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Kilauea Iki

Started: 2018-04-25 19:30:21

Submitted: 2018-04-25 22:25:22

Visibility: World-readable

In which the intrepid narrator spends his last full day on the Big Island of Hawaii at the bottom of a caldera, watching lava erupt, and swimming next to the beach

On my original strawman plan for our week on the Big Island of Hawaii, I set aside Friday, our last full day on the island, to go back and finish up anything we missed and wanted to do before leaving.

Kiesa had a call early in the morning (which proved fateful -- about which, more later), but we still ended up with an earlier start than the day before. We returned to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to hike through Kilauea Iki Crater.

Kilauea Iki trail
Kilauea Iki trail

The trail took us through the jungle along the caldera rim, through ohia lehua trees and Hawaiian tree ferns, before descending into the moonscape of the caldera itself. The caldera last erupted in 1959: a lake of lava formed in the bottom of the caldera (like the current eruption a few miles west at Halema'uma'u Crater), then subsided and cooled, leaving crumpled volcanic rock at the bottom of the caldera, with a visible trail where park visitors walked across the rock.

Sasa, Julian, Kiesa and Calvin hike through Kilauea Iki Crater
Sasa, Julian, Kiesa and Calvin hike through Kilauea Iki Crater

The separation between the lava rock, only recently colonized by scraggly ohia lehua trees, and the surrounding jungle was a stark reminder of the power of the volcano and the destructive power it had wielded within living memory -- and a glimpse of the future of the other eruptions now underway elsewhere on the island.

Ohia lehua growing in Kilauea Iki Crater
Ohia lehua growing in Kilauea Iki Crater

The path took us past rumpled lava and descended onto smoother lava, presumably where the lake of lava drained and cooled. Here the rock was fractured by giant cracks that made the rock look smooth and malleable.

Craked lava in Kilauea Iki Crater
Craked lava in Kilauea Iki Crater

The trail climbed the other side of the caldera back into jungle and returned us to the trailhead parking lot.

Sasa and Calvin hike through Kilauea Iki Crater
Sasa and Calvin hike through Kilauea Iki Crater

Back in the car, we headed to the Halema'uma'u Crater overlook at the Jaggar Museum. The park's website indicated that the crater was erupting more obviously than it had been on our previous visits, with the added benefit of not actually raining, giving us an opportunity to see the eruption more clearly.

Calvin photographs lava erupting in Halema'uma'u Crater
Calvin photographs lava erupting in Halema'uma'u Crater

Through my binoculars (and, to a lesser extent, through my telephoto lens) I could see lava rising and falling over the crater rim. According to a docent at the overlook, the rim we could see was fifty feet above the lake of lava, so the eruptions we saw were at least that tall. It was a little hard to make out the lava, and to get a sense of its scale, but it was another impressive reminder of the power of the volcano.

Lava erupting in Halema'uma'u Crater
Lava erupting in Halema'uma'u Crater

We ate lunch in the park, then drove past the town of Pahoa (which was threatened by lava in 2014, before the lava spontaneously stopped) towards the easternmost point of the island. (And, since the Big Island is the easternmost of the Hawaiian Islands, this also counted as the easternmost point of the state.) We stopped at Ahalanui County Beach Park, a small park with a large, comfortably-warm, volcanically-heated pool partially open to the ocean.

Ahalanui Beach Park
Ahalanui Beach Park

The mouth of the concrete-walled pool, closest to the ocean, was blocked by concrete with a narrow channel connecting the pool to the ocean. Waves broke on the concrete, flowing into the pool and onto the people perched on the edge of the pool. From my vantage point inside the pool, with my head barely above the calm water, I could look out through the channel and see the waves breaking above me.

There was only one problem with the plan: the pool was too deep for our non-swimming children to go unattended. Much of the pool was shallow enough that I could stand comfortably, often chest-deep, but that was too deep for Calvin. Parts of the pool had rocks where he could perch, with various degrees of comfort. I tried to get him to float on his back, with mixed results; and tried to get him to balance on the rocks. The end result was that he could generally balance on the rocks, pushing himself around in the water; and he also improvised an awkward doggy-paddle for getting around the water. The most effective way to get him across the pool was to get him to float on his back, then I would pull him in an awkward side-stroke. The whole experience reminded me that I am not a particularly good swim teacher.

We spent the afternoon at the pool, then headed into Hilo for supper at an Indian restaurant before returning to our Airbnb for our last night before returning home after a week on the Big Island.

For a few more photos from our last full day in Hawaii, see Photos on 2018-03-30.

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