The best way to make the most of the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is to try out the Kilauea Iki trail, which runs through the northern rim of the Kilauea Iki Crater. This 4-mile long circular trip takes you through all the natural marvels of the region. One day is enough for this hike and you get to experience the whole microcosm of the Park just with this one trail.
Kilauea Iki Hike
The total 4 miles roundabout hike can be completed in 2-3 hours. Start your hike from the Kilauea Iki Overlook and parking lot. Walk through the Thurston Lava Tube, which is also known as Nahuku Tube in the native language. It is a 500-year-old lava cave and one of the most accessible ones in the Park. A lava cave is formed when a river of molten magma flows down through inside the earth. When the flow stops, these caves appear and are an epitome of Mother Nature’s beauty.
The Thurston Lava Tube will take you down 400 foot and opens up to a hidden tropical forest, filled with ferns, ohelo shrubs, and ohia trees. This forest is a biodiversity hotspot and home to a plethora of exotic birds and herbivores. Don’t forget your binoculars as they will be needed a lot. You can find some sulfur vents, springs, streams, multicolored mineral rocks, and in the backdrop, some amazing native bird songs.
Follow the Crater Rim Trail towards Puu Puai. The trail runs parallel along with the rugged lava valleys, so you will find a lot of photographic places. The path crosses through dense jungles but opens up at various points into the crater floor. After about 1 mile you will reach an intersection that connects the Crater Rim Trail with the Volcano House and the Visitor Centre. Continuing with the trail, you will find another intersection which goes towards the Byron Ledge. Keep on along the trail and you can see some parts of the Puu Puai. Walking down South now you will gradually descend down 150 foot and find the marvelous terrain of newly formed lava rocks.
Hawaiian lava is unique because it contains a mineral called olivine, which produced stunning sets of green crystals, which is found throughout the crater belt. You may also find naturally stacked stones in different places. They are called Ahu in the native language and are a true natural wonder. There are many varieties of Ahu to explore but be sure to not disturb or touch their balance.
You can also spot an amazing and extremely resilient species of trees, the ohia lehua trees which can grow even in sulfur vents. These trees originated in New Zeland under years of seclusion but are amazingly found here as well.
The Devastation Trail, which was earlier mentioned, is a little detour north from this point. If you want to skip this continue south until you reach the other side of the crater. It’s just a 400-foot climb back to the starting point, The Thurston Lava Tube.
The other alternative is to reverse the hiking path and start with the crater first. If you are a little pressed for time simply go as far as you can, and then return following the same path.
The uniqueness of the place is in its earth. The earth here is alive in some sense and the whole place is brimming with geographical activities. The central crater portion is covered with wrinkled rocks and steaming vents. The rocks near the center of the crater are so hot that you can find steam, formed by the rainwater which seeped inside, gushing out from open vents from within the rocks. The first half of the trail passes through lush green tropical forests. You can find lava tubes and hidden caves underneath the canopy of huge broadleaf trees. The second part will take you through the rocky, arid crater made from lava.
Puu Puai Eruption
It was in 1959, when the Puu Puai (since named “gushing hill”) burst out with a series of eruptions and earthquakes. The volcano threw out a staggering 2 million tons of lava an hour during its eruption. The molten lava reached the Kilauea Iki and further drained down to the main Kilauea Caldera. It has been dormant ever since for the last 50 years but is still one of the world’s most active volcanoes. Hawaiians worship the woman deity of Pele, who is considered to be the God and force behind the mighty volcanoes.
The Puu Puai can be partially viewed from the Visitors Center. If you want to see the iconic cinder cone shape of the Puu Puai, then you will have to take the half a mile Devastation Trail. It got its name because the 1959 volcano charred this entire forest down. But blessed with a fertile black soil and frequent rainfall, today, evergreen trees have colonized the area once again. Take this short detour if your adrenalin hungry instincts want the thrill of a Jurassic Park atmosphere. The actual crater of Puu Puai is inaccessible to tourists as it is still boiling bright with magma.
Kilauea Iki and Thurston Lava Tube Tips
· A hat and sunscreen is a must because there is hardly any shade in the crater.
· To support and help with the upkeep of the park, you can get a $2 Kilauea Iki Trail Guide. It has interesting facts and stories about this region along with a detailed map.
· Do bring your rain gear on, don’t even trust a sunny day, as the weather in Hawaii can change in a blink of an eye.
· Bring some food and plenty of water.
· Do not try to break of any mineral or rocks from the crater. The natural symbiosis of the region is very fragile.
· Be sensitive to the natural, cultural and historical aspects of the place.
· If you have any kind of heart ailments, asthma or any other breathing disorder visit the Visitors Center first before heading to the Crater area.
Directions to Kilauea Iki Trailhead
Once you enter the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the trail will fall on the left. Follow the signs towards the Thurston Lava Tube. There are two places where you can start your trip from the Kilauea Parking lot only, or for the shorter option, head to the Lava Tube. You can start your trail from any of the two points.