VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK, HAWAII — We got up before sunrise today and hiked a half-mile on a trail from the campground to the Jagger museum overlook. There were more steam vents visible than yesterday and the lava in the caldera emitted a lot of ash this morning, which turned orange with the rising sun. For about 5 minutes, there even was Alpenglow on Mauna Kea with the full moon setting behind it — a scene that made up for getting out early. We should really try that more often.

After our now-usual breakfast of Costco staples we packed up for our drive to Hilo and headed for the National Park to do the hike the concierge at Volcano House recommended: A loop hike taking in the Thurston Lava Tube and descending into the Kilauea Iki caldera, which as recently as 1959 was filled with a lava lake that took 36 years to cool.

The lava tubes were as expected very impressive: Set into the rain forest, they reminded me of the train tunnels we walked and biked through in Wisconsin and Minnesota. We noticed level and straight shelves on the walls not unlike the rings you get in a coffee cup and wondered if the lava receded in multiple phases, leaving these little lips. We forgot to ask later on, so it remains a mystery (to us anyway).

Torsten at the edge of the now solidified Kilauea Iki caldera, which fully cooled only in 1995.

After we climbed out the other end, we headed on the Kilauea Iki trail, which descends through beautiful rain forest to the caldera’s floor — A vast, desolate landscape with the occasional steam vent. We finally also found out what “Ranger Dean” had joked about the day before: “Lava miles” are very different than “flat miles”: The rough surface is full of cracks and pressure ridges, and the walking was a constant up-and-down interrupted by occasional hops over cracks. It was a surreal experience to be walking in a volcano’s caldera again. If I’d do it again, though, I’d go counter-clockwise, first hiking the bottom, then the tube, since the ascent going clockwise was mostly in full sun and the other side was still in shade and in the forest — no wonder most people walk we met walked it this way.

Our final stop in the park was a visit to the Jagger museum, which by now had opened, and while it was interesting to find out more about Hawaiian culture and learn about the science (I created a little “earthquake” by jumping in a front of a seismograph and seeing the signal), the place was too packed to be really enjoyable, so we headed out on our drive to Hilo.

kilauea-ikiOnce in Hilo, we had a late lunch at Tina Garden Gourmet Cafe, a little hole-in-the-wall Asian-inspired restaurant. The wrap we ordered (spinach tortilla with avocado, carrots, lettuce, garlic shrimp and a delicious sauce I couldn’t identify) was spectacular. The rest of the day, we spent catching up on emails and taking care of business at our B&B’s wrap-around porch.