Day 4 – Kealakekua Bay And Hawaii Volcano National Park

On Day 4 of our Hawaiian vacation, we started driving up Ali’i Drive, turning right on Palani Road and turned right again to drive South on Highway 11 to get to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.


For reference, when you leave Kailua as we did the prior day on Day 3 heading North West, it is Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway or Highway 19. However, when heading South East from Kailua, it is called the Hawaii Belt Road. This eventually merges with Highway 180, or the Mamalahoa Highway, and is subsequently called the Mamalahoa Highway or Highway 11 from that point on. For the sake of simplicity, you are simply going to be on Highway 11 all the way from Kailua until you reach Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

This was going to be a long drive just like yesterday when we visited Hilo, a distance of about 85 miles one way. Along the way we were going to stop at some of the locations that I remembered from my previous trip. There were certain areas that we wouldn’t have time for, but if you had a few days, there are many beautiful places to see on the South portion of the Big Island.

Kealakekua Bay

Kealakekua Bay is about 13 miles south of Kailua. It is a incredible site, a place that is well-known in history.

It is the location where Captain James Cook traveled to Hawaii in 1778, and upon his arrival, he was considered by the native Hawaiians to be a God. He appeared during the festival for the Hawaiian God Lono, during which time he was welcomed with open arms. However, when he returned in 1779 in his damaged ship, just a year later, he was killed by the Hawaiians after killing a lesser Hawaiian chief. The Captain James Cook Monument was erected in the place where he is said to have died, a popular tourist attraction. It is often a place where people swim to after snorkeling in the crystal clear waters of Kealakekua Bay which is also a fantastic place to snorkel.

Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park

After leaving Kealakekua Bay, we traveled further south to Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park, also called the City of Refuge.

It sits adjacent to Honaunau Bay, another fantastic location for snorkeling. This area was important in Hawaii, a place that people that broke the laws of that time could find sanctuary. After King Kamehameha I died in 1819, this location fell into disrepair as people give up on native beliefs in place of Christian beliefs. It has been restored, possessing many of the structures that were originally there including the Great Wall that was built during King Kamehameha’s reign.

Papakōlea Green Sand Beach And Naalehu

Traveling further south, we eventually arrived at the southern portion of the island. There were many things including South Point Park, South Point Cliff Dive and Papakōlea Green Sand Beach. We stopped at the Kau Scenic Byway which was beautiful, but desolate.

By this time, the road had started to curve to the east, heading in a northeast direction where we eventually arrived at the town of Naalehu. This is a location that you absolutely must stop because of the Punalu’u Bake Shop.

It has some of the best sweetbreads, doughnuts, sandwiches and coffee on the island.

There is a beautiful place outback where you can sit and really enjoy your time in this park like atmosphere that has trees, birds, and uncountable tourists that also stop at this wonderful bakeshop.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

After stopping and getting brunch at the Punalu’u Bake Shop, we headed northeast, continuing on Highway 11. We passed by the Punalu’u Black Sand Beach, in the town of Pahala, making our way all the way to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Although the blockbuster Jurassic Park was filmed on the island of Kauai, you will think that you have entered a prehistoric region because of the trees that lined both sides of the road as you enter the park. At a certain point, you will see the turn onto Crater Rim Drive, and you will see the Kilauea Visitor Center.

This is a great location, a place where you can see exhibits about the park and learn about its history. You will probably spend an hour there, going through the very informative displays and exhibits that are available. Once you are done, you will then want to get back on Crater Rim Drive.

Crater Rim Drive

Crater Rim Drive is the road that will take you all around the Kilauea volcano, and all of the craters in the area. When you leave the Kilauea Visitor Center, you will turn left, heading out the way that you came in. You will take your first right, going past another turn to the right, all the way until the road ends. You will then turn left on Crater Rim Drive, going past a turn to the left, and follow the road until it comes to the parking lot of the Kīlauea Iki Overlook.

This is where you can get out and look over into the Kīlauea Iki Crater, and if you have the time, you can go down the Kilauea Iki Trailhead. There are two trails, one of which is very easy to navigate, whereas the other is extremely steep. Most people take the trail to the right to get to the bottom, taking you to the other side of the crater. Once you reach the bottom, it is literally like being on a foreign world, what you might imagine Mars to look like if you were to go to that planet. You will have gone down about 400 feet to the crater floor, passing by trees in the rain forest that surrounds the crater that has leaves that are the size of a human body. The crater itself is still steaming, but is not erupting, so it is completely safe. It’s a loop trail, just over 3 miles. It will take you at least a couple of hours, but it will be well worth experiencing what you will see.

Thurston Lava Tube Or Nahuku

Once you are back at the top, you will keep following the Crater Rim Drive until you reach the Thurston Lava Tube (Nahuku).

Be prepared for rainstorms that can seemingly come out of nowhere, one that my daughters and I got caught in. The lava tube is not very long at all, something that can be completed in about 10 minutes, but it is a magical place.

Puʻu Puaʻi And Keanakako’i Overlooks

You will then get back in your car and head south on Crater Rim Drive, which will then veer to the West where you will turn right on the road which will lead to the Puʻu Puaʻi Overlook. This places you on the other side of Kilauea Iki, very close to the spatter cone or volcanic cone which was formed by a volcanic vent. From there, drive back onto Crater Rim Drive which will take you past Devastation Trail. Keep driving until you come to the Keanakako’i Overlook that looks down into the Keanakako’i Crater off to the left.

The Hale Ma’uma’u Volcano Crater And Kilauea Caldera

From there, keep going until you get to the Kilauea Caldera and the overlook where you can see the Hale Ma’uma’u Volcano Crater. There is a trail that you can go on called the Hale Ma’uma’u Trail if you have the time. When you see stories on the news about the link of lava that people see when they go to Hawaii Volcano National Park, this is where the pictures are taken. This is probably the most popular part of the entire Crater Rim Drive.

Jaggar Museum And Final Options

Continue on the road which goes around the Kilauea volcano, eventually heading north where you will find the Jaggar Museum and Overlook off to your right.

Your final destination will be the Kīlauea Overlook, a fitting place to complete this journey. Simply get back on Crater Rim Drive, make your first left, and then left again, to get back on Highway 11. There are optional things you can do such as continue all the way around back to the Kilauea Visitor Center where you can see the Steam Vents along the way. There are also Lava Tree Molds right off of Highway 11 on your way out, or you can go to the Volcano House right across from the visitor center to get something to eat before heading on your way.

Although everything that we saw at Hawaii Volcano National Park was in one location, it takes time to do everything once you are there. It will take the entire day to do everything that is there, so leaving as early as possible in the morning is highly recommended. If you are going to stay in Kailua, you have a 2 hour drive ahead of you which you also have to factor in. This location is one of the main reasons that people come to the Big Island, and island that actually has an active volcano.