Volcano National Park - Let The Awe Inspire You . . .


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North America
April 17th 2010
Published: May 2nd 2010EDIT THIS ENTRY

Six days ago, we left San Diego and sailed south to Ensenada Mexico. In Ensenada we embarked passengers and headed out into the Pacific. We’ve spent five days at sea, going halfway across that massive body of water.

Today, I am in Hawaii!!!

Even after spending today outside in port, I still can’t quite believe that I’m here. Of the Carnival ships, only one (the Spirit) goes to Hawaii. Even then, the Spirit only does 4 Hawaiian cruises in a year. It’s a pretty big deal to be a crew member on this ship - especially in a position where there is only one on each ship. For the last six-plus months of this contract, I feared something happening to change the plans for me to be on the ship for the Hawaii cruises. But now here I am . . .

During the five days at sea, I did a lot of planning. I’ve waited so long to get to Hawaii, I don’t want to waste any time in port trying to figure out what to do. So the next thirteen days will be packed with sight-seeing and adventures.

Today we docked in Hilo, on the “Big Island” of Hawaii. Before any of the fun could begin, every guest onboard had to be processed by US immigration. I was up at 5:30am and working by 6:00am to help make that process as smooth as possible. I work late, so early rising does not suit me at all, however when I went up to the guest areas and saw out the window that we were approaching land, I got pretty excited. Between 7am and 9am, immigration processed all 2200 guests and by 10am, crew were finally allowed off the ship.

Seven of us went out together. We took a taxi to the airport nearby where the car rental company I’d made reservations with was located. We picked up our mini van (which was really nice - I never thought I’d want a mini van, but this one was good) and we packed in. I’d made us some driving CDs (seriously, I really prepared during those sea days!) so with the music cranked up and me behind the wheel, we set off for Hawaii’s Volcanoes National Park.

Our first stop in Hawaii was . . . Walmart. Seriously. I know, it’s downright shameful. The Hawaiian Naturalist and Guide for the ship spoke during the sea days about all the things to do in port; he’d said that each port has a free shuttle to Walmart, but to not go there before you see Hawaii. Yet that was our first stop. However, it was for practical purposes - you can’t purchase food or drinks in the National Park so we bought things for lunch and some of us crew needed a few life essentials for back onboard. So then, Walmart out of the way, we were seriously off for the park.

Volcanoes National Park is about a 40 minute drive from Hilo, pretty much all highway driving. During the drive, I had to continually remind myself that I was in Hawaii. Other than the license plates saying Hawaii, we didn’t pass by much that seemed to fit our visions of Hawaii. There were palm trees and some nice flowers here and there, but really, we could have been in Florida or California or many of the other ports we’d been to.

But then we reached the National Park and we saw some cool stuff. The entrance to the National Park is at an elevation of over 3000 feet. At that height, there is a looped drive called Crater Rim Drive. We started there. We stopped at the steam vents, spots in the land where the hot air below causes steam to rise from the ground. Approaching the steam vent, it looked just like mist (or steam) rising. Then all of the sudden, you stepped into the steam and it felt like when you’re cooking and boiling water and you put your face above the pot - except it’s your whole body! I was the first one of us to reach the steam and I sort of jumped back and started laughing. Then we were all walking in and out of the steam.

At that same spot, there was a lookout over the massive Kulauea Caldera. This spot is 2 ½ miles wide and 500 feet deep. At one point it was all bubbling with lava, but now it just steams in places. In the distance, we could see the Halemaumau Crater - a fuming pit of steam and sulfur. We drove further for another closer look at Halemaumau.

That was as far as we could go along Crater Rim Drive as it was closed for the rest of the loop around. So we backtracked and to the entrance of the park. From there, we went down Chain of Craters Road which travels 19 miles from the top of the park to sea level. Along the drive we made lots of stops. We went to scenic spots that looked over craters. Looking into those massive holes, it’s crazy to think that once they were filled with lava. We made other stops in lava fields - vast areas of land that had once been covered in flowing lava which has now cooled into volcanic rock. We climbed along the rocks and took tons of pictures. We drove through forests that had managed to be missed by previous lava flows. Then for the last 1500 feet, we could see the ocean again. It was an incredible site - driving through fields of lava, looking at the sides of the volcano rising above us and the sea below.

Down at sea level, there was a road that went along the coast and out of the park. But now the road is closed off. At the bottom, we parked the car and walked along the closed road for about half a mile. Then you see why the road is closed. In 2003, lava spilled down the hill and completely took over the road on its way to the sea. Now we could climb over the lava and see spots of the road that were missed. I spotted a Road Closed sign that was almost covered by the lava - a pretty awesome photo spot.

There’s only one spot in the park where you can see flowing lava - and really it’s more trickling than flowing at this point - and it was quite a hike beyond where we were at this point. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the time, so at this point we needed to start back tracking.

Closer to the entrance to the park, we made a final stop at the Thurston Lava Tube. A lava tube is like a cave but one that runs up to a mile - or more - into the land; it’s been naturally created by the movement of lava. It was a short walk through some incredible jungle - much more like the Hawaii of my visions - down to the lava tube. Then we could walk right in! It was very cool to see. We only walked a bit inside the tube, just to check it out, but it was crazy to think you could walk a mile or more into to it.

Then it was time to head back to Hilo, to return the car, get back to the ship and get to work.

But then tonight on the ship, we had a lava watching party. Tomorrow the ship will be docked in Kona, on the other side of the Big Island, so we’re circling around the South side of the island - right past the volcanoes. Lots of the guests and crew gathered out on the open decks of the ship to see if we could spot the lava. And we did! I’ll admit that it wasn’t as exciting of a view as I’d anticipated. I’d thought we would be much closer to land than we were. Then the combination of it being at night and the lava flow being quite low and slow now, made for a small site. With the naked eye from the ship, it looked like small red lights all gathered together. I’d purchased some binoculars for our time in Hawaii and Alaska, they helped see a bit better. Through the binoculars, you could see that the light of the lava was actually moving. Photos however didn’t really capture anything but a faint red glow. Still, I saw lava!

That ended my first day in Hawaii. Tomorrow unfortunately I will not be getting off the ship as I have duties keeping me onboard. But after that, the days to come will be a big whirlwind of adventure!



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