelers outstanding views of Kilauea Caldera and Kilauea Iki Crater. Adventurous visitors can hike down into, across and then back up the other side of Kilauea Iki Crater, which is still smoldering — a fascinating hike that no lovers of outdoor activities should skip. The nearby Thurston Lava Tube delivers a relatively tame excursion, so long as explorers carry two flashlights (batteries do, after all go dead) and are not claustrophobic.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is located 95 miles from the city of Kailua-Kona and 30 miles from Hilo. Travelers who need more than one day to explore the park may want to rent a VW Westfalia bus from G.B. Adventures, then camp in Namakanipaio Campground, which is three miles north of the park entrance on Highway 11. The spacious, grassy campsites include fire pits and picnic tables and are free with a paid park admission, and the campground also features showers and cabins.
The park is home to Mauna Loa, the largest volcano on earth, and Mauna Kea, which is said to be both the most massive mountain on the planet and the tallest, when its height is measured from its base on the ocean crust.
Perhaps visitors will want to view these two active volcanoes during 2009, when Hawaii celebrates its 50th anniversary of statehood.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, (808) 985-6000, www.nps.gov/havo.