On my visit to the Big Island I took part in a 12 hour guided tour called Kilauea Volcano Adventure. At around 6 am I drove some 2 or 3 miles north from Kailua-Kona to the pickup point. As first on the bus (the other 9 or 10 passengers were picked up from tourist resorts half an hour further north) I scored the passenger’s seat next to the driver.
Our guide, Danny, has lived in Hawai’i all his life, so his local knowledge was profound. We learned about geography, traditions, history, landscape, Hawai’ian culture and the volcanoes.
Our tour took us north along the Kona coast, until we turned inland and travelled along the Saddle Road to the place where our Mauna Kea tour had stopped briefly a couple of days earlier. From there though we took a different route, completing the trip across the saddle and on into Hilo.
We passed through Hilo, where Danny pointed out the waterfront parks that now grow where twice buildings were swept away by tsunami. Then our route turned towards the Volcanoes National Park in the south of the Big Island.
Unfortunately it was a damp, cool and dreary day. We were surrounded by fog, and one section of the road was closed on account of the wind bringing noxious gases across the road from the active volcano.
Danny took us down to a section of native forest where we were able to listen to the calls of native birds. We walked through a section of lava tube, hearing how it was formed.
After a lunch of turkey ‘sandwich’ came a trip down to the coast where lava from previous eruptions had crossed the road in a huge swathe (missing a few portions along the way) and created hundreds of acres of new land as it solidified where it entered the sea.
From a distance we could see the cloud of steam and gases that were preventing us from taking the planned route. It rose high into the sky, looking as I imagine a tornado must look as it approaches. A helicopter was rather incautiously circling the towering cloud. In my photo you can barely see the black speck to the right of the cloud.
We saw more lava, and then as the fog and cloud lifted we stood on the rims of a couple of calderas.
Finally we returned through Hilo and Waimea to our pickup points. By then it was raining heavily. Danny predicted snow on the summit of Mauna Kea, and sure enough, next day 5 inches was reported up there. I was very glad I’d done that tour a couple of days earlier.
It was a very long tour. Our guide Danny was good humoured, very knowledgeable and very informative, but I rather wish I’d simply driven down to Volcanoes National Park myself and strolled around in the park.
It might have been a much shorter trip and I could have seen the southern part of the west coast. However, a local told me during my flight back to New Zealand that the south western portion of the Belt Road that circles the Big Island is not an easy drive and in fact that would have been an equally long trip.