Today I feel fortunate to share a post from Anne Patrone of 500 Places With Kids. I love this story not just because it is about Hawaii – a place I’ve never visited and dream about perennially – but because Anne describes the kind of serendipitous family travel day that shouldn’t work out but does – the kind of day that exemplifies why I travel with my children, and one that’s perfect for some Monday Dreaming.
As part of the Bootsnall 30 Days of Indie Travel Project, I was prompted to write about a “perfect” day of travel that I’d had the past year. Being a stubborn person with clear ideas of “perfection,” I choose instead to write about a less than perfect day we’d recently had. The prompt, however, made me reflect about a time when our family did have a “perfect” day on the Big Island of Hawaii.
I always knew when I was planning our family trip to Hawaii to celebrate:
- my husband & I both turning 40,
- our 15th wedding anniversary, and
- my husband’s “all-clear” notice after finishing chemotherapy & radiation treatments for his cancer
that I wasn’t going to fly all the way to Hawaii and miss out on a chance to see volcanoes. And if the volcano on the Big Island was still erupting (as it had been since 1983), I was also going to figure out a way to see the lava flow despite the fact that every government website I visited told me I couldn’t. Instead, I made our reservations at Kilauea Lodge, a charming B&B in Volcano, Hawaii, and hoped for the best.
Our perfect day began with a visit from the Easter Bunny and an egg hunt at the Kilauea Military Camp, a recreation center open to retired and active military personnel and their families within Volcanoes National Park.
My kids lined up with their hastily-put-together Easter baskets (also known as plastic bags) and ran off searching for eggs when the signal was given. They didn’t win any of the big prizes, but they got enough candy to make it memorable.
By the time the hunt was over, everyone was starving. We were too late for breakfast at our B & B (and really, what’s the point of a B&B if you can’t have a late brunch on Easter) so we headed over to the Lava Rock Café for an excellent breakfast and some unexpected advice.
When our waitress asked about our plans for the day, we told her we were going to spend the day at Volcanoes National Park. She then nodded at the kids (or keikis as they’re called in Hawaii) and said we shouldn’t miss the nightly lava flow since it was “really flowing.”
Trying to be as laid back as the waitress, even though inside my mind I was jumping around saying “Woo-hoo!” I casually got the directions to the lava flow, which was currently flowing over land not owned and controlled by the government and was thus open to the public.
Our happy family headed back inside Volcanoes National Park to attend an Easter mass service at the Kilauea Military Camp (where the kids got even more candy) then began the serious business of sightseeing. With the Crater Rim Drive partially closed due to Kilauea Crater spewing out methane gas and small rocks, we headed to the Steam Vents and a safer overlook of Kilauea Crater.
The rotten-egg smell from the steam vents was intense and the knowledge you were looking at an active volcano was slightly terrifying – especially when we saw the destruction caused by Kilauea Iki – our next stop in Volcanoes National Park.
From the overlook, Kilauea Iki is desolate. It erupted for 36 frightening days in 1959, spewing lava 1900 feet in the air. The floor of the crater is a flat, black nothing and the burn line rises up the hillside. But it wasn’t until we walked into the crater that I fully appreciated how powerful a volcanic eruption could be.
To be fair, I had originally thought we would just hop out of the car at the Kilauea Iki Overlook, snap some pictures, and be off to our next spot within the park. My husband had other ideas when he spotted people on the floor of the crater. Using the argument that “you can’t go to a National Park and not take a hike,” we walked the Kilauea Iki trail (a four-mile loop) into the pit. Happily, the hike down is pretty easy for kids. The forest keeps you cool, the trail is nice and wide, and there are several switchbacks so the incline isn’t severe (which is important when you have to hike back up).
When we reached the bottom of the trail, we were met with a black landscape. Huge cracks in the earth emitted eerie vapor trails of steam and the ground was hot. Our kids tossed around huge rocks the size of their heads since lava rocks, when cooled, are light from trapped air pockets. We explored the crater, then headed back up the trail – a much harder walk than the way down.
After our long hike, we were hot and sweaty. A short stroll into the Thurston Lava Tube sounded like the perfect way to cool off. By a sheer stroke of luck, we were able to time our visit between two giant busloads of tourists from nearby cruise ships, allowing us to take our time walking through this unique geologic wonder.
When the lava erupts and travels to the sea, a thin layer of rock forms around it as the lava passes underground creating an insulating tube (think of a straw). Once the lava stops flowing, the layer of rock hardens and you have a tube-like cave. And without hordes of people shoving past us, we were able feel the tube’s spookiness – perfect for a couple of boys craving adventure.
By now, it was mid-afternoon on our perfect day and the sugar rush from all the Easter candy had worn off. We were all hungry and headed to Volcano House (a hotel within the park) to see if we could find a late lunch. Nothing was available…except ice cream! There was nothing for it but to get some.
Tummies semi-full, we (okay, I) made the decision to drive the 19-mile long Chain of Craters Drive down to the ocean and the road’s end where it had been obliterated by the lava flow.
The drive was beautiful, but in hindsight, I would have forgone the extra miles since we had to take yet another hike (about a mile roundtrip) to get to the area where the lava had actually hardened and covered the road. And in the distance, we could just make out a plume of smoke where the current lava eruption was hitting the ocean. This was our next destination.
Tired (we had walked at least 4-5 miles), hungry (our last meal was an ice cream sandwich), and faced with a long drive (50-plus miles along darkened roads) you would think that we would give up, turn back, and head to our room for the night. At the very least, the kids should have been whining (although we sort of lucked out because they slept on the drive over) when faced with several more hours of:
- No food
- No water
- A two-mile walk in both directions…in the dark…with the last quarter mile over hardened lava
But we didn’t turn back and the kids didn’t whine (although my husband did carry my oldest son for the first part and both boys got piggyback rides on the walk back to the car).
And we saw lava flow into the ocean…
Behind a roped off area near the wiped-out town of Kalapana, we stood and watched nature’s fury. Occasionally, the lava would spurt into the air before arcing down to flow into the water. The heat even from about 50 yards away was intense and I felt no desire to get any closer than I already was.
After about thirty minutes of watching in near silence, our family held hands and picked our way back to our car. We drove in silence to a local 7-11 (the only business open late at night on Easter Sunday), bought Cheerios and Goldfish for our kids, and listened to them fall soundly asleep over their open containers on the drive home.
A perfect day.