In Which We Almost Ran Out of Gas in a Lava Field

[Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, HI, Oct 17, 2016]

This was our last day on the Big Island – well, for the majority of us! Most of us were leaving with a red-eye in the evening, while a few lucky ones were staying one more night here before continuing on to the island of Kauai.

We got an early start to the day so that we can drive a couple of hours to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. This would be my second visit here, and I was excited to see some new things. We gassed up our van, but not all the way – Olivia had purchased a full tank of gas at the rental car place, so we were supposed to return the van with an almost empty gas tank. May, who was in another van with Camilla, Lena and her parents, and John and Tawnya, followed us.

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Mandatory park sign selfie

Upon arrival at the visitor center, we inquired about where we need to go to see the lava flow into the ocean. We found out that we have to go all the way to the south end of the park, then hike through a lava field for 4-5 miles to get to the lava flow. Even then, at most we were expected to see just some steam as the lava goes into the ocean. The ranger said that we wouldn’t be able to get close enough to see the actual lava flow. And here’s where things got interesting. Half of us really didn’t want to spend all this time hiking through black lava on a hot day, but we couldn’t agree on something else and we didn’t want to split up, so a very unhappy handful in Olivia’s van (that was me, Olivia, Camilla, Laura, Mike) acquiesced to follow May’s van to the south end of the park, about 30 miles away.

Just a few minutes down the road, Olivia asks: “So this is 30 miles down and then 30 miles back?” We confirm, and she exclaims: “Oh shit, I am almost out of gas! There is no way we can go all the way down there and all the way back and out of the park before I run out of gas.” Mind you, Hawaii Volcanoes is in the middle of nowhere on the island. The park itself is big but even once you leave, you have a few miles before you find a gas station. We commenced to honk like mad at May’s van ahead of us, driving like crazy to get close to her and honking so hard that the horn temporarily died at one point. We couldn’t get her attention, and our cell signals were gone, so all we could do was pull over at the first stop we saw and re-group. There was no way we could follow May all the way down, but we were the ones who had all the food and water. Also, Camilla had left all of her belongings in May’s van – we had done some switching around at the visitor center so that Lena and her parents and John and Tawnya were all together in May’s van. On top of that, Lena’s parents were in flip flops. We were worried about them going on a hike with the wrong footwear and whatever water they had on hand, but there was nothing we could do. We resorted to plan B, which was this van’s original plan A – hiking the Kilauea Iki crater and seeing a few of this sights on this end of the park.

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Olivia graciously offered to drop us off at the trailhead, then go to get gas. We told her there is no point in her leaving now – she may as well do the hike with us, then we would all go get gas on the way out. Luckily, we had enough gas left to go out without problems so long as we didn’t have to drive 60 miles roundtrip to the other end of the park!

The Kilauea Iki hike is quite spectacular. It is a 4-mile hike through a crater that erupted in 1959. The trail went down into the crater and all the way over to its other end before climbing back up through the rain forest. It was quite the experience walking on this crater!

Once we got to the other end and started circling back to the trailhead, we could see the whole crater in front of us. The trail and the people on it looked so tiny!

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From up here, we could also see the steaming Kilauea crater in the distance (not to be confused with the crater we just hiked through, Kilauea Iki).

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Back at the trailhead, we read about the 1959 eruption. It happened on Nov 14, 1959, 90 years after the last eruption. Fountains of lava erupted here over five weeks, each burst lasting anywhere from one day to one week. So much lava spewed to the surface that the lava lake that formed was 400 ft (120 m) deep. Basically, what we just hiked through was full of lava about 60 years ago! Crazy! It took 36 years for the lava in the lake to harden to what it looks like today. Lena and I didn’t have time to do this hike when we were here back in 2014, and I am so glad we did it on this trip!

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I think at this point we were able to get in touch with May and her van via cell phone and we made arrangements to just meet the airport around 7 pm. Next, we stopped at the Thurston lava tube nearby, then had lunch in the hotel on the park grounds.

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Before we left the park, we had to check out to the Kilauea crater overlook at the Jagger museum. It was quite windy; I wish whoever took the first picture had told me my hair was going crazy.

After this, we exited the park and found gas without a problem. We filled that baby up – we weren’t going to take any more risks!

On the way back to Kona, we made a stop at the Punalu’u black sand beach, where we saw sea turtles chilling on the sand. I’d seen them in the water before while snorkeling, but it was a different experience to see them up close on land like this. They are huge!

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Of course, we had to take some pictures of ourselves too. The beach was beautiful! It was raining and it was almost dark when Lena and I came here in 2014. Now, in the sun, the black sand was much more striking!

Our final stop was Punalu’u bakery, which we managed to get to just a few minutes before closing. We noshed on some pastries and I got some coffee to take home with me.

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At the airport, we finally met up with the other van and heard about their experience hiking through the lava field to the ocean. They said it was worth it, but I have my doubts. Camilla was so excited to finally be reunited with all of her belongings. She was worried all day that the other van wouldn’t make it to the airport and she’d have to fly home sans luggage.

And this concludes my second trip to Hawaii! I was so happy to come back to familiar sights and see new ones with my amazing adventurous friends. There are still many things on this island I haven’t done. I haven’t made it to the green sand beach at the southern tip of the island, or the very top of Mauna Kea. I’d also love to go to one of the coffee plantations here. And of course, this is one of the best places in the world to snorkel. Aloha, Big Island, hope to see you soon again!

One Comment on “In Which We Almost Ran Out of Gas in a Lava Field

  1. Thank you Balabanova All Over for sharing this! Your blog makes me want to travel more.
    You look so happy!

    Thank you,

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