The entrance sign at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, alongside the Big Island's Highway 11.
On a doors-off flight over Kilauea volcano's southeast rift zone with Paradise Helicopters, we saw the result of 28-plus years of lava activity from the volcano's Puu Oo vent. The pockets of green are all that remains of Royal Gardens subdivision and the forests that once covered the landscape.
In one of these lava-surrounded pockets of greenery—called kipuka, in Hawaiian—Jack Thompson's former Lava House B&B is now the last remaining home in the Royal Gardens subdivision. The subdivision once claimed more than 75 homes.
A wide-angle photo shows the extent of the Lava House's isolation due to lava flows. Access is now limited to helicopter landing and hiking in.
Puu Oo crater, which has been erupting near continuously since 1983, on occasion sending molten lava into Royal Gardens, coastal residential communities and the ocean. Its remote location within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park makes it best viewed from the air.
On our June 2011 helicopter flight, a raised lava lake was building within Puu Oo crater.
As we passed over Puu Oo, a wall of the raised lava lake burst, sending a small, but fast-moving molten magma out onto the floor of the crater.
A multitude of steam vents are found near the summit of Kilauea volcano in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. As rainwater permeates into chasms of heated rock below ground, warm water vapor rises through these vents condensing as it blends with frosty summit air.
A large fissure at the Steam Vents overlook.
From the Steaming Bluff overlook, visitors can peer into Kilauea volcano's massive 541-feet-deep summit caldera.
Since 2008, Kilauea volcano has produced a steady plume of steam and ash from an ever-widening crack in its summit crater Halemaumau.
At Sulphur Banks, a trail winds past a series of small fissures where volcanic gases rise and mix with groundwater steam. Rich with carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide, the gases emit an odor much like rotten eggs in the immediate vicinity of the fissures. Still, if you can handle and the smell (and keep your visit quick), the Sulphur Banks are worth a look.
Ohia lehua trees thrive in the chilly air at Kilauea's summit, producing bright red blossoms.
A view of Mauna Ulu on the drive down Chain of Craters Road. Prior to the nearly three-decade eruption cycle at Puu Oo, Mauna Ulu's May 1969 to July 1974 eruption was the longest Kilauea eruption in recorded history.
The Mauna Ulu eruption sent fast-moving lava flows over 700-foot Holei Pali ("Pali" is the Hawaiian word for cliff or precipice) and Chain of Craters Road and into the waters off the Puna coastline. The speed of the flows can be seen in the smooth, ropy appearance of hardened pahoehoe lava.
Perpetual ocean swells continually carve the 90-foot-high lava cliffs, which Chain of Craters Road eventually parallels. The scenic drive winds 17 miles from Kilauea volcano's summit to this coastline.
Holei Sea Arch can be seen from an overlook at the end of Chain of Craters Road.
A small field of petroglyphs, carved by early Hawaiians, near the Holei Pali coastline.
A rare clear night on Kilauea's summit unites two natural wonders: the stars of the Milky Way galaxy and the glow of a lava lake within Halemaumau crater.
The Milky Way galaxy, captured on a clear night at the summit of 4,091-foot Kilauea volcano.
The entrance to Puuhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park, along Highway 160, on the Big Island's South Kona coast.
Guard kii (statues) watch over Hale o Keawe—a reconstructed temple and mausoleum that once held the remains of early Hawaiian alii (royalty).
Offerings of maile and other lei line Hale o Keawe's enclosure.
Puuhonua o Honaunau's ongoing efforts to preserve aspects of Old World day-to-day Hawaiian life is celebrated each June at the park's annual cultural festival, where visitors can meet and speak with Hawaiian cultural practitioners ...
... watch or participate in ti-leaf weaving ...
... kapa (tree bark) cloth-making ...
... or watch keiki (children) and adult hula performances.
Guests and participants at this year's Puuhonua o Honaunau Cultural Festival were invited to participate in a hukilau, a means of fishing created by early Hawaiians. The technique uses a long net made of dried ki-leaves, which participants stretch across the opening of a small bay or link in from end to end in a large circle.
As the circle is pulled tighter or the net is pulled further into the bay, schools of fish are captured in the center of the net.
This young festival attendee captured one of the large yellow tang in the net by hand, and showed it off proudly before releasing the fish back into the ocean.
The 420-acre park is rich with important archaeological finds: palm groves and fishponds that were once playgrounds of royalty, remnants of coastal villages, canoe landings and platforms for heiau (places of worship). The puuhonua (Hawaiian for "place of refuge") offered sanctuary for fugitives, and anyone else fleeing death or danger, prior to the 1819 abolishment of the kapu system of Hawaiian sacred laws.
Puukohola Heiau National Historic Site preserves one of the last major sacred structures built in Hawaii before outside cultures began to influence the traditional life of early Hawaiians.
Construction of the heiau (Hawaiian for "temple" or "place of worship") was ordered by King Kamehameha the Great in 1790, after he was told by prophecy that he would rule the Hawaiian Islands if it was built.
Puukohola Heiau overlooks Kawaihae Bay on the Big Island's South Kohala coastline. The heiau's name is taken from the hill it was built on, Puukohola, which means "Hill of the Whale" in Hawaiian.
More than 1,000 laborers, forming a 25-mile-long human chain over the Kohala mountain range (visible in the distance), transported water-worn lava rocks hand to hand from Pololu Valley to construct Puukohola Heiau.
Amazingly, they finished in a year, constructing the 224-by-100 foot temple's 160 to 20-foot-high walls without mortar.
The mile-long coastal trail at Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park winds past large brackish fishponds including Kaloko Fishpond, pictured here.
The centuries-old fishponds are protected by massive lava rock loko kuapa (or seawalls) like this one, constructed by early Hawaiians entirely by hand without mortar. This channel built into the seawall trapped ocean fish, which were then raised within the fishpond.
The fishponds are now protective wetlands for native birds including the endangered aeo (Hawaiian stilt), which hunt for worms, crabs, insects and small fish.
The indigenous and endangered alae keokeo (Hawaiian coot) also feeds and lives in the waters of Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park's fishponds.
Kaloko-Honokohau's land-base acreage is just as important as its fishponds, restoring and preserving the coastal sections of two ancient ahupuaa (sea-to-mountain land divisions).
Honu (green sea turtles) can be found all along Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park's coastline, sunning or feeding in the area's many ocean coves.
Stretching more than 175 miles, the Alakahakai National Historic Trail follows a coastline path from Upolu Point on the Big Island's northernmost tip to the easternmost boundary of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Here, it passes along the oceanfront boundary of Puukohola Heiau National Historic Site.
The trail is one of the last remaining examples of an ala loa—well-traversed foot trails that connected the coastal sections of the Big Island and, much like modern highways, were important to the movement of early Hawaiians.
For now, only portions of the Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail are open to hikers. But you can find accessible segments of the trail in all four of the National Park Service's other Big Island sites. This portion of the trail is in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park near Holei Pali.
Along its length, the trail passes through more than 200 ahupuaa and alongside hundreds of sites important to Hawaiian history and culture, including temples, housing settlements, fishponds and petroglyph fields.