The Volcano area is an adventurer's paradise! We've got exotic birds and plants, thick rainforests, new and ancient lava flows, smoking active volcanic vents, hiking, birding, and more.
Please take some time to visit the links above for detailed information and some of our favorite places.
If you like variety in your hiking trails, the Volcanoes area has it all: Drippy fern covered rainforest, Lava covered desert, tall Koa and Ohia forests, mountains, barren moon-like surreal landscapes, and more. And don't forget your sunscreen, rain gear, and boots, because even though the park and trails are easy to get to doesn't mean you won't be surprised by strange and abrupt weather changes, paths that suddenly go from shady coolness of the trees to unrelenting sun and heat over the wide lava beds, or a sudden rain shower miles from your car. It's all part of the adventure!
Some of the sights here are out of this world weird, while others are simply awe inspiring and beautiful, so bring your camera or a good memory. In the time we've lived near the park, we're still being surprised and amazed at the variety and unexpected we find on our explorations - sometimes just off a side path from where we've hiked many times before, other times from simply trying out an area we'd passed by as "un-interesting" from the roadway or parking lot.
Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park is the highlight of any visit to the area. Start your park adventure at Kilauea Visitor Canter. The rangers have all the latest information on current lava flows, air quality precautions, maps for driving and hiking throughout the park. Be prepared for cold and rainy conditions at 4,000 feet. Several layers of clothing and closed-toe shoes for walking on lava are best. The road past the Visitor Center currently ends at the Jaggar Museum where you can look down into the steaming Halema'uma'u Crater. On the way you will see a parking area where you can walk up to some active steam vents.
Below you'll find some of our favorite hikes, areas you might find interesting. Some of them will be expanded on in detail in our Blog or Favorites links, so try there too.
This section about places to view birds focuses on Hawai'i's endemic forest birds. These birds have evolved far from any other land and are unique to the state. Many of Hawai'i's native birds are now extinct. The introduced mongoose has drastically reduced the number of ground-nesting birds such as the Nene or Hawai'ian goose, our state bird. Avian pox and avian malaria carried by mosquitoes are slowly spreading up to higher elevations.
Several of the most endangered birds are found only on the Big Island. The rare Hawai'i Creeper my be very difficult for the visitor to find. But the endangered Hawai'ian Hawk, or 'Io, is readily seen over residential neighborhoods and at Volcanoes Park. Two of the locations below are close by. Two are a drive up to higher elevation on Saddle Road, one requires four-wheel-drive. Bring your binoculars!
Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park. All of the common native forest birds including the endangered Hawaiian hawk, plus non-native introductions such as the northern cardinal and house sparrow.
Kipuka Puaulu (Bird Park). Volcano area. A few miles past the Park entrance off of Highway 11 turn right on Mauna Loa Scenic Road. One and a half miles to the easy one-mile loop Bird Park. This is an old growth forest island with towering ohia and koa trees left untouched when lava flowed around it. Common native forest birds like apapane are high in the canopy, 'elepaio can be spotted closer to eye level chasing insects. Many introduced Kalij pheasants in the grass below, will walk almost up to you.
Kipuka 21. West of Hilo on Saddle Road, pull off of the north side between mile markers 21 and 22. Walk across the lava flow to the trees, an island of native rainforest between lava flows. NOTE: this trail has been closed for quite some time - viewing is still good from outside the fence, since the kipuka dips lower than the surrounding lava - in some areas you have tree tops at eye level! You can see the more common native forest birds such as apapane, 'elepaio, 'oma'o, 'i'iwi. Also rare endangered native birds like 'akepa and Hawai'i creeper.
Hakalau National Wildlife Refuge. Access to combination of locked gate (and four-wheel-drive only) by permission or better yet, pay for a guided tour with an expert. Contact Hakalau National Wildlife Refuge, 60 Nowelo Street, Suite 100, Hilo, HI 96720, phone 808-443-2304. All of the native forest birds including Hawaiian short-eared owl (pueo) and endangered Hawaiian hawk ('io), most especially the hard-to-see endangered 'akiapola'au, 'akepa and Hawai'i creeper. Large amounts of 'i'iwi.
Listen to the birds! Check out this link for David Kuhn's amazing collection of Hawaiian Bird calls.
Hawaii is a wonderful area for photography, not just because it's a once in a lifetime exotic vacation for some, but because of its location, the light is simply amazing! Add to that the endemic plants and animals, the variety of geology and environments, the mix of cultures and building styles, and you've got a world class opportunity to get some unique shots.
Consider bringing a point-n-shoot camera, especially if you've got one of the popular water-proof or weather-resistant ones, even if you still plan on bringing a more professional setup. Remember that Hawaii is very wet - we're surrounded by an ocean full of colorful fish and coral, there are trails that criss-cross rivers and streams, and it rains almost every day, at least for a few minutes on most parts of the islands. And you're constantly being bombarded with unusual sights, some lasting just a few minutes. There are simply times that digging out a special lens to attach to the pro camera will take too long, or the weather won't allow sorting through your kit.
If you do bring multiple lenses, though, you'll find plenty of good shots if you take your time. I recommend a nice zoom for day to day use, plus a favorite prime lens or two if you've got the room. I usually carry a 50-135mm f/2.8 weatherproof zoom, changing to my favorite 35mm macro when the mood hits, and maybe a fast 50mm (f/1.4) for those "magical moments" kind of shots. If I'm out birding, I'll just take my 200mm or 300mm f2.8, a mono-pod, and hope for the best. Everyone has their favorites, and reasons for lens choices, so give it some thought. The more lenses and attachments you have, the more you have to carry and take care of.
Also think about bringing extra batteries and memory cards, and don't forget a charger. We have the usual big stores here, so if you forget something, you can probably find what you need at WallMart or the like, but shopping takes time away from having fun!
Some words of advice?
Some of our
( I've stopped updating this page - there's simply so much to do in the park! Give us a call if you have special interests, such a birding or native plants)
Kamoamoa Fissure - 3/12/2011
(Check at the parks Visitor Center for road and trail closures - from what we're hearing, things have calmed down and the area is again open)
A week or so ago, a new fissure opened up on the side of Pu`u O`o in the ease rift zone which began spewing lava in 60' fountains and lighting up the night sky - we could see a distant glow from our bedroom window in Volcano Village, 7 miles away and 1000' higher in elevation than the fissure, so it was more exciting and fun than spooky. Just afterwards, the lava lake in Halema`uma`u (Kilauea's caldera vent) dropped 600' and the more or less continuous lava flow to the ocean stopped. There was a small 4.5 earthquake just before the changes that shook the bed enough to wake us, but we get that size and smaller quite often up here.
After a week of activity, it all stopped, even though the news feeds for the major networks and news papers are still reporting old news, such as raging forest fires (there were a few small ones, some ongoing as the lava slowly cools) and evacuations (none that we know of) and that it's ongoing (park is opening trails and roads).
Unfortunately, the rift is in a very remote part of the park, so besides the sky glow, the only viewing we got was videos made by the park service. They were very fast in setting up displays and providing information to the larger than normal crowds.
Ainahou Ranch trail - 12/26/2010
(Check at the parks Visitor Center for directions and to see if the trail is open - this is Nene habitat and might be closed during nesting.)
Had a wonderful few hours hike along a winding road - it was old pasture land that had once been Ainahau Ranch, previously owned by the Shipman family before becoming part of Volcanoes National Park. The road sloped gently downward through a mixed forest of grassland and towering, gnarled old Ohia trees. There had been a light rain that morning, so the grass seed heads were sparkling in the bright sun. We found a couple of very large Mamane in full bloom, and luckily for us, filled with the small greenish grey Amakihi native birds! Usually we see them in the tree tops, but these blooms were low and i managed to snap a couple of nice pictures. It's a beautiful area, full of big trees, a rolling landscape, and areas of open sky - I'd walk here again.
Near our turn around point, we spotted a couple of Nene in the road. These geese are fairly rare on most of the islands (Kauai has most of them) and it's a treat to see them in the wild. Being protected, you're supposed to say a good distance away from them, so we stopped and watched. Most all of the Nene population is banded, so you can tell male from female by which side the colored band is on: males have them on the right leg, females on the left. After a while they wandered back up into the grass and we moved on.
Our hike back was hot - yes the weather can be all over the place up at this altitude, and the bright sun and sparse shade with high humidity and no wind made the up hill trip back seem a bit longer. This was a nice country-side type of hike - quite different from the tall forest or stark lava fields in most parts of the park. And a nice discovery.
Mauna Loa Hike - 12/24/2010
Mauna Loa Trail again! For those of you who don't know, this trail is at the end of "Strip Road", just past the Bird Park, off Mauna Loa road, a mile or so south of the park entrance. The drive up is wonderful in itself, the Strip Road passing through lava fields, thick Ohia stands, and thick Koa forests..lots of environments and views along about 10 miles of paved, but single lane roadway. At the bottom, you'll find the Bird Park, a nice 1 mile or so nature loop. There you'll likely see a number of interesting birds, both native and introduced, and good signage pointing out native plants. Then at the top where the road ends, a small parking lot and the Mauna Loa trail head. This is at around 6000 feet, so it'll most likely be chilly. Walking the whole trail is daunting, even requiring special permission from the park office (it's LONG, and HIGH, and the weather can be nasty at times), but you can easily go in a day hike and get a taste for the area.
Just past the trail head is a stand of Koa. We were lucky here - Cindy heard an I'iwi call and spotted it about 30 feet away and 20 feet up in the canopy, perfect for binoculars and not too bad for my 200mm lens. Got some good snaps, my first "close-ups" of this rare bird. It's the first one we've seen locally - the rest we've seen up high on Mauna Kea in the Hakalau protected areas.
When you exit the Koa, the trees are mostly Ohia and Mamane. The red Ohia attracts the Apapane, and the Mamane attracts the Amakihi and I'iwi. We saw a lot of Amakihi today, too. The path rises up the side of Mauna Loa through lots of older oxidized (red) lava flows, and there are lots of loose chunks you can slip on, so boots are best here. There isn't much shade cover, so bring a hat and sunscreen. After about a mile, you'll come to a gate - be sure to keep it closed - that helps protect the area from pigs that root up the native plants. The further up the trail and higher up you climb, the more sparse the vegitation becomes. Oh, and there's some really nice views across the island - and you can see Kilauea smoking in the distance most days.
Christmas Bird Count - 12/18/2010
December 18 was the 2010 Audubon Christmas Bird Count taking place all through the U.S. We were paired with two wildlife biologists whose area of expertise is the endangered Hawaiian forest birds, very lucky for us two amateur birders! Our venue was a high forest on a 33,000 acre private reserve up the slopes of Mauna Loa known to be the home of some of our most endangered birds. The two bird experts were able to identify the endangereds by their calls, sounds most of us never hear and wouldn't know what we're hearing. They heard, then saw, several Hawaii Creepers. Most exciting for us was when they both heard the calls of 'Akiapola'au, a strange bird that acts like a woodpecker. It has a strong thick lower beak for digging holes in koa bark, and a much longer curved upper beak to dig out the insects or larvae. There were several families of aki's, the young ones making a very loud single-note call to let the parents know where to bring the grub, so to speak. Other native birds we saw and heard were Oma'o, our native thrush, and honeycreepers such as the stunning vermillion/red 'I'iwi with its extra long curved beak, many 'Amakihi, dozens and dozens of 'Apapane. One 'Io, our endangered native hawk, landed on a snag just above where we were standing. We saw quite a few 'Elepaio, an inquisitive insectivore which often comes down to eye level for a close inspection.
After a quick lunch, we drove back down the hill. We stopped at one-mile intervals to get out and do three-minute bird surveys. We had such a great day and learned so much from these good people dedicated to preserving our scarce endemic forest birds. It hardly felt like a seven hour expedition!
SNOW ! - 12/12/2010
Yes, we get snow in Hawaii! This is a shot down Wright Road of Mauna Kea. If you look real close, you can see the observatories at the top. The snow starts at about 7000 feet.
Pu'u Huluhulu hike - 12/12/2010
A short ways down Chain of Craters Road watch for an exit to the left for Mauna Ulu. The parking lot is a loop at the end of a short road, and there's a bathroom. If you walk down the closed off road, you'll come to a path off to the left with a sign and map. This is the start of the Pu'u Huluhulu trail - it's another long one that needs a permit for staying at the campground 7 miles in, but it's also a nice day hike to the overlook.
This trail is much different from the one you'd find continuing down the old roadway - that one, Mauna U'lu - is all about lava flows; different kinds, cracks and holes in the earth, cinders and slabs. Pu'u Huluhulu trail has more vegitation, is easier on your legs, and has an overlook after a short climb up a small crater where you can see for quite a ways across the park. You'll also find strange creatures lurking amonst the trees - they're really spots where trees were standing when the lava flowed around them, causing lava to form a "mold" or coating around the trunk, solidifying as the tree burned and lava level lowered. If you look into the top of one of these lumps, you'll likely see a hole where the tree used to be.
This time of year, the Ohelo plants were ripe with red berries. These are the favorite food of the protected Nene goose, so please don't pick them.
KBCC Open House - 12/04/2010
The Keauhou Bird Conservation Center (KBCC), is located near Volcanoes National Park and is normally closed to the public. The reason, and main drive for the facility, is it's captive breeding program for the islands critically endangered native birds, especially the Alala, our Hawaiian Crow.
"Crow" isn't actually correct - the Alala is more a mini-raven, a species found no where else. Unfortunately, there are none left in the wild, and only about 60 TOTAL left in the world, split between this center and it's sister on Maui. The people at KBCC are dedicated to growing the population, hopefully to the point were the crows can be returned to the wild. Unfortunately also, "the wild" they came from doesn't exist in very many places on these islands, due to cattle over-grazing, loss of habitat, and introduced predators. So it's an up-hill battle, and the small dedicated staff is keeping these almost extince birds alive, hopefully with a real future. Cindy does volunteer work up at the center, helping prepare special diet for the forest birds. She's only one of two volunteers at the center.
The open house is one time of the year when the center offers tours of the facility. Led by the staff, the limited number of visitors are shown the aviaries and breeding areas, food preperation kitchens, classrooms, and collections, plus there are local artists on hand with photos, paintings, ceramics, metal, and other native bird related artwork. The cost is only donations, but space is very limited. It was fun. Particularly because Jack Jeffery was there as one of the artists, and was snapping picutres through the blinds of the 3 non-breedable crows the public occasionally gets to see, and since he was taking pictures, so did I ! It was a little intimidating, shooting next to one of the world's top bird photographers, but he's such a nice guy - sort of like everyone's grandfather - that I felt good about it all and got some amazing shots myself.
I'o (native hawk) in our yard - 10/21/2010
When I crawled out of bed this morning and headed to the sacred coffee bot, my eye caught movement out the living room window - a light phase hawk was having breakfast under our pear tree. The meal looked to be a rat, probably out for an early snack itself. I grabbed my camera, plopped on the 300mm f4 lens, and shot through the window screen. Then I woke Cindy - she ran to the window - and I snuck out a side door. I was lucky - the hawk was more interested in eating so I got a few pictures, but my camera's shutter is fairly loud, so it took off into a near-by tree. I was still able to get shots though the thick leaves - what an amazing bird! The I'o has two color phases, this was the lighter one - it even looks like a barn owl in some shots. What we normally see is the darker phase, a tree bark brown. I'll include a picture i took at the zoo for comparison.
Photo Hike with Jack Jeffery - 5/23/2010
Organized by the Friends of Volcano National Park, this hike was for active photographers, yesterday's being for beginners. We met at the park headquarters in the early morning, had an orientation, then took off for Thurston Lava Tube, then later on we headed down Chain of Craters road. For those of you that don't know Jack, he's one of the foremost authorities on Hawaii's native birds and plantlife. For years, he was the wildlife biologist for the Hakalau National Wildlife Refuge and the forest restoration project. He's also the author of quite a few bird books, and his nature photography is found in many more. Besides all that, he's a really friendly, down to earth, happy go lucky kind of guy that you feel you've known for years.
On this day, he was going to share some of his photography knowledge with us, give us pointers, and generally have a good time. Jack can have a good time anywhere there's nature, especially if there's someone to share it with. And on this day, the weather was it's usual changeable state, so we started with wind, then a bit of sun, then overcast, then fog, then sun, then rain, then.. well, you get the picture.
And without going into lots of details, let me just say it was a blast. Jack would start showing us something planned, and something unusual would happen and we'd go off in another direction. There were about 12 of us, and we'd move from listening to playing to going off on our own, and always taking pictures. We had some luck finding the hard to find "happy face" spider (tiny little thing with a smiley face on it's back), various endemic plants, and of course, some birds. One Apapane flew down very close on the ground, and the clatter of cameras was almost deafening. Fun stuff.
Later on we went down Chain of Craters road to the Mauna Ulu Trail. I'd never been there, and even with high winds, fog, mist and rain, it was an amazing place. After the parking lot and a short paved trail you find yourself on lots and lots of lava. There's chunky "clinker", rope-like "pahoehoe", tiny "Pele's tears", small and large chunks and flows, and one long and deep fissure. That fissure was my favorite. Most places you could step or jump over a deep crack, and other places it went underground, showing up as colorful sinkholes with cavelike side passages and plants growing in the protected areas out of the wind.
all images ©2011 D. Mcbeath and Enchanted Rainforest Cottages. Web Design © McBeath Photography