Hiking: Napau Trail | Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii | 9/17/07

The Napau Trail is one of the few ways for visitors to Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii to see the actively erupting Pu‘u ‘O'o' Vent. The trail runs first to Pu‘u Huluhulu, which is a small, older cinder cone and then continues around Mauna Ulu, a lava shield/vent that last erupted in 1974 and then past another crater and over another small rise before ending a few miles from the Pu‘u ‘O'o' Vent. However, due to an eruption earlier this year about halfway between the Pu‘u ‘O'o' Vent and Pu‘u Huluhulu, the trail beyond Pu‘u Huluhulu has been closed to public access.

The complete photo set for the hike can be viewed on Flickr here.

The parking area for the Napau Trail is located at the end of what used to be the Chain of Craters Road. The lava flows from Mauna Ulu in the late 60s and early 70s covered it up. Today the Trail roughly follows the old location of the road.

Along Chain of Craters Road
The trail starts at the end of the road, veering off and then making its way to Pu‘u Huluhulu.

Pu‘u Huluhulu Trail
The trail to Pu‘u Huluhulu is a fairly moderate walk and travels through a mixture of forest and open lava fields. In the open lava fields, the sun is very bright and very hot. The trail is well worn and has been laid out along the most stable lava, so you shouldn’t expect to break through anywhere.

Pu‘u Huluhulu Trail
A neat feature along the trail is the raised structures that have a hole in the middle. This is where a tree was when the lava was flowing. The trees were wet, so the lava cooled around the tree before it burned away and then when the lava stopped flowing, the entire lava flow dropped, except for the areas where it was already cool. So now you have these columns of lava with a hole in the middle where the tree used to be.

Pu‘u Huluhulu Trail
Pu‘u Huluhulu Trail
Another neat thing is that on these lava flows, the Hawaiian Goose, or Nene lives. You’ll find them wandering the flows looking for berries and plants. They are very endangered with only like 500 to 600 on the island, but we ran across several of them on our hike to Pu‘u Huluhulu.

Pu‘u Huluhulu TrailPu‘u Huluhulu Trail
When the trail reaches the base of Pu‘u Huluhulu there is a sign notifying you that the area beyond is closed. However, the trail up to the summit of Pu‘u Huluhulu is still open. This is a short (roughly .25 mile) hike up, though it is quite steep and muddy. The trail first reaches an open field just below the summit and then there is an observation platform at the top, sitting on the top of the hill and on the edge of the old crater, which is at least a hundred or so feet deep. It’s quite a view – the crater right next to you – Mauna Ulu just across the way and then off in the distance, the erupting Pu‘u ‘O'o' Vent, where you can see the smoke and steam rising up from.

Pu‘u Huluhulu Trail
Pu‘u Huluhulu Trail
Pu‘u Huluhulu Trail
While we weren’t supposed to, we ended up climbing around on Mauna Ulu, first to a former lava lake on its flank and then up towards the top. We never did make it to the very top where we could have looked down into the crater. That was because the higher you got, the thinner the crust got on the lava flow and you would break through and had the chance to fall through (it wasn’t very far to the more solid lava below). The problem was that the lava is like glass, so when you break through, especially if you trip, you can cut yourself up really bad. We got up as far as we felt comfortable and then headed back on the trail to the car. We did find some really cool lava though – it had hardened while in the air so it was mostly air bubbles – it was lighter than a sponge.

Pu‘u Huluhulu Trail
Pu‘u Huluhulu Trail

Comments