The title of this series is Big Island Bird-Watching. Well, the best way to do that was for me to revisit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, as its native ecosystems are the most accessible places to see some of Hawaii’s last remaining honeycreepers.
I always love traveling to the Big Island. Part of that is for the food, especially when I can get to a dinner with Na’au Hilo. However, the other reason is the gorgeous natural environment, especially when it comes to microclimates or ecosystems that are difficult to get to or don’t exist at all on Oahu. That was the primary reason for this trip – to see how Hawaii Volcanoes National Park looks today and to find track down some Hawaiian honeycreepers.
Revisit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
After a rather uncomfortable night and mediocre breakfast at the Grand Naniloa Hotel, we headed out of Hilo to revisit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The 40-minute drive from our hotel took us from sea level to an elevation of 4,000 feet. As we climbed, the temperature dropped, and the clouds moved in. The east side of the Big Island is known for being cloudy and rainy, and this day didn’t disappoint. Because of this, once we went into the park, I headed directly Devastation Trail.
Here, we looked around a bit, trying to see if birds would be visible around Kilauea Iki Crater. They were, but they were darting about QUICK. Much too fast for me to photograph, especially in the dim, overcast light. However, I did manage a rather misty photo of the crater itself.
Undeterred, we headed over to the parking lot at the other end of Devastation Trail and found much better luck there. TONS of ‘Apapane were in the area. Unfortunately, by the time I got acclimated to trying to photograph them, heavier rains started to roll in. We ducked back into the car and decided to wait things out a little, to no avail. With the rain coming down fairly hard, we strapped back into our car and headed down the Chain of Craters Road.
As we continued to drive, we eventually outran the rain. To make use of our time as we revisit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, we decided to hop out of the car the first chance we got, which ended up being at Kealakomo.
Eventually, we made our way down to Hōlei Sea Arch. After searching for parking along the side of the road, we hopped out and took a short hike out to the viewing area. I can’t recall exactly, but I remember there being more of a formal viewing area before. However, this time around, the area seemed more “natural,” while the road saw the addition of a turnaround area.
As we walked back to our car, I kept my eye open for Nene geese, as we saw last time, but non were to be found. However, I did see Noni growing out of the lava field.
Unfortunately, the weather just didn’t want to cooperate during our scheduled day to revisit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, and as we were admiring the sites around the arch, the rain came coming down again. So we hopped into the car once again and headed back up the Chain of Craters road. On the way back up, I did pull off here and there to take in the sites from our car.
Eventually, we made our way to the various lookout spots for Halema’uma’u Crater. Unfortunately, the still misty conditions made it difficult to see anything.
During our time at the lookout by the now-closed Jagger Museum, I noticed endemic ‘ōhelo berries growing near the pathway.
It’s worth noting that these berries are legal to pick within the Park. However, when doing so, remember to adhere to the one-quart daily limit, remain out of restricted areas, leave some for the Nene, and don’t forget to make an offering to Pele! To make an offering, threw a few berries into (or at least in the direction of) Halema’uma’u Crater. While I would have liked to do so, we didn’t pick during this visit.
After snapping some photos of the ‘ōhelo berries, we headed back to the car and went to one last Halema’uma’u lookout area, to no avail.
With the rains refusing to let up, we hopped into the car and headed back to Hilo. Before heading back to our hotel, we picked up our dinner then went to dry off.
A Trip to Revisit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park – Day 2
On our day of departure, we had several hours to kill, and knowing the defeat I faced the prior day, Mrs. Island Miler suggested we trek out to the park once again. This time around, we had much better luck. While it was still overcast, it wasn’t raining, and hints of blue were peeking through the clouds.
I did end up picking some ‘ōhelo that day, too, after making sure the night before that I knew what I was looking at. I didn’t pick from this particular shrub, but I did want to show how they can grow virtually anywhere around the volcano. And, yes, I did make the appropriate offering to Pele.
After my ‘ōhelo harvesting – I only brought back a small handful to try and share with my family – we went to check out the other Halema’uma’u overlook once again.
Then, we headed back to Devastation Trail, where I snapped some photos of Kilauea Iki again.
Then, we hopped back into the car and headed to the back parking lot once again for more ‘Apapane spotting opportunities. And boy, did they not disappoint!
While I could’ve stood there all day watching these magnificent birds, I didn’t want to do that to Mrs. Island Miler, and we did have a flight to catch. So, after spending a bit of time here, we headed back to Hilo, got some lunch, stopped off at a gas station, and headed back to the airport.
I’m really glad we got to revisit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, especially since I got to get some excellent bird-watching time in. While the visit got off to a rough start, things ended on a high note, and that’s all you can hope for. But let this be a lesson to everyone – the weather is always very unpredictable in Hawaii, especially if you’re planning far out. So be flexible and be prepared. Things probably wouldn’t have been as bad if we came with at least some light rain gear.