Hawaii Adventure - Big Island secrets
Hawaii Volcanos National Park - Big IslandHawaii the Big Island Adventure Guide

Hiking Hawaii Volcanos National Park - Big Island Adventure GuideAdventures

Mauna Loa Lookout

It takes 30-40 minutes to drive the 11.3 miles of road to the Mauna Loa Lookout at 6,662 feet elevation. On clear days there are some fine views of Kilauea, and the road passes through dense stands of koa and o`hia trees. The last eight miles are a one-lane road, so be sure to drive slowly, not just because of oncoming cars, but because of all the Kalij pheasants that like to dart across (and sometimes back into) the road.

The lookout has a picnic table in a small pavilion with a display on the nene birds. Koa trees obscure the view, but if you follow the trail to the right of the pavilion a short distance you get a clear view of what you just drove up. There is an emergency callbox here because it is the trailhead for the roughly 20-mile, three- to four-day backcountry hike to the summit of Mauna Loa at 13,677 feet. This trail is only for extremely fit people prepared to hike at high altitudes in scorching sunlight. But imagine the bragging rights!

Those who are willing to hike the first mile of the trail will likely be rewarded with the sight of new Mauna Loa silversword plants growing in protective exclosures.

SILVERSWORD

The rare silversword, a flowering plant named for its silver, sword-like leaves, is an endemic beauty that was once abundant on Hawaii’s high volcanic peaks. However, as on both Mauna Kea and Haleakala on Maui, the Mauna Loa silversword was nearly eaten into extinction by feral animals. According to accounts, wild cattle would inhale the beautiful, silvery plants like cotton candy. The silversword blooms only once in its lifetime, taking 30-40 years to do so, before finally sending up a high, showy bushel of fantastic flowers in a final act before its death. By early in the last century the plants were almost totally depleted from the flanks of Mauna Loa, but a few wild stands were discovered in rough gulches that were inaccessible to hungry beasts. Today, volunteers have planted thousands of new plants and erected miles of fence to keep wild sheep, goats and pigs at bay. Since silversword reproduce so slowly, their ultimate fate is still uncertain, but officials report the prognosis is positive.

Entertainment

“My way of joking is to tell the truth. It is the funniest joke in the world.” – George Bernard Shaw

George’s Lounge (Hawai`i Volcanoes National Park, 967- 7321). Don’t get excited – George’s is in Volcano House. Though, of course, it has the phenomenal view during daylight, it is entirely devoid of ambiance, except for what is generated by the cafeteria line and the 14-inch TV propped up on a chair near the bar. The fire in the fireplace is only lit when the one in the lobby has to be cleaned. Drinks are pricey, and because bartenders have to get a manager to unlock the booze if they need a new bottle, it can take awhile to get served even if you’re the only people in the joint. Consider giving them a sizable pity tip.

Lava Lounge (Kilauea Military Camp, 967-8365). Despite its location in the Kilauea Military Camp, the Lava Lounge is open to the public and provides about the best place in the area to have a few pops. Drinks are fairly cheap, they have gas fireplaces, long tables for mass socializing, a stage, a dance floor and the Pentagon Channel showing live 24/7. What more could you ask for? Open 4 pm to closing Mon-Fri, 5-8:30 pm Sat and Sun.

Where to Stay

Holo Holo Inn (19-4036 Kalanihonua Rd, 967-7950, www. enable.org/holoholo/, dorm beds $18 per person, four private rooms $45-$60). Set back in the rainforest a mile from Volcano Village, this is the only hostel in the area, and one of the only ones on the island. The main draw here is the large communal kitchen, with a high ceiling, plentiful table space, free coffee and tea and, as an added touch, handmade pottery plates, bowls and cups. There are single-sex dorm accommodations on the lower level, as well as four private rooms upstairs, including two newly renovated rooms with private bath. Other amenities include free Internet, a TV room, sauna and a massive collection of National Geographic magazines dating back to the late 40s. Call owner Yabuki Satoshi after 4:30 pm for reservations. $

Aloha Junction (967-7289, toll free 888-967-7286, www.bbvolcano.com, four rooms, $75-$99). The front yard to Aloha Junction is in a bit of disarray, and the three dogs in the garage that bark at you and your car don’t extend an immediate feeling of aloha, but inside the B&B has bright rooms with skylights and fresh-cut flowers, robes, blue bathrooms, a large shared lanai and common breakfast area in a room with big windows. There’s also an outdoor Jacuzzi. $$

Where to Eat

Volcano Country Club Restaurant (Pii Mauna Dr, 867- 8228, www.volcanogolfshop.com). Serving lunch and dinner in a casual atmosphere, the dining room at the golf course is an affordable option near the park. With a casual atmosphere warmed by a 360-degree fireplace, a view of the front nine and a wide-screen TV relentlessly broadcasting the Golf Channel, this a relaxing place for golfers to chill even if they left their clubs at home. Breakfast items include such selections as Par Cakes, Golf Nut French Toast and a Triple Bogey Omelet. The lunch menu is more extensive, and has less dorky names, including sandwiches, burgers, beef and poultry entrées and local dishes. All in all, this isn’t a bad choice for a quick bite. Open for breakfast from 8-11 am Mon-Fri and from 7 am on weekends. Lunch is served until 3 pm daily. $-$$

WACKY VOLCANO PHOTOS The menu at Lava Rock Café promotes the services of a local guy named Uncle Steve, who drives a van decorated with HI flags, which he also sells for $7. His main business is digital camera card transfers, and volcano fantasy photos ($10), where you can pretend to surf a wave of lava, bake a pizza over Kilauea or toss the kids into the volcano, among other things. For more info, visit www.volcanovillage.com.

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