We stopped at a couple of the vista points to check out the view of the coastline.
You should definitely stop by the Black Sand Beach as you make the drive South. The weather was not great on the day that we made our trip, but it was still definitely worth checking out. (A note for those of you planning a trip to the island this time of year. Almost every day that we saw, it would be sunny on the Northern part of the island, but rainy and cooler as we drove South.)
Ali never wastes a chance to lay out on a beach, let alone one with all black sand.
We made sure to stop by the Punalu'u Bake Shop, which has the most amazing Hawaiian Bread. Our good friends, the Ikedas, told us about this place, which is located within walking distance of where their family grew up. As the sign says, this is the Southernmost bakery in the U.S. and not to be missed. Not only was the food excellent, they also have a beautiful garden area behind the bakery, with some nice foliage to photograph. Look for another blog on the island's flowers in the next couple of days.
Our first stop, after visiting the Kilauea Visitor Center, was the steam vents. We have seen steam vents before, in Mammoth Lakes, CA, but it was cool to see these on an actual volcano in Hawaii.
And then, after checking out some of the steam vents, I walked over to the edge of the crater and looked down. I have to say that I was totally blown away at the vastness of the caldera. Miles and miles of hardened molten lava!
We then drove further along the Crater Rim Drive and stopped at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. This is the closest point to the Halema uma'u crater and provided a look inside the sub-crater. (Photographer's note: I checked out this location and a couple of others in preparation for a night shot. I had heard that this large steam vent in the crater would reflect the color of the molten lava (out of site of the public), and I wanted to get a shot of that. I decided that, with the limited visibility caused by the light rain, this would be my best spot. I asked the ranger about other options and about the crowds of people that might be there in the evening. You need to have a Plan B in case the weather changed, or the crowds did not provide a good shooting position.)
This photo was taken from the Kilauea Overlook, which is not far from the observatory, but has no crowds at all. With better weather conditions, this would have been my location of choice for the night shots.
We did take a walk through the much talked about Thurston Lava Tube, although with all of the stalactites taken by souvenir collectors, this was a bit of a letdown. Amazing to think of lava flowing through a tube like this a couple hundred years ago, but walking through this was like walking through a short man-made tunnel.
After exiting the lava tube, my son perched over the Kilauea Iki Crater and saw people walking across the crater. This was too much for a 17 year-old to resist, so even though it was late in the afternoon and raining, we decided to make the hike down into the crater to check it out. We were all glad that we did. As you can see, there was some vegetation along the edges of the crater which became more sparse as we continued farther into the crater.
As you you look at the surface of the crater, you can just imagine the molten lava bulging and hardening...
...and folding over itself.
At each of the vents, you could see steam escaping from under the surface, and you could lean down and feel the extreme heat that was just below the surface.
As I mentioned, there is sparse vegetation in the crater, and I really liked the composition here, with the one plant amongst all the lava.
The family walking on the crater...
Along the edges of the crater, the lava is all buckled like this, similar to waves crashing along the coastline and hardening instantly.
Here is my son, Connor, straddling a large fissure.You would not want to fall into one of these, as the bottoms were sometimes not even visible.
And then it was time to drive back to the observatory, where we waited in the car (to stay dry) for the sun to set.
I was not sure that we would see any color in the Halema uma'u crater, due to the bad weather and lack of any color in the daylight, but was pleasantly surprised when I left the car to survey the situation. It was time to break out the camera, tripod and rain gear and get some shots. This first shot was taken from the observatory area.
After taking a bunch of images from the first location, I decided that it was time to move to the Kilauea Overlook and give that a try. I was very happy that the reflected light was enough to illuminate the crater walls in the background.
These shots, showing the awesome power of mother nature, made my day!