The volcano area of Hawaii’s Big Island is erupting with things to do. Here’s a sampling of unique activities in and near Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
Volcano Golf and Country Club
One of the world's most unusual courses, this 18-hole marvel is located in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, on the slopes of Kilauea Volcano ($70 per person per round, $57 after noon).
Four- and six-passenger whirlybirds come with aviation headsets and microphones, allowing fellow passengers to talk with each other and the pilot (from $155 per person for 50 min.).
Safari Helicopter Tours
A-Star air-conditioned helicopters feature noise-cancellation headsets, a two-way intercom system and big picture windows (from $158 for 45 min.).
Air-conditioned aerial tours carry clients over active lava flows (from $169 for 35-45 min.).
Volcano air tours include a flight with the doors off (from $152 for 35 min.).
Hawaii Forest and Trail
Clients explore a native rainforest, a lava tube and other volcanic formations while learning about the area’s diverse geography and climates ($169 per adult, $139 per child).
Trained naturalists share scientific and mythological details during trips through Hawaii Volcanoes National Park ($169 per adult, $119 per child).
Kapohokine Adventures, LLC
Interpretive walks in the park include visits to active volcanic craters and steam and sulfur vents (from $89-$129 per adult, $79-$109 per child).
Native Guide Hawaii
An island-born guide adds a touch of local flavor to hikes for clients of all abilities ($150 per person with two or more participants).
Lava Ocean Adventures
Sunrise, daytime and sunset tours aboard twin-hulled boats provide views of lava pouring into the sea ($180 per adult, $125 per child).
Clients can choose from two guided bicycle tours: a day tour inside the park ending with wine tasting; and an afternoon/sunset tour outside the park ($129 per adult, $99 per child).
Thrillseekers Hawaii Inc.
Motorcycle tours from Kona to Kilauea help clients get the lay of the land ($65 per person).
Clients can learn about the planting, harvesting, brewing and tasting of tea ($25 per person).
Volcano Art Center
Here’s a great place to savor the artistic and cultural heritage of Hawaii's people and environment (free).
Volcano Garden Arts
This farmhouse-turned-gallery is surrounded by gardens and nature trails (free) and includes a cafe.
Free tastings are a big draw at this attraction, whose varietals are made from local bounty like yellow guava and macadamia nut honey.
It’s hard to sum up the allure of the volcano region on Hawaii’s Big Island because it’s always in flux. The park lays claim to two of the world’s most active volcanoes — Kilauea, which has been erupting nonstop since 1983, and Mauna Loa, the largest volcano on Earth — resulting in a destination where natural bursts and blasts can happen any time. One day, a road will exist; the next day, it might be covered in lava.
The Thurston Lava Tube in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park // © 2009 Big Island Visitors Bureau
Some 150 years ago, Mark Twain visited and wrote about the volcano region with awe and appreciation. He was followed by Jack London and Robert Louis Stevenson. Today, it still inspires clients with its misty, moonlike landscapes, dramatic lava flows, fragile ecosystems and cultural significance.
The major draw, of course, is Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, a 333,086-acre marvel stretching from sea level to 13,677 feet. Drawing 1.3 million people in 2008, it is the state’s most-visited attraction and also Hawaii’s only World Heritage Site, one of 890 global locations chosen by UNESCO for their cultural and physical significance. Just outside the park border awaits Volcano Village, with additional charms for clients.
“This area appeals to hikers and people who enjoy the best that nature offers,” said Lorna Larsen-Jeyte, co-owner of Kilauea Lodge in Volcano Village. “It’s also ideal for clients who don’t mind staying in a town that goes to sleep at 9:30 p.m.”
While the region’s visitor make-up hasn’t changed much over the years, the destination has kept itself fresh thanks to the ever-changing dynamics of its landscape. That means repeat guests can expect to have new experiences on each visit.
Arriving visitors often head directly to Kilauea Visitor Center, home of the latest eruption news, hiking information, camping permits and the daily schedule of ranger-led activities. The center features interactive displays, movies highlighting the special aspects of the park and a bookstore.
“The park is very service-oriented, with cutting-edge geologists, excellent ranger sources, guided hikes and public presentations by renowned cultural speakers and practitioners,” said Big Island Visitors Bureau executive director George Applegate.
In terms of lodging and dining, the volcano region has changed a lot in recent decades. Larsen-Jeyte recalls that when she first moved there in 1987, the historic Volcano House — owned by the park and still in operation — cornered both markets. Today’s visitors, she said, want more variety in accommodations and eateries, and the community has responded.
“Our bed and breakfasts, small hotels and restaurants have kept current by catering to modern tastes,” said Larsen-Jeyte. Diners, for instance, can savor Asian flavors at Thai Thai, hearty soups and organic salads at Cafe Ono, and rack of lamb at Keawe Kitchen. Along with Kilauea Lodge, whose grounds are filled with flowers, ferns and large ohia trees, clients can hang their hiking boots in charming family-run accommodations and vacation rentals.
Similarly, area attractions have grown more diverse over time. Visitors can learn about brewing and pouring in a zen-like setting at Tea Hawaii, sip varietals made from local fruit at Volcano Winery, go golfing while watching Hawaii’s endemic nene geese stroll by and meet the locals at Sunday farmers markets. In mid-2010, when the Volcano Art Center — home of Volcano-inspired works — opens its new educational facility, clients will be able to make their own creative statements about their surroundings.
A major part of the region’s appeal is its emphasis on the legends of Pele, Hawaii’s volcano goddess, as well as other deities of the region. Around the park, frequent events with hula dancers and chanters help visitors appreciate the deep cultural significance of the area.
Activity vendors have dreamed up inventive ways for clients to immerse themselves in the history and culture of the destination. BikeVolcano.com explores the park on two wheels from summit to sea, followed by an optional wine-tasting session. Native Guide Hawaii shares the landscape during a hike with someone who was born and raised on the island, providing a real insider’s take on the region. Lava Ocean Adventures presents boat tours along the coastline, where clients can marvel at lava flowing into the sea and massive plumes of steam clouds. Hiking tours with Hawaiian Walkways engross clients in the geology and flora of Kilauea, where nearly every plant, stone and location tells a story. Rising above it all are helicopter tours, providing heady views of a land in constant creation.
It’s a lot to fit into a single destination, but the volcano region is up to the challenge. From the swaying of hula hips and the songs of native birds to lava flowing red over black, it’s a dynamic environment where the past comes alive in the present and the future feels ripe with opportunity.