The Ground is Lava! – Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Do you remember the childhood game where we pretended the floor was lava? Of course you do; it was the best! Jumping from the coffee table to the couch, trying your best not to fall into the “fiery pit” below. Have today’s kids even heard of this game? Probably not. In our digitally dominated world, this game may be obsolete. Nonetheless, it was the inspiration for the following photos. Because in the Kīlauea Caldera, the ground is actually lava!

But in order to get down to the Kīlauea Caldera, we first had to hike the Halema‘uma‘u Trail. The trail is about 0.8 miles downhill through lush rainforest. (Keep in mind the return hike will be all uphill!)

Photo by NPS

When the trail ends and you enter the caldera, it’s otherworldly. Nothing but a vast expanse of black lava rock and you are actually standing in the caldera of a very active volcano. So active in fact, Kīlauea ranks among the world’s most active volcanoes and may even top the list. Since 1952, Kīlauea has erupted 34 times. Coincidentally, when we first visited Hawai’i in 2018, Kīlauea was actively erupting and the national park was closed to visitors.

If you don’t have time for the hike, you can also view the caldera from above. Crater Rim Drive offers observation points right off the road where you can view the volcano’s broad, shallow depression measuring nearly 3 miles long and 2 miles wide.

Note: Before you visit, make sure to check the NPS website for updates on current closures. Several parts of the park were still closed during our most recent visit.

Glacier Walk & Hunt for the Northern Lights

On Thanksgiving Day, Rob and I, along with our friends Heather and Patrick, embarked on a full day tour that included a glacier walk and hunt for the Northern Lights. We headed south towards Mýrdalsjökull, Iceland‘s fourth largest glacier. Mýrdalsjökull is just east of Eyjafjallajökull, the world famous volcano that erupted in April 2010.

Along the way, our tour guide Anna, educated us on “all things Iceland.” A couple hours later we arrived at Sólheimajökull, which is a glacial tongue of the main glacier Mýrdalsjökull. It was an amazing sight with the ice so breathtakingly blue!

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This glacial tongue is a safe and easy way for novices to explore glacier features, such as cauldrons, crevasses and waterways. As soon as we arrived, we put on our crampons and we were each given an ice axe. Rob is quite experienced with this type of equipment, but it was definitely a first for me (hence me showing off my new kicks)!

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Anna provided us expert instruction on how to safely navigate the glacier. Fortunately, the weather was absolutely perfect. It wasn‘t too cold and there was virtually no wind. But most importantly, the glacier‘s surface wasn‘t covered in snow. This meant we could walk around without poking the ground below us with our ice axes prior to each and every step. When the glacier is covered with snow, you must use your axe to prod the ice to ensure you will be stepping on solid ground. If you don‘t, you might plummet to your death! We had a few “special” tourists in our group that weren’t heeding Anna’s instructions. Fitting for Thanksgiving Day, I guess they should be thankful they didn’t plummet to their death.

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After spending a couple hours on the glacier, it was time to make our way back to the bus before the sun went down. I was feeling pretty confident with my new glacier skills, but I wasn’t really up for testing them after dark.

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Before dinner, we stopped at 2 waterfalls and then the Eyjafjallajökull eruption center. We watched an interesting video that showed how the eruption affected a family farm at the base of the volcano and their journey rebuilding their farm. I must say…the Icelandic people are pretty brave to build (and then re-build) their homes adjacent to active volcanoes!

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Seljalandsfoss Waterfall

Our next stop was Hotel Anna, where we enjoyed a delicious meal and tasty Lava Beer. This Thanksgiving, we enjoyed Icelandic Meat Soup instead of a traditional American turkey dinner. I ate their meat soup a lot during this trip and I have to say that Icelanders have this recipe down pat! It was SO good and none of us could resist going back for seconds. The only question was “What kind of meat is in the meat soup?” We told ourselves it was lamb, but the truth is we will never know. It could have just as easily been Icelandic horse, since that is a part of the Icelandic diet. I think I’m going to just continue believing that I was enjoying lamb soup.

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After dinner, it was time to search for the Northern Lights. Unfortunately, it was an incredibly cloudy night, so our chances of seeing them were not great. I held on to hope though because this was the part of the trip that I was most excited about. In my mind, I had visions of this spectacular show in the sky and I couldn’t wait to see it for myself. I was convinced that the clouds were going to part just so that I could experience this amazing phenomenon. And then I got a heavy dose of reality check. The picture below is the extent of my Northern Lights experience. They weren’t incredibly active that night, but they were definitely there. Unfortunately, so were the clouds. With such high expectations, this was definitely the most underwhelming outcome. Note the small green streak.

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