Planning a Visit to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Article excerpt

Planning a visit to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

When the lava flows, a visit to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (see page 70) requires advance planning. Accommodations are limited and often full in the park, and even helicopter tours must be booked well in advance.

Our feature article will help you plan a visit to the park itself. Where you sleep depends on how you visit the park, flightseeing on which company you use.

Helicopter tours from Hilo or the park

One of the best ways to see Kilauea's eruption is by helicopter. Though recent lava outpourings have frequently been crossing the park road and flowing into the sea, some of the most dramatic sites-- including the steaming Puu Oo vent and its neighboring lava lake--lie in remote parts of the part.

A number of tour companies operate throughout the Big Island, but flight time is expensive (five-passenger jet helicopter charters average up to $500 per hour).

The least costly way to go is to join a jet-powered helicopter tour taking off near park headquarters or from Hilo. These tours generally last just under an hour and are sold on a seat basis.

Volcano Heli-tours, (808) 967-7578, operates from the golf course near park headquarters. A 45-minute tour costs $100 and takes you over Kilauea Caldera and past Puu Oo to the lava lake, down the new flows to the ocean, and then loops back to the landing pad.

Hilo Bay Air, 969-1545; Orchid Isle Helicopters, 969-6664; TMP Helicopters, 935-7000. These three all take off from Hilo airport, and all offer slightly different variations on essentially the same tour: Hilo to Puu Oo and the lava lake, down to the ocean, then either straight back or a slightly longer looping flight back along part of the coast. The basic flight lasts about 55 minutes and costs $125; the loop is about 15 minutes longer and costs $135.

Where to stay and eat

The only accommodation in the park is Volcano House, a charming old 37-room lodge on the edge of the Kilauea Caldera. While rooms tend toward the basic, they are usually full; the view from the dining room is spectacular. Rooms start at $40 double with bath; write to Volcano House, Box 53, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii 96718, or call 967-7321. …