To the Volcano…

So the main reason I chose Hawai’i (and specifically the Big Island) for my 50th birthday trip was so that I could see lava. I particularly wanted to see it flow into the ocean, as I had been deprived of that by faulty cruise ship engines the only other time I had been to Hawai’i. 😠

On the last full day of the trip, I had not yet achieved the ocean part of this goal, and we woke again to torrential rain. I still wanted to try to get to the lava, so after a breakfast of yogurt, fruit, and boiled eggs (thank goodness for in-room refrigerators) we headed toward Kalapana.

We had been told that there were bike rental tents at the end of the road, so we were surprised to arrive at what we thought was the end of the road (with warnings not to proceed) to find nothing. We drove into town and almost gave up, but I was so dispirited that we decided to go back to the “end of the road,” just to be sure. As we sat there contemplating what to do next, a man drove up in an aged Toyota pickup and told us that the road continued for another half mile and we could drive it easily. We weren’t totally convinced, but after watching him drive on what had appeared to be a bike path to avoid a huge puddle, we decided to go for it. There was one more sizable puddle to avoid and then the road turned back from dirt to pavement! And indeed, when we reached the real end of the road, there were several tents full of bikes (yes, full of bikes–it was still raining quite hard!). I braved the rain to go talk to the young man at the tent closest to the end of the road and noticed (oh thank goodness!) that there were porta-loos across the road. I got the info–ride 4 miles, park the bike anywhere, walk about 1/4 mile across old lava to see the new lava flowing into the ocean–and used the “facilities” before heading back to the van to chat with Maureen. She wasn’t sold on the prospect of a wet mountain bike ride and taking a chance on getting the van back through the puddles after another couple hours’ rain, so we decided that I would ride and she would head back into Kalapana (see her story below) until I finished, leaving me to hike the 1/2 mile out if the puddles got too deep.

So, I rolled up my pants legs, donned my rain jacket and backpack, and headed to the tent with my $20 rental fee in hand. I signed the waiver, grabbed a helmet and a bike, adjusted the seat, and headed up the road. There were actually people living along the mostly-closed road in a variety of abodes on land that (according to the bike-rental guy) was purchased quite inexpensively after the road was closed due to lava.

(Note: Photos taken while moving and not looking through viewfinder. Not recommended, but neither is stopping to take pictures of homes where you might not be welcome.)

The scenery along the road was “other-worldly” and the rain was fairly light on the way out.

After passing a few sets of gates, I reached the point where the road was actually closed.

I “parked” the bike and hiked down to the end of the “trail.” There, I met two hikers who had come from the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park side. Over the years, the Park Service has become a lot more conservative about people approaching the lava. Thus, the viewing point is quite some distance from the active lava flow. If you look closely, you can see a bit of glow from the lava.

Most of what could be seen was steam, but in addition to the lava glow, there were regular spews of volcanic rock when the lava hit the water. Even from this distance it was mesmerizing.


Eventually, I tore myself away and hiked back to the bike. Just in time, as it turned out, since being on the bike was much better than being on the lava in pouring rain. The ride back was wet. But as most outdoor enthusiasts know, there is a point where “wet is wet” and it does not matter anymore how long you stay out–especially if it’s not cold, and it was not. I pedaled back as quickly as I could, turned the bike and helmet in, and called Maureen. She had been waiting on the other side of the puddles, and came to get me a few minutes later. I was wet, but it was worth it.

After my ride, we decided to take the “scenic route” back. On Hawai’i, it seems that scenic routes cannot be more than 1 1/2 lanes wide. Fortunately, there was little traffic. The scenery was lovely.

We stopped a couple times at beach parks.


Then we decided to go to Lava Tree State Monument on the way back. We of course missed the turn (that little thing about poor state park signage) and had to go back. Again, it was worth it. The “lava trees” are formed when hot lava hits a tree and a thin layer of lava cools on the tree surface, later hardening into a mold. The engulfed tree usually burns and only the hollow lava tube remains. It’s pretty cool. It was, of course, still raining, but we hiked the 0.7 mile trail and took photos anyway.

By the time we passed through Pahoa, it was too late to check out the local bakery, so we just took our soggy selves back to the hotel to pack.

Maureen’s notes:

Angie had estimated that it would take her about two hours to ride in and out, with viewing the lava in between, so we agreed that I would at the very least drive back to the end of the road at that time. If the final section toward the bike rentals looked like it might have become impassable, I would wait for her there and she would hike out. Otherwise, I would drive back to where I had left her.

After leaving Angie at the “end of the road,” I drove the bumpy road back to the road proper and headed to Kalapana.

The bulk of the town had been destroyed by the 1986/1990 lava flow and all that seems to remain is a restaurant (Uncles Awa bar, which our guide on the bike tour in the park had said was a fun destination), a general store, and an art gallery, House of Fire. I went into the gallery and looked around and chatted to a few people, including a couple who had come from the post office in Pahoa, who recommended the bakery Angie mentioned, a lovely woman who had moved to the area from Oregon (I can’t remember what sort of art she made), and a glass artist who hailed from Cañon City here in southern Colorado! After I felt like I’d imposed enough, I went back and sat in the car for a while and ate my baguette and brie.

In my chat with the young man from Cañon City, I had surmised that there was actually a beach that was reachable from the village, Kaimu Beach Park. It wasn’t clear if it was strictly legit, but since the rain had eased somewhat, I wandered over (circumnavigating a massive puddle) and made my way to the path I discovered there. There were a lot of things that looked like shrines, and I tried to be respectful of them, rather than taking a ton of pictures. While I didn’t get to have the great experience of watching the lava fall, steaming, into the ocean, I did get to walk along the path where the lava had flowed to destroy the original beach and see some great lava formations. According to Wikipedia, people planted sprouted coconut to help restore the beach, and once again there is a bit of a black sand beach, although apparently the water is very dangerous there.

After I wandered back, I felt like maybe I should ride back to the end of the road, so that if Angie called, she didn’t have to wait so long. While I was waiting there, another car stopped to make sure I knew I could go through, and I let the very kind lady know I was just waiting for my wife. Not long after that, Angie called. The puddle on the side of the road didn’t seem to have worsened since I had been there two hours before, so I drove up the road to where Angie was waiting for me.

2 thoughts on “To the Volcano…

  1. Pingback: Hawai’i to Home: A Long Transition Day+ | joycyclingchicks

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