While many visitors to Hawai’i Island prefer to spend their vacation relaxing on our lively, tropical beaches and sipping mai tais, those of us who love nature and the great outdoors have a different definition of paradise. Ready to get off the beaten path and into nature? Here are 5 reasons why Volcano, Hawai’i is the nature lover’s paradise you’ve been dreaming of:
- Lush rainforests.
Hapu’u and māmane and māmaki, oh my! The largest tree ferns in Hawai’i, the hapu’u can grow up to 35-feet tall! Find the fern and its giant fronds near Kīlauea’s summit. As for the māmane, look for its vivid yellow flowers blooming in the forests along Mauna Loa Road in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. The māmane’s flowers are popular among the iʻiwi, ʻapapane, and other native birds.
Fun fact: Native to Hawai’i, the māmane tree is fire resistant!
A member of the nettle family, the māmaki tree has leaves with grayish-white hairs and visible veins. Native Hawaiians crafted medicinal tea from the dry leaves, a practice that has recently been revived. And these are just some of the many trees you’ll find rising from the mist in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park!
But before you even step foot into the park, the exotic bamboo groves and dewy monstera leaves that you’ll find around town will transport you to a primal land before time.
- Tropical plants and rare flowers.
Barely a few feet tall, the ʻōhelo shrub may be small in stature, but it’s a big hit with birds and humans alike. The ʻōhelo’s red or yellow berries are an important food source to the nēnē, an endearing threatened goose that is Hawaii’s state bird.
Around Volcano, fiery lehua (blossoms) hang from branches of our sacred ‘ōhi’a trees. Essential to the health of Hawaii’s ecosystem, the ‘ōhi’a contributes to the recharge of groundwater, healthy air quality, and wildlife habitat.
While tough enough to be the first tree species to colonize lava flows, the ‘ōhi’a’s existence is threatened by an invasive fungus, Rapid ‘Ohi’a Death (ROD). To help prevent the spread of ROD, clean your gear and shoes before and after entering Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. Brush all soil off of your shoes, then spray them with 70% rubbing alcohol, as directed by the National Park Service.
While not native to Hawai’i, anthurium flowers have made themselves quite at home in lush Volcano, HI. If you see white or pink-blossomed anthurium, you are in the presence of a rare variety of a plant that was released by the University of Hawaii in 1963.
- Brilliant, endemic birds.
As our state bird, the endangered nēnē is undoubtedly one of the park’s stars. At sunrise, we love to hike along the Crater Rim Trail, where we often see a flock of nēnē emerge from the crater and fly into the park to feed. But the nēnē isn’t the only endemic bird roaming Volcano, HI.
Another common sight in the crater is the koa’e kea (a white sea bird), which can circle around the perimeter majestically during the day. The contrast of its white feathers against the dark lava is a work of mother nature’s art.
The park and surrounding area are home to the honeycreepers, a bird species found nowhere else in the world but our islands! Many of the honeycreepers, including the crimson apapane and ʻamakihi, have brilliantly-colored feathers and bills that curve down so the birds can fit their beaks inside long flowers that only they can feed on and pollinate.
While visiting the park, you may also spot an elepaio or two (small, gray-brown flycatcher) or even a roral ‘io, the only hawk species native to Hawai’i.
- Sunrises and stargazing.
Another spot to enjoy a spectacular sunrise is the Kīlauea Overlook. And the lava lake from Kīlauea Volcano’s eruption is especially enchanting in the glow of the sun rising over the world’s largest volcano, Mauna Loa.
Or course, there’s nothing quite like seeing stars dance above the lava lake at night. With very little light pollution for miles around, constellations and even the Milky Way aren’t hard to spot in the sky above Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park when the sun goes down.
- Ancient trails.
In Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, you’ll find over 150 miles of hiking trails leading you through more rainforests, past steam vents, around volcanic craters, and out to ancient petroglyphs. If you’re short on time, take an easy day hike on paved trails. The Volcano Art Center’s Niaulani Nature Walk is a free, one-hour walk through the rainforest led by knowledgeable guides who will teach you about Hawaii’s most diverse old-growth ‘ōhi’a and koa rainforest. For this tour, social distancing is observed and face coverings are required.
Those who are craving a more challenging adventure and have more time can check with the park about off-trail hiking and camping opportunities in the backcountry.
Fun fact: Seven of the world’s 13 climates can be found within Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park’s 505 square miles, including a desert!
Our historic cottages are conveniently located in Volcano Village, just minutes away from the park’s entrance, so book your nature lover’s vacation today and get ready for your Big Island adventure! If you aren’t a nature lover, we suspect that after a few days in Volcano, you’ll have fallen head over heels for this mystical, natural world of rainforests and lava.