When checking into Volcano House our night porter did not hide his surprise when we answered the customary question, “so where are you from?” with “New Zealand”, “Wow, New Zealand huh!” Perhaps it was a slightly different answer compared to the 5 million mainland Americans who visit Hawaii each year. While most holiday on the beach in Oahu, the more adventurous tourists come to the Big Island to view the world’s most active volcanic crater. Known as Halema’uma’u crater in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, at its core Kileau caldera has been consistently erupting since 2008. The caldera puts on a spectacular evening show lighting the sky red as lava streams down the caldera walls. While many visitors head to the informative Jagger Museum once night falls, the caldera can also be viewed at the historic Volcano House. The hotel is perched on the rim of an active volcano and the good news is you don’t need to be a guest here to enjoy the view. You can dine at the classy Rim Restaurant or grab a beer from more casual Uncle Georges Lounge. The staff here are used to the guests taking their time, sip slowly and enjoy the show.
Apart from the evening show there is more to explore in the park during the day. On a spectacular scenic drive, chain of craters is road is dotted with just that. Kileua Iki (Little Kileau) is one such crater which was formed by an eruption in a fissure in 1959. The eruption created a lake of lava and the world’s highest recorded lava fountain. The lake is now a hardened lava bed, dotted with Uhule fern forest, bright red Ohia trees as well as steaming vents near the still present and ever threatening fissure. You can walk through the crater on the Kileua Iki trail, a loop walk that also includes the 500 year old Thurston lava tube. Crater rim road leads to the coast and the end of the road, literally, where you’ll find unique landscapes including Holei sea arch formed when molten lava meet the powerful ocean.
While Halema’uma’u crater is considered to be home to Pele, the Goddess of fire and volcanoes, her territory encompasses the whole of Big Island. The best example of Pele’s force is the former Kalapana Village. In 1990 Kilauea’s lava flow inched toward Kalpana and within a year destroyed the village and eclipsed Kaimu beach. Where Kalpana once stood there is now a Hawaiian sovereignty outpost and information on how you can become a sovereign Hawaiian. While you contemplate relinquishing your nationality to live in this volcanic paradise you can grab a decent mango smoothie and chat with sovereign locals at the bar.
Back at our volcano park home we sipped the last of our wine at Uncle Georges lounge. The clouds had cleared from the afternoon to give us a perfect smoky red view. Our server asked us “would you like anything else?” although we saw a few families lingering around the bar waiting for a table we couldn’t help it. “Maybe some of that lilikoi cheesecake?”
By Michelle Campbell