A Crater Full of Fun

          If you thought Hawaii was about beaches and water fun, think again. Hawaii is the most spectacular place to visit volcanoes up close and personal.

The US National Park—Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park—is a must see. Inside the park, you get to visit the largest mountain in the world, taller than Mount Everest if measured from its bottom on the sea. It’s over 13.677 feet from sea level, over 27,000 feet taller than Mount Everest, and offers a very challenging hike to the top. The park has one of the most diverse habitats in the world, and for this reason has been named a World Heritage Site.

Hikers will delight in the many possibilities for exhilarating adventure even if hiking to the summit is too difficult for them. And children will marvel at seeing real lava flows. Steam from simmering calderas is a sure bet, but seeing the top of the volcano isn’t guaranteed, as the weather is frequently raining or cloudy, especially at such high levels.

A nice thing to do is to stay inside the park at the Volcano House Hotel…only in America are you allowed to lodge on top of an active volcano.

The park museum and rangers will explain the science behind monitoring the volcanoes as well as the history of the lava flows.

One of the most interesting sites at the park is the Thurston Lava Tube. As lava flows, it sometimes forms tunnels that harden around the flow. This is just one of these “tubes” that you can walk into on one end and out the other. Although it is lit by the park, you would be well advised to bring a flashlight as it is difficult to see inside the tunnel. When it is raining outside, the porous lava allows water into the tunnel creating large puddles. Wear shoes that can get wet. Even when dry, the surface can be hard to walk on as it is jagged and can also be smooth and slippery. Appropriate footwear for this is suggested. Thurston Lava Tube is one of the most popular sites in the park and can sometimes be overrun with tourist busloads. If so, know that the park is open 24 hours and you usually will not find crowds at night when the tube is still lit. Don’t worry about it being dark outside. It’s going to be pitch dark inside, except for the lights, anyway.

The National Park is on Hawaii’s Big Island is created from five volcanoes. The volcano in the national park is the Big Island’s active volcano and the State of Hawaii’s youngest volcano, forming its newest island. Another volcano, still under the sea, will someday form a new Hawaiian Island as its continuing eruptions break through the surface of the ocean just as the volcanoes that formed the Big Island have.

Perhaps more impressive than the volcanos in the national park, is Maunakea, off Saddle Road. It is not located in the park, but its fresh air and sheer beauty are hard to beat. Many people enjoy watching sunrise and sunset from the peak. A four-wheel drive is suggested for getting to the peak north of the visitor’s center as the road is not well paved and very steep. All year long, there is snow and frequently ice that may shut the road down. But if you can only get to the visitor’s center there are still hiking paths and you can experience the frigid air, just over an hour from steaming beach.

Scientists long ago discovered that this summit is an excellent place from which to observe and explore the skies. Several large telescopes are operated from here by numerous universities and organizations. Visitors are welcome to watch scientists at work. The work done here will inspire budding astronomers in the family.

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