Pele, the volcano goddess, is alive and well—and fully in command—at the Big Island's Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Some things never change. The whimsical fury of Pele is captured in this painting by the late Herb Kane (Kah-nay), called the 'Mona Lisa of Hawaii.' It hangs in the Jaggar Museum on the rim of the Kilauea Caldera.
Trail and road closures, due to debris and toxic smoke, remain in effect. But there's still plenty to see.
From the Jaggar Musuem (where Crater Rim Drive is closed) is a a close-up of the fumes spewing from the Halemaumau Crater, which is within the larger Kilauea Caldera. The traditional "home" of Pele, this crater blew its cork in March of 2008 (thankfully in the middle of the night) and at times now a "lava lake" roils on its surface.
At the other end of the caldera is Kilauea Iki Crater, which last erupted in 1959. A four-mile loop trail drops 400 feet to the pahoehoe (smooth) lava surface. Steam rises from cracks. Creepy.
You can beat the crowds by heading from Chain of Craters Road on Hilina Pali (cliffs) Road. After 9 miles, the road ends at a stone building and overlook. From here, trails drop more than 2,000 feet over five miles into the most remote costal wilderness in Hawaii. Several huts provide shelter for backpackers.
Note: To see lava flows from Pu'u O'o, which have been constant since 1983, you need to drive from the park to Kalapana Bay, which is on the Puna Coast east of Hilo. Enterprising local guides and bike rental companies have set up shop. You can, however, see the flume from Chain of Craters Road, within the park.
A tamer adventure—and sure family-pleaser—is the Thurston Lava Tube, only a couple miles from park headquarters. Ferns and ohia trees create a lush beginning for this short hike, and birds provide a rich soundtrack.
The scene changes inside the 600-foot-long cave. Lava tubes form when cooler air hardens the surfaces of flowing lava. When the flow ceases, it drains away and a hollow tube remains.
Hawaii the Big Island Trailblazer has all the details for exploring this land of Pele.