Kilauea’s Iki Crater is known for its
On a recent visit to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, I was
convinced that anyone who’d walk a mile in my shoes would be
extremely fortunate. It was actually closer to six miles, which
made the journey all the more rewarding.
Although I’ve ventured along numerous trails throughout this
marvel in the past, I opted for the Kilauea Volcano Discovery Hike
with Hawaiian Walkways on this crisp morning.
Staying in nearby Volcano Village, I hooked up with interpretive
guide Rob Campbell and a group of eight at the Kilauea Visitor
Center. There, we perused exhibits on regional geology, endemic
species and early Hawaiian history.
And naturally, we were introduced to Madam Pele, the Hawaiian
goddess of fire whose fury continues to spark the volcanic
eruptions creating this wondrous moonscape terrain. The center also
charts current lava flows and weather conditions at the park’s two
Our well-versed guide outfitted us with backpacks, rain ponchos,
water bottles, lunch and a sturdy walking stick. Since we’d be
negotiating fields of both smooth and jagged lava, Campbell
considered the stick a must.
“You can call this a moderate hike or a tough walk,” said
Campbell. “So we gear you up appropriately and explain what you’re
seeing so it all makes sense.”
Next stop was Thurston Lava Tube, a 400-foot tunnel created 350
to 500 years ago as molten lava thickened to literally cover a
flowing lava stream. “That’s the beard of ohia,” said Campbell as
we stood beneath aerial roots dangling through the cavern’s ceiling
from the endemic trees above.
Upon surfacing from the dark, damp tube, we were enveloped
within a beautiful rainforest.
Hikers encounter numerous steam
vents on the lava.
“The open canopy system here allows sunlight and rain to hit all
levels,” Campbell said. “You’ll see endemic ohia lehua trees and
hapuu ferns creating the upper and middle canopies, making this
different from any other rainforest on Earth.”
What pleasantly punctuated the lush jungle-like setting were the
chirps of birds and the wind whispering through the trees. What a
great slice of nature, I thought.
With a grasp on both the lay of the land and our trusty walking
sticks, we set out for Kilauea Iki Crater.
“The beauty of this trail is that it’s a four-mile loop,”
Campbell said. “So we’ll drop and climb 400 feet through this
tropical rainforest and across a barren caldera floor covered most
recently by a 1959 lava flow.”
At nearly any point in our jaunt, lush rainforest dominated on
one hand and the black, buckling caldera canvas on the other. It’s
as if two contrasting climate zones had been plucked up and placed
side by side to amaze those of us who were surrounded by it. And
for added punch, snowcapped Mauna Kea loomed in the distance. The
world’s largest mountain measures some 30,000-plus feet from the
ocean’s floor with 13,677 feet towering above the Earth’s
Reaching the trail base, we experienced a distinctive change in
climate. From the cool wetland above, we were now trudging through
an arid zone where vegetation was sparse and the surface was much
more rigid. Then as somewhat of a blessing, a persistent mist blew
in to cool things off a bit.
Campbell pointed to lava markings call “ahu.” The National Park
Service maintains these as trail markings so less experienced
hikers don’t lose their way. I knew I’d made a wise choice to cross
the crater with a guide, as the “ahu” simply looked like random
lava formations to me.
Plodding along in awe, the adventure continued to unfold to one
amazing natural wonder after another. Eerie puffs of steam rose
from vents as a reminder that the ground beneath us was still
cooling off. And in an ultimate display of resiliency, ohia and
lehua blossoms poked through cracks and crevices returning
vegetation to the devastation from former flows.
Tackling a trip like this with a volcano whiz like Hawaiian
Walkways’ Campbell opened my eyes to the magic of the life cycle. I
left with a fresh perspective of Madam Pele’s relentless power and
how time repairs her wrath with beauty.
P.O. Box 1307 Honokaa, HI 96727
Kilauea Volcano Discovery Hike
$150, adult; $95, child (8-12 years)
Offered Monday through Saturday based on availability. Pick up in
Hilo at 9 a.m. Others meet at Kilauea Visitor Center at 10 a.m. Be
sure to dress in layers. Close-toed shoes and sunscreen are
Saddle Road Exploration
$135, adult; $95, child
Waipio Waterfall Adventure
$95, adult; $75, child
Kona Cloud Forest Botanical Walk
$95, adult; $75 child
Commission: 15 percent