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For the big 4-0 birthday and 4th of July weekend, we headed to the Big Island of Hawaii for three nights in the town of Volcano.  Yes, that is actually the town name, located just out the gates of Volcano National Park.  I have always wanted to see the volcanos of the Big Island, but especially since Indi became fascinated with them at age 3.  She is interested in all sorts of science and geography and went through a phase where we had to watch a video of lava crushing a coke can every night for a week.  So we headed there in July, flying into Hilo and making the hour trip to Volcano to see it for ourselves.

We landed in steamy Hilo on a Saturday Morning and visited the very busy farmers market and an excellent Mexican restaurant, Lucy’s Taqueria, for lunch.  The farmer’s market was a little cheaper than on Oahu and did have some different things at it, but it was very crowded and was a horrible setup for kids (crowded, hot, no aisle ways for strollers and too hot for the carrier) so we didn’t stay too long.  

The drive from Hilo to Volcano is very interesting as you slowly climb from sea level to 4000 feet with markers every 500 feet along the way.  It also cools a few degrees every 1000 feet and went from 85 down to 72 degrees along the way.  The weather in Volcano was perfect with a high of 75 and lows in the 50s every night…we were very chilly at times!  Being used to sleeping with every window open we tried this the first night in our vacation house- and woke up freezing! The VRBO A-frame had everything we needed such as cooking supplies, a nice yard and garden, and even electric blankets and space heaters.  We spent the first day in Volcano Park exploring crater rim drive, stopping at the steam vents, viewing the Kilauea crater, and the Jagger Museum.  The museum is small but is one of the best locations to view the crater from above.  We could barely see some lava which everyone was excited about, especially Indi!  For dinner we ate at the Volcano House which offers a different view of the crater and has a diverse menu with reasonable prices.    We liked it so much we headed back the next night for dinner as well.

Sunday it was back to Hilo and a helicopter tour!  The Blue Hawaiian 45 minute flight took us over a different section of Volcanos Park, the Pu’u’o’o crater and lava flows to the sea as well as some nice waterfalls in the Hilo area.  The scenery from above was so striking as it changed from green to gray to black in a matter of minutes.  Kilauea overall has been erupting for hundreds of years, but this particular crater has been flowing with lava since 1983 and has covered entire towns and roads on its path to the sea.  We saw lots of lava in the crater and also windows where it would peek through along the way. 

The end of the road!

Don’t worry- they both had fun!

After the ride we drove the chain of craters road, a 20 mile jaw dropping trek from the park down to the sea through the giant lava fields.  Many of these are marked by the year of the flow and you can stop at several points to walk over the lava flows. At the bottom you can park and view the Holei Sea Arch.  This is as close as you can get to the lava entering the ocean unless you hike the 4 miles to it (future note when the kids are older!)

The Sea Arch

Monday we drove south past Mauna Loa volcano and stopped at the Punalu’u Black Sand Beach and the town of Naalehu.  We had a nice breakfast at Hana Haou Restaurant, which has the claim to fame of being the southernmost restaurant in the USA (Hawaii is further south than Key West).  The black sand beach was a little out of this world and there were several lazy sea turtles hanging out on it. The sand being black makes it quite toasty on the feet!  Constantly looking up at Mauna Loa is very humbling, knowing that it could erupt again at any time.  The last was in 1984 and some over the past decades have spread all over the island and all the way to Hilo.  It was so interesting reading more about the volcanos while on the trip and learning that the same lava flow feeds Mauna Loa, Kilauea, and also Loihi which is still underwater and will surface in about 50,000 years.   We had our last dinner at Ohelo Cafe in Volcano, highlighted by Indi’s first chocolate mousse.  Somehow we made it through a somewhat fancy dinner with two crazy kids and only a few awkward glances from the crowd.  

Family picture in front of Kilauea

A perfect ending to our Big Island trip was an evening hike to the Jagger museum viewing area at dusk. Just a warning that it gets pretty crowded and we had to park a 10 minute walk away, but it was so worth it! The lava is glowing and lighting up the sky. You can see much more clearly than during the day. What a sight; it’s no wonder the ancient Hawaiians said there was Pele the fire goddess inside.

The Big Island is highly recommended and especially Volcano National Park.  With older kids you could certainly do more in the way of hiking and exploring, but for us it was a perfect getaway weekend and so very different from Oahu where we live.   Safe travels!