Rather than explore the whole of Big Island, we had decided to confine our trip to Volcano village and the Volcanoes National Park area.
We stayed at Chalet Kilauea's 'The Inn', which was set in rainforest-like surroundings. If you are visiting Hawaii for sunshine and hot weather, Volcano is not the place to be. We learnt later that there are many micro-climates on the Big Island and Hawaii in general. Apparently, of the 13 major life zones (deserts, grassland, rainforests, etc), found throughout the world, 11 exist on Hawaii. Volcano village, with about 128 inches of rainfall a year, is one of America's wettest towns. One consequence of this abundant rainfall is that we saw a rainbow every day, not just on Big Island, but also in Maui and Oahu as well.
Volcano village itself was tiny. There were just two gas (or petrol as we call it) stations and by the end of our five days there, we had eaten at every restaurant at least once. The notable restaurants are:
- Kilauea Lodge - best place for breakfast
- Lava Cafe - huge portions
- Thai Thai Restaurant - authentic Thai food with varying levels of spiciness on a scale from one to ten, with 'Thai hot' being at level 12
- Volcano Golf and Country Club - good local food with a great view of the greens.
All the islands of Hawaii were formed by magma out of the earth's crust. Some of the islands, like the Big Island, are still connected to the magma chamber, which is why there are still active volcanoes. All the islands are drifting away, towards the west, and those that are no longer connected to the magma chamber will eventually sink and disappear back into the ocean.
We learnt all this from the 20-minute presentation at the Volcanoes National Park information centre. This helped us to get a better understanding and appreciation of the landscape and geological features as we went round the park. We also learnt about shield volcanoes, the difference between pahoehoe and a'a lava and how lava tubes are formed. We saw 'tree molds', which are what's left behind after lava has engulfed the trees.
Apart from an excellent guided tour around the Kilauea Iki (small Kilauea) crater, which erupted during the 1950s), we spent most of time 'chasing lava'. We would travel, with B driving - she was very steady despite her own misgivings - either down the Chain of Craters Road, or round the coast to the Kalapana viewing point, to catch a glimpse of the glow from fresh lava flowing out of eruption points at night.
If we'd been in Volcano only a few days longer, we would have seen some spectacular sights, with the lava flowing into sea. Unfortunately for us, our timing was just a little bit off. I concluded that unless there is confirmed activity, you are better off going to the Jaggar Museum, where you will find exhibits explaining all about the volcanoes. The museum overlooks the crater, which billows smoke during the day and glows orange at night.
We did see, however, some of the devastation that was caused barely a year before. At the viewing point at Kalapana, a road ended abruptly. The ranger present told us that the road used to extend for another two miles, but the stretch was destroyed on 20 January 2011 by lava overspill.
At another viewing area, a Stop sign stood at knee height, with the remainder buried under rock.