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As a family, we’ve hiked in locations around the world and have been lucky enough to hike in Germany, Slovenia, Guam, Hawaii, Virginia, and many more. But I wasn’t surprised when my daughter deemed the Kīlauea Iki Trail on the Big Island as her all-time favorite hike. It’s a fascinating place located within the Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island of Hawaii. Kilauea remains an active volcano to this day.

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At the Kīlauea Iki sign, you can go in either direction but I would advise taking the trail to the right and hike counter-clockwise which will lead you through a rain forest, the 1959 lava lake, steam vents, cinder cones, and large fissures in the lava. Keep an eye out for the native nēnē (Hawaiian Goose) ~ we saw two but they were too fast to get a photo. The nēnē are the sixth most endangered waterfowl species in the world.

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The rainforest section of the trail is well-worn but be careful with the rocks and occasional exposed roots. We started early in the morning and didn’t see anyone else until we got to the lava lake.

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On hikes, my daughter only uses her phone to take photos but while we were on the trail, her college released the dorm assignments and she was excited to learn where she would be living for a year. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the dorm she preferred and it was the only sad part of the hike. But, fast-forward six months later, and she’s thrilled with her suitemates and her dorm.

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The ‘Ōhelo berries are a favorite treat for the nēnē and can be found throughout the trail. It is a hardy plant that even grows on the lava. The plant is a relative to the blueberries and the berry can range in color from dark red to pale yellow.

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The amazing view from the rainforest.

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It was a little surreal to see a runner come through as we walked along the deserted and isolated lava crater but he obviously runs this trail frequently.

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Be sure to follow the Ahu (stacked rocks) to find your way through to the other side of the trail. Please don’t disturb them!

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If you go, here are a few words of advice:

  • The trail is moderate to challenging. It’s steep and rocky. The descent/ascent is 400 feet (122m).
  • It’s a 4-mile (6.4km) loop. It took us approximately 2.5 hours and we stopped for a snack.
  • The trail head is 2 miles (3.2km) from the Visitor’s Center.
  • Once you’re at the Kīlauea Iki parking lot (off of Crater Rim Drive), you may go either way from the trailhead. We preferred to go right which took us through the rainforest first then down to the crater floor.
  • Be sure to bring water, food, hat, sunscreen, camera and rain gear. Be prepared for all types of weather conditions: hot, dry, wet, windy (!). Please remember to “leave only footprints” and bring all your trash and items back out of the area.

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Being from Hawaii, I don’t worry much about natural disasters. Whether it be earthquakes, tsunamis, lava flows or the every few decades hurricane. Lately, it seems every time I call my brother or cousin who live on the Big Island (Hawaii), it’s to ask them about a natural disaster. Last month there were two hurricanes heading their way and now it’s a change in the lava flow which is heading directly for the area of Puna (specifically the town of Pahoa) where my brother’s family lives. Kilauea volcano has been erupting since 1983 so the islanders will no doubt take it in stride and know everything will work out as it should.

Volcano Lava Flow river
Lava River

Caution sign at the Volcanoes National Park
Not for the faint of heart or health

Volcano Lava flow 1994
Lava Flow

Overlapping lava flows
Overlapping Lava flows

Crater at Kilauea
Lava Crater

Lava reaching the ocean
Lava Reaching the Ocean

Lava walking
Walking on the Lava

Offerings for Pele
Offerings to the goddess of fire, Pele

Beautiful drive coming from Kalapna area
Beautiful drive in the Pahoa area ~ hope it’s not affected by the current lava flow

Rock at Puako
Puako Beach, Big Island, Hawaii

Another gorgeous sunset at the Mauna Kea
Another gorgeous sunset at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel

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Hawaii: Smuggled Lava?

A Big Island legend is if you take lava off the island, Pele (the Fire Goddess) will be angry and you’ll have bad luck until you return it. There used to be a display at the Volcanoes National Park Center where letters and returned lava were displayed on a board. People wrote letters begging the park rangers to return the lava so the bad luck would go away. I’m not an overly superstitious person BUT I’ve never been tempted to take lava off the island.

John, on the other hand, always teases me that he’s going to sneak some lava back.

Since we’ve been back from Hawaii, we’ve had a strange week. On Wednesday, I overslept AND had set the alarm incorrectly so poor FG missed her bus, then my mom’s dog died, and Favorite Girl had to go to the emergency room to have x-rays taken after a cheerleading accident. There were other things happening which were just “off”.

I finally called John on Friday from work, when yet another thing went wrong, and asked “This is serious, are you sure you didn’t bring any lava back?”

He promised me he didn’t but did mention the women in front of him getting on the plane had a big chunk of lava. Hmmm…

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