We are taking a break from the sunny beaches on the Kona side of the island and headed over to the Hilo area on Saturday.. Found a great place to stay on Air B&B for two nights – more on that later.
Our drive took us over Route 200, known locally as Saddle Road, traverses the width of the Island of Hawaii, from downtown Hilo to its junction with Hawaii Route 190 near Waimea. The road was considered one of the most dangerous paved roads in the state, with many one-lane bridges and areas of marginally maintained pavement. Most of the road has now been repaved, and major parts have new re-alignments to modern standards. The highway reaches a maximum elevation of 6,632 feet (2,021 m) and is subject to fog and low visibility. Many rental car companies used to prohibit use of their cars on Saddle Road, but now allow use of the road.
The drive over is just gorgeous as you crest the saddle between the two mountains of Mauna Loa and the Mauna Kea. We were lucky to have clear blue skies for the entire drive until we started descending into the Hilo area where the misty rain began.
Hawaii is one of the most ecological diverse places of the world, and you can find many extreme climates on the Big Island. You can experience 8 of the world 13 climate zones on the The Big Island, perhaps in one day if you tried really hard.
Our destination on Saturday was the Volcano National Park where we expected to experience several of the a few of those climate zones. We stated our day by driving down the Chain of Craters Road to the very end, about 19 miles where we could see the lava flowing into the ocean in the far distance. Dry, barren and lava covered. We had lunch over looking the lava cliffs with the surf crashing up onto the cliff walls, dramatic, very warm and really windy.
After a couple short hikes across the hot, dry lava to see petroglyphs, we worked our way back up to about 4,000 ft elevation where we did a 2 mile hike to the east side of the Kīlauea Crater where the barren landscape gave way to steaming lava vents. So prehistoric and wet…we were soaked by the time we got back to the car but the hike was worth being wet, as we were the only ones at the overlook and had a spectacular rainbow to welcome us.
After touring the visitors center and the art gallery we made our way to the Jaggar Museum to view the lava activity in the Kilauea Crater at sunset. We managed to dry out in the car while we waited for sunset and OMG was it worth the wait. I can’t even begin to describe how mesmerizing the bubbling caldron of lava was that we saw when dark descended over the park. So glad we brought binoculars as that gave us the detail of how explosive the lava was in the crater vents. The other magical thing was seeing the lava light up in all fissures across the top of the crater, it was lighting up a neon sign. We simply stood there gaping in amazement with a couple hundred other people who were strangely quiet.
The park is simply amazing and one could spend days there with all there is to see and do. There are over 150 miles of hiking trails of which we maybe did 5% of them on this trip. We finished our day with a incredible meal at Ohelo Café which is just outside the park.