Photos by Stephen and Donna O’ Meara; © Tanguy de Saint Cyr-Fotolia.com
One of the most popular drives on Hawaii Island is the stretch of Highway 11 from the old sugar plantation town of Keaau to lovely Volcano Village on the outskirts of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. How many places on Earth can you drive right to the edge of a once live, erupting volcano? Not many. But here on the Big Island of Hawaii, there are several spots where you can drive up and experience newly formed land lava fields.
Perhaps as a reflection of its popularity, more and more bed-and-breakfast operations have opened in the area, along the scenic drive known as the Volcano Heritage Corridor. Look for the brown and white signs along the highway, which indicate areas of historical interest.
Along the way, sights and points of interest include historic Keaau (with the modern conveniences of Keaau Village Market), an old coffee mill, a winery, nature preserves and several art venues featuring the marvelous creations of resident artists. For years, the mana (miraculous power) and legends of the Volcano region have been a source of inspiration for some of the Islands’ finest artists, including painters, woodblock printers, photographers and sculptors. You, too, may be inspired by the Heritage Corridor, one of several on this big, Big Island.
The entrance to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is just off of Highway 11, located 26 miles from Hilo, a 45-minute to one-hour drive. The admission fee is $25 for each private vehicle, which is good for seven days (not transferrable). Just beyond the park’s entrance, spend time at the Kilauea Visitor Center, where an introductory film and displas provide an excellent introduction to the region. Current update and news is also available here.
Visitors with limited time head straight for the Crater Rim Drive around the impressive Kilauea Caldera, that had been erupting almost continuously from 1983 to 2018. Currently, the caldera has formed a new growing green lava lake. Still, several hours can be devoted to exploring all the sights along the northern portion of the road, including short hikes to the Devastation Trail.
For those with no time constraints, continue toward the coastline on the scenic Chain of Craters Road, which follows past lava flows from the heights of Kilauea down to the sea. At the point where the Chain of Craters Road begins to descend, there is a magnificent view of the coastline, and you can see lava ad spilled into the ocean. The road descends 3,700 feet in 20 miles, ending near the coastline where a lava flow cut off all access nearly 10 years ago. Except for restrooms and a shaded pavilion with picnic benches at the lookout on Chain of Craters Road, there are no other public facilities, so be sure you have adequate water, snacks and a full tank of gas.
Kilauea’s East Rift Zone eruption, which began in 1983, was the longest continuous rift-zone eruption in written history. Kilauea, which means “much sprewing,” is the world’s most active volcano. Daily reports are posted at the visitor center. Certain precautions must be taken for any hike into this area. The National Park Service has a four-minute video entitled, “Plan for Safe Viewing of Lava Flows.”
On your return to the park’s entrance, save time to visit the charming Volcano Art Center Gallery, which makes its home in the original Volcano House Hotel, built in 1877. Just outside the park, Kipuka Puaulu Bird Park is a lovely side trip, and it’s free. Take Mauna Loa Road to the park entrance, which is located a short drive off Highway 11. In this vast area of past volcanic activity, the park features a forest of koa trees that have escaped centuries of eruptions, with a wealth of bird life that make this oasis its home.
For the latest updates and news, call the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park at 808-985-6000.
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