Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Hawaii Big Island - Day 2

Today, I woke up at 5 AM with trepidation. Today is the big day, the day when we were going to trek through a rainforest, and end up at the foot of the Pu'u O'o volcano, close enough to see its vent. And from what I had read, the volcano had been quite active lately. Both excitement and fear of death from toxic fumes pumped up my adrenaline, and I woke up before my alarm rang.

We set out in our car to the trailhead - it is quite hidden, beyond even the remote areas where people live around here, and the last portion of the road to the trailhead is poorly maintained, just a gravel road. We reached this area and timidly drove our Mustang convertible rental over it, praying we won't get stuck in the wet gravel because it had been raining all morning. I licked my finger and put it up to the wind. Yup, a Northern trade wind. Just what we need for the toxic sulphur fumes from the volcano to be blown away from the trail, so that we don't die on our hike. The anticipation was building. And we finally reach the end of the road. The trailhead right beyond those bushes.

NOOOOOOO!!!! As we stepped out of the car and headed to the trail, we were stopped by a wire fence and a big read sign: "DANGER. Trail has been closed due to excessive volcanic activity and poisonous sulphur dioxide fumes. " This has been the biggest let down ever! After all that anticipation, only to be shunned from our adventure... =( In my disappointment and sadness, I even forgot to take a photo of the sign at the trailhead!

But hey, I have a Ph.D. now, so I should be able to quickly adapt to situations. We adapted, and headed over the the Volcanoes National Park, which is right by the small town of (and this will blow your mind) Volcano. At least getting up early for the hike meant that we beat the crowds to the park. We started with an invigorating hike through the Kilauea Iki Crater. This was a fantastic hike. It was about 4 mi loop, and took us ~2.5 hours, which is quite slow because we were constantly stopping for photos or checking out the wonderfully strange landscape and plants. It starts with a gentle downhill, taking you from the crater rim down into the caldera, then it's pretty much flat while walking over the crater floor, past steaming vents and other cool stuff. Finally theres some uphill to get back to the crater rim again, but overall not strenuous at all. Here is a map of the trail we took:

The best part was walking down on the crater floor. The steaming vents are quite intimidating at first, because you feel like there must be something going on down there, and maybe it will erupt with molten lava any minute, and melt you like a chocolate in a hot pan. If the wind blows and wafts some of that steam over, you can faintly smell the sulphur, but I guess the amount there is at a safe level. The landscape down there is also fascinating. Giant openings in the ground below, and layers of cooled lava that peel away from the bottom layers forming almost an open blanket of black rock, and piles of shattered lava everywhere, forms an image of chaos and destruction. Its as if the Incredible Hulk were let loose here, and smashed and unearthed everything. But then you see the small trees and fern blades that poke their heads out from the black, hard rock, and you realize how resilient and strong Nature is. A single seed, tries and tries, and eventually something so soft like a fern branch, can break through that tough lava rock. I guess in another eon, barring more eruptions, this crater might become a lush rainforest too.

View of the Kilauea Iki crater from the crater rim

Left: Descending into the crater. Center: Lush rainforest surrounds the crater rim, in stark comparison to the barren crater floor. Right: New life sprouting from the depths of the lava rock. 

Landscape in the crater

This hike into the crater was definitely the highlight of our day at the Volcanoes National Park. We also visited the Thurston Lava tube, the Sulphur Banks and Steam Vents, and the Petroglyphs near the end of the Chain of Craters Road:

Center: Thurston lava tube. Clockwise from top left: View from an Ahu (cairn, or pile-of-rocks-marker) at Hilina Pali; Steam vent; Petroglyphs at the end of the petroglyphs trail; End of the end - the end of the trail at the end of the chain of craters road scenic drive; Ominous sign at the entrance to the sulphur banks trail.

All in all, we must have hiked 12-15 miles that day! It was definitely a very long but rewarding day of trekking around the park. By the end of the night when we reached the end of the end, we were exhausted, and hoping to just hunker down somewhere on the lava rock to watch some red glowing lava flow down the side of the mountain, like all the photos online (kinda like this, but without the weird outfit...). Unfortunately the lava flow tonight was too far away to be viewed! It could only be seen if you take a helicopter ride. =( So we settled by trudging back to the Jagger Museum near the Visitor Center, and ended our day by checking out the awesome red lava glow from the Kilauea crater. 

                           Volcano by day                                                              Volcano by night ("oooooo..... ahhhhh.......")

A disappointing start to the day, but all's well that end's well. :D

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