Busy Big Island Day with Kids (Part 1 - Volcano)

Hale Mau'Mau Crater

Smoke plume at the Hale Mau'Mau Crater

We just arrived back on the Big Island for another exciting trip.  This time we have several young kids (age 3 and 4) in our group and we are excited to show them all of the wonderful things the Big Island has to offer.  My last several trips were with either friends or family (without the kids), so this trip will obviously be different.

Our first full day on the Big Island we decided to go the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to check out the sites, view the craters, and do some hiking.  Anytime we can get outdoors with the kids is a good time - and Hawaii is no exception!  We started off exremely jet lagged (couldn’t sleep past 4:30AM) - we were one of the first at the Hilo Wal-Mart when they opened their doors to pick up various supplies that we didn’t pack in our luggage: snacks for the kids, sun block, kids’ swim fins, a couple of hawaiian-print beach towels…  Then, we were off to the local pancake house for a hearty breakfast before heading out on our adventures to the Volcano.

We drove the short 45 minutes down Highway 11 from Hilo to the Volcano.  Our first stop (as in everytime we go to the Volcano) was at the Visitor’s Center.  It’s a good opportunity to stretch your (and the kids’) legs, use the restrooms, and talk with the park rangers to find out the current lava flow and vog (volcanic fog gas) conditions.  Luckily, today we found out the vog conditions were not too hazardous, the winds were blowing the volcanic gasses (mainly sulphur dioxide gas) away from us.  Next, we walked across the street to the Volcano House to check out their wonderful ovservation deck on the rear of the lodge.  But, the Volcano House is currently under renovation so we couldn’t go on.  However, we did see a trail head just to the left of the lodge that seemed to parallel the crater rim (southeasterly direction) and we decided to hike up this trail and do a little bit of exploring.

The trail actually takes you along an older road that has been ovecome by lava flows and encroached on by the dense jungle.  Additionally, underground lava flows and erosion have collapsed sections of the road and created small sink holes thus leaving you to a small path to walk - there is a railing that keeps you away from the dangerous portions of this road.  At about 0.1 miles into this hike, there is a scenic view area that offers unobstructed views of the Kilauea Caldera (from the southeast view point).  In the distance we could see the towering smoke plume stretching from the Hale mau’mau Crater (the deep crater sunken-in within the larger Kilauea Caldera).  The weather was in the 60′s with a breeze and we were in between light sweatshirts all morning - as we picked up the pace on our hiking, we would shed a layer, and as we slowed down we would put it back on.  We continued down this trail for about another quarter-mile where it led us to the Waldron Ledge Overlook (about 0.5 miles from the Volcano House - 1.0 miles roundtrip).  This was a larger overlook that opened up to a wide view of the crater.  We could also see small groups of hikers hundreds of feet below us on the crater floor - from up here they looked like small ants.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park - Thurston Lava Tube

Hike to the Thurston Lava Tube

We turned around and hiked back to the Visitor’s Center along the same path we took.  Then we continued down the Crater Rim Drive to the Thurston Lava Tube.  This used to be an underground lava tube where molten lava flowed through.  Today it is an underground cave lined with dried lava.  The short walk approaching the lava tube takes you through a tropical forest dominated by giant ferns.  The kids really got a kick out of walking through the lava tube.

The kids (age 4 and 3) said that they were up for more hiking, so we decided to take the short (0.5 mile) trail leading from the Thurston Lava Tube parking skirting the edge of the crater up to the starting point parking lot of the Kilauea Iki Trail.  This particular trail has many undulations, several hundred feet of altitude loss, and does have various roots and obstructions on it.  The kids were up for the challenge and enjoyed the nature walk - especially the numerous overlooks (with railings) that offered various sweeping views of the Kilauea Iki Crater (and trail) below.  At the end of the 0.5 miles was the Kilauea Iki Trail parking lot - where we turned around and hiked back the way we came.  A full 1 mile round-trip and the kids were great!

At that point, we ate a quick lunch and let the kids take a nice car nap as we drove from the Crater Rim Drive all the way down the Chain of Craters Road from about 3,500 foot of elevation all the way down to sea level along the coast.  This switch-back road offers grand views of past lava flows below leading all the way down to the rocky Pacific coast below.  The ride down to the end of this road takes about 35-45 minutes; round trip for us let the kids sleep for about 1:20 - their batteries recharged, they were ready to go! 

Our last stop was up at the end of Crater Rim Drive at the Volcano Museum/Observatory.  Here is a large stone observation platform where you can view the craters from a different perspective (northwestern vantage point) and there is a gift shop and more restrooms.  We had a great day at the Volcano and it was just 3:30 PM!  Next, we were going to head back to Hilo to do check out Banyan Drive and the waterfront…

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Related Posts:

  1. Big Island Adventures with Kids (Part 5 - Green Sand Beach)
  2. Big Island Adventures with Kids (Part 2 - Hilo/Hamakua)
  3. Big Island Adventures with Kids (Part 3 - Captain Cook)
  4. Big Island Adventures with Kids (Part 4 – Waipio Valley)
  5. Kilauea Volcano Update

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