"All good things are wild and free." --Henry David Thoreau

Tuesday, November 13, 2012



Pu'u Loa Petroglyph field is a 1.4 mile round-trip walk on the Big Island of Hawaii, and it seems perfectly fine for a little kid, especially on an overcast day, such as it was this past September when the nuclear family visited the Volcanoes National Park
Little G Beans was eager to get out of the rental car we'd driven down the Chain of Craters Road, and my husband and I could understand how frustrating it must've been as we oohed and aahed at the amazing lava fields outside the windows while Little G, restrained by a five-point harness of a baby seat, could only swivel her head and kick her legs. Once we got out at the trailhead to Pu'u Loa, the Beans took off down the gravel and lava rock trail and didn't look back. 
Goddess Pele. Painting by Herb Kane
Pu’u Loa, or “long hill,” is the name of the petroglyph field located between the blue sea and the steep cliff face of Holei Pali. The Hawaiians revered the Pu’u Loa site as a place to bury a baby’s umbilical cord, which was a common ritual to bestow a long life for the newborn.
Talk about a unique hiking experience! We went up and down and all around lava rock, amazing looking stuff: big thick cords, softly sloping pancakes, rippled as a washboard, crunchy looking like granola. The biggest surprise is that our three-year-old loved walking it by herself, and she only fell down once. (An overcast sky and the approach of sunset helped.)

The elevated bridge above 20,000 petroglyphs
This is no small potatoes petroglyph field, but 20,000 strong images. And of that sum, 16,000 petroglyphs are concentric circles or holes, an image associated with the umbilical cord. 
An elevated wooden walkway rings around the main fields (and reminds me of a science fiction story—Asimov?—about visitors going back to Neolithic times and being cautioned to stay on the walkway and touch nothing, but some fool grabs at a butterfly…). Bringing a child on a hike here  has a feeling like connecting the past to the present.
Along the way, ferns and even noni trees, with fruit smelling of Limburger cheese, eked out a living in the cracks of the lava. The ancient Hawaiians planted micro crops of food like yams in these fissures so that people might traverse this rough terrain and eat along the way. I'm guessing they planted the noni fruit, which is edible and medicinal. Genevieve was interested in the fruit, especially its incredible stinky cheese smell. 
"Petroglyph Maker" by Herb Kane

The end of the road. Credit: livingwilderness.com
After Pu’u Loa, we drove to the end of the Chain of Craters Road where it reached the sea. We ogled at a beautiful sea arch, and then continued by foot down the final stretch of road, though the sun was setting and we were all hungry. 

      A quarter mile down this road (cars are made to park by a ranger's office), a relatively recent lava flow covered the way. Night was falling, so our trek across the lava was short, though a ranger passed us with a group of people carrying flashlights, for down here, a bit further on, one could actually walk to a vista point to see a red ribbon of lava gushing into the sea. 

The end of the road

Highly recommended: cabins at Namakani Paio
Inside the N.P. cabin
 There are so many things to explore at Volcanoes National Park, including 150 miles of trails, that to do even a modest exploration with a child means spending the night close by. Staying at Hilo or Kona, the two main cities on the island, is just too far. One interesting experience is to visit these sights early in the morning before the sun heats up the black lava rocks of the calderas.

Five miles from the entrance to the park is Namakani Paio Campground with both camping and cabins. The A-frame bungalows ($55/night) are awesome, private and cozy, and clean. Each has two bunks and a queen sized bed, linens and comforters (it gets chilly at night), barbecue grills, your own table and benches, and close by is a bathroom with hot showers. Keys and details are arranged directly through Volcano House, right in the park.

            Other options for places to stay are Volcano House, built in the Victorian era on the edge of Kilauea Caldera, impressive to say the least. Expect prices to be expensive. There is also the Kilauea Military Camp, actually a hotel and a dining hall, available to any guest with even a thin military connection.
Pepeiao Cabin. Credit: nps.org

            Experienced hikers—probably without children unless they are fit teenagers—have the option of various cabins in remote areas that are accessed only after a long hike, like Pu’u’ula’ula Cabin on the Mauna Loa Trail up the second largest mountain on the island, or Pepeiao Cabin near the sea in the Ka’u Desert Wilderness, options that are not for beginners or little ones (yet interesting to imagine).


Kids Activities in Volcanoes Nat'l Park http://www.nps.gov/havo/forkids/index.htm
Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park  www.nps.gov/havo
Hawai’i Pacific Parks Association  www.hawaiipacificparks.org
Friends of Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park   www.fhvnp.org
Pu'u Loa Petroglyph hike
How the Hawaiians survived en route to Pu'u Loa, which seem so far from food and water.
Relaxing on ribbons of pa'hoe'hoe lava
Snacks outside the cabin at Namakani Paio Campground
Sea arch at the end of the road
Lava flowed this deep across the end of the road.