Biking the Volcano (and rain)

Wednesday was our first day of the Hawaii trip in a hotel. We had been pretty tired when we reached Hilo on Tuesday night, so we’d had dinner at a restaurant and hadn’t sought out a grocery store for breakfast fare. Therefore, we decided to splurge on the hotel’s buffet breakfast, even though we knew it was overpriced, however good it might be.

And it wasn’t that good. It really was just your basic breakfast buffet bar, with cold pancakes, French toast, some Japanese offerings (found in all Hawaiian hotels), and a decent fruit selection. Not worth $22 apiece. However, we tried to eat enough to fuel us up for our coming day on a bicycle.

The plan for the day was to participate in a bike tour at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park that we had purchased with our Avios points through a company called Volcano Bike Tours.

As we had learned on our initial visit to the park the day before, there are now greater limitations than there used to be on where the public can go. This is because the levels of sulfur dioxide have become dangerously high in the wake of the ongoing eruption of Kīlauea. It is dangerous to the health of humans, and can also undermine plant and animal life, according to Wikipedia.

Most of this sulfur dioxide is emitted from the caldera at the summit of the volcano. The crater is is named Halema‘uma‘u and the caldera is Kilauea. There’s some debate about what each of these things means, except that a caldera is generally defined as a depression created by the collapse of a volcano’s magma chamber, while a crater can be created by several means (including meteor’s hitting the earth). Craters are often depressions that come from rocks sinking because of high pressure.

Because of the sulfur dioxide, the route taken in the park on the bike tour is a bit more limited than it used to be, but we were still excited about it.

We were semi-optimistic about the weather when we were picked up at the hotel and made our way to the park in the company’s van with several other people. Although the weather forecast didn’t give us much hope of a dry day, we were optimistic for a while.

We picked up some additional people at the visitor center in the park, and then the ten of us and our two leaders, Mike and Gwen, drove us up to the Jaggar Museum, which was where the day’s tour was to officially begin. At the Jaggar, there was actually some sunshine and blue sky.


Mike was going to be riding with us and was our main guide, while Gwen was driving the van. She would be behind us when we were on the road, and was available for people if they didn’t want to keep riding for some reason. Most of the ride was flat or downhill, so no one really felt the need to quit riding and get in the van, despite the torrential rain that ramped up soon after we started.

Mike talked a little about what we were seeing there and gave everyone a chance to take some pictures of the caldera, since that was about as close as we were likely to get!


If you look closely, you can see the lava glowing in the caldera

The ride part of the day began in a parking lot below the museum, where we were given our bikes and a brief safety talk (including, I was happy to say, instructions on what to say to people behind you and so on. This is all stuff we know of course–calling out if we were slowing, stopping, passing someone and so on, but it was great to see this was being “taught.”). Everyone was given a helmet, gloves, and if they needed, a rain jacket (they needed). Angie and I had brought our own. Although we were glad to have them, in the end we were all pretty wet through. I was wearing Gramicci pants, but I wish we’d thought to put rain pants on the packing list! It took two or three days to dry out my Salomon shoes too.

The ride was mainly along roads, paved paths, and a little bit on the dirt (or in this case the mud). For those who care, we rode along Kau Desert Trail, Crater Rim Drive (to see the steam vents), past Volcano House (the hotel), along Crater Rim Road to Waldron Ledge. Waldron Ledge is seen in a former parking lot on what is now a closed road. The road had been closed in 1983 after a serious earthquake caused extensive damage. On a good day this spot provides some nice caldera views, but this was not such a great day and it was really pouring at that point. We actually passed a tour group that was being led by a park volunteer on foot. I’m not sure who was worse off in the downpour. At the end of the road we detoured onto a dirt trail, which had turned to mud as the downpour continued. I was a bit nervous about that part since I’m not a skilled off-roader, so I took things carefully and called out to the folks behind me when I had to stop suddenly rather than trying to ride over a tree root.

We then rode back onto Crater Rim Drive. All along the way, Mike was describing what we were seeing, in terms of the topography, geology, culture, and plants. On this section, we were heavily into the rain forest. We stopped at the lava tube trail and the Nāhuku Lava Tube.

A lava tube is where a stream of lava has rushed through an area and the lava has cooled above it, creating a tube. Thurston is the name of the guy who “discovered” this particular tube for Westerners, and it’s been called the Thurston Lava Tube for a long time, but is in the process of getting its original Hawaiian name back. We got off our bikes at this spot and walked into and through the lava tube, which was probably about 20 feet high and across. It was illuminated but still was very cool. I was too busy taking it in to take any pictures but Angie caught some good ones.

We rode away from there and toward Chain of Craters Road, where we bicycled past some of the 1974 lava flow.


We ended our ride a little less than half way down to the end of the road (which is where the road meets the ocean). If you follow this road down to where you can’t go any further, you can hike about four miles (each way) to where the lava flows into the ocean. It’s closer from the other side, which Angie did and will be blogging about.

This was the point at which our soggy cycling was concluded. Gwen and Mike said we could look around some more (I think we were at an overlook) while they loaded the bikes, but all of us piled, shivering, into the van. We were all soaked through. If you look closely at this picture you can see the water droplets on Angie’s face!


Sadly, we were not able to eat our included lunch in the van because the company has been having an issue with fire ants. Therefore, they drove us to the picnic shelter at the Nāmakanipaio campground, which is a park campground, but outside the park entrance. I was watching not only my own hands, but those of Angie and others shake violently as we held our sandwiches because of the cold and wet (ok, 50 degrees or so but chilly enough). Gwen actually gave me a down jacket that helped me recover a bit. The sandwiches were quite good. I had pastrami, and Angie had turkey. After we’d eaten, we all climbed back into the van. We delivered the couple who had joined us in the park back to the visitor center and then Gwen and Mike took the rest of us back to the hotel. And we were done. Despite the rain, it was a good experience. We saw some cool stuff and met some nice people. Gwen and Mike were highly professional and Mike’s narrative was highly informative.

After we’d cleaned ourselves up, we took a chance on being able to get a table for an early dinner at Miyo Restaurant, which looked like it would be a good spot to refuel after our busy day. I will write about Miyo properly in a food blog, because it was amazing!


3 thoughts on “Biking the Volcano (and rain)

  1. Hey we heard there are also walking tours that get quite near the lava. Someone told us their shoes “melted” by the time they got back. Is that something that can still be done?

  2. You can hike 4 miles from the other side to view the stream but you need sturdy shoes or else they’d be cut to pieces on the A’a. I don’t know if they let you get close enough to walk on active lava anymore.

  3. Pingback: The Hawaii food blog | joycyclingchicks

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