As someone who grew up in the Midwest where Christmas meant frigid snowy days and warm cozy nights by a crackling fire while sipping hot cocoa, moving 6000+ miles away to perpetually balmy Hawaii meant some holiday adjustments had to be made… Right? While the season was still missing so many things from back home (and making up for it in other ways), we managed to find a little familiarity on the Big Island, where we spent our first Christmas in Hawaii. In Hawaii Volcano National Park, at an elevation of 4000 ft, the cooler weather was reminiscent of Christmases past and I found myself bundled up in sweaters and blankets to shield myself from the brisk temperatures in the low 50’s. Here’s a little recap of our Christmas in Hawaii and some ideas for you should you choose to venture out this way!
Kilauea Military Camp
KMC is an MWR (morale, welfare and recreation) facility located inside the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park and is available to any active or reserve military member, DoD employee and their families/guests. The 2, 3, and 4 bedroom cottages of this post-operative military post have been converted into quaint resort lodgings including a fireplace and pleasant amenities such as a mini fridge, microwave, cable TV, and comfortable furniture. Stationed within walking distance of Kilauea Volcano (the world’s most active volcano, which has been erupting continuously since 1983, making Hawaii the only state in the US to be expanding in size), KMC also has dining, tours, entertainment and recreation.
For the holidays, all of the cottages were adorned in themed Christmas décor with characters from Minions to Marvel and plenty of twinkle lights to get everyone in the cheery spirit of the season.
Halema’uma’u Crater Lava Glow
We arrived later in the day on our first night on Big Island and did not have time to do anything before sundown aside from check in to our cottages. So, we changed into our warm clothes, grabbed some blankets and drove to the Jaggar Museum overlook to check out the glow that can be seen at night coming from the lava lake beneath the Earth’s surface. The glow is awe-inspiring and I yearned to warm my hands in the heat rippling from the ground but I would NOT recommend getting too close to the 2000°F lava. No amount of aloe if going to help with those burns!
In Hawaiian folklore, this is the home of Pele, goddess of fire, lightning, wind and volcanoes, the creator of the Hawaiian Islands.
Kilauea Iki Crater Hike
Kilauea is the large, highly-active volcano on Hawaii island. Kilauea Iki (iki = small in Hawaiian) is the crater adjacent to the summit caldera of the aforementioned Kilauea volcano. Armed with snacks and a couple of beverages (some of the adult variety), we caught our first glimpse of the impressive pit from the lookout at the trailhead parking lot and it took little effort to imagine the ground as a restless lake of lava and the surface is still warm to the touch even 50 years later.
The trail first takes you across Byron’s Ledge where the views are stunning and it is impossible to capture how monumental the crater is in a mere photograph. After descending into the crater itself, hikers then must hike across the crater floor, staying mindful of the cracks, collapsed air pockets and steam vents in order to return to the trailhead. There is nothing comparable to the phenomenon that is volcanic activity and until you are face to face with the result of its mighty force, it is difficult to fully grasp its significance.
Volcano House Restaurant
On Christmas Day, we got dressed up and indulged in a decadent buffet-style holiday dinner at The Volcano House’s restaurant. The staff was extremely friendly, the food was divine, and the decorations were gorgeous.
But the cherry on top of a perfect evening was the extremely rare Moonbow we were fortunate enough to see. These seldom-seen events are formed in exactly the same way as a rainbow but the source of light is from the moon rather than the sun, making them much fainter (often appearing white and free from their usual color) and in need of just the right conditions to be visible to the naked eye. The light from the moon must be reflected off of an opposing mist of water from rain or a waterfall, the moon needs to be close to the earth within a few days of being a ‘full moon’ and it can only be seen in places without much artificial light, Volcano National Park being the perfect place for that kind of visibility. In our case, the conditions were so perfect that we could actually make out the spectrum of colors.
Our friend Shelly just so happened to be looking out of the window at the Halema’uma’u lava glow when she noticed a faint arch. She quickly grabbed our attention and without hesitation we all had our noses pressed to the window trying to catch a glimpse and soon neighboring tables caught wind of what was going on. We decided to go outside to the patio for a better look taking the entire restaurant with us, including the wait staff. It was a Christmas miracle!
Green Sand Beach | Papakolea
Another highlight of an action-packed 4-day trip was our excursion to find one of only FOUR green sand beaches in the world. This beach is difficult to reach as you MUST have a four-wheel drive vehicle, a Jeep being the favorite mode of transportation here. I am not exaggerating when I say it was treacherous trying to reach Papakolea. The paths are rugged from erosion and vehicular traffic (which has since been restricted by the Department of Hawaiian Homelands) and more than once I thought the jeep was about to end up on its side. By the end of the ride, we were all splattered with mud even though we fully expected to be sheltered inside the car. However, the trek was worth it because the sand really is green and it was a serious bucket list item. The beach is housed in a collapsed cinder cone and the sand gets its green hue from the olivine fragments (you may know it as Peridot when it’s of ‘gem quality’) in the lava rock that, due to its fortitude, remained when the ash fragments, glass and black pyroxene have been washed out to sea.
The climb down to the beach was arduous and the cone shape caused the wind to pick up speed the further down you got. We could not stay long as the sand was hitting us so hard it was like a slap to the legs with every gust.
Thurston Lava Tube | Nahuku
One of the most impressive things to see on the Big Island is the Thurston Lava Tube, a 500 year old lava cave. Just a short walk from the parking area, the entrance to the tube looks like something out of a Sci-Fi movie. The tubes are formed from a lava river that slowly built up a crust on the outside and when the river stops flowing the massive tunnel remains. The cave is lighted so that you can see the flow patterns of the lava without flashlights.
Most Southern Point of the USA | Ka Lae
It wouldn’t matter if a port-o-potty was all there was at the most southern point of the 50 states, it would still be cool to say you were there. Luckily, this place lives up to its expectation. When you step up to the precipice, it is a steep drop into the deep blue and you can watch the waves crash into the face of the cliff. A few feet away, there are people jumping from a platform and swimming into the sea caves. You have to watch your step because through large holes in the rock you can see the swimmers below. How incredible to be able to say you jumped off the southernmost edge of the United States!
Rainbow Falls | Wailuku River State Park
Hawaii, rainbows and waterfalls go hand-in-hand so Big Islands Rainbow Falls takes the cake! This massive 80-foot waterfall has a relentless flow of water that consistantly provides enough mist for rainbows as long as there is sun shining. We ventured to the top of the falls by way of the trail off of the parking to and it was a site to see although it can be quite unnerving if you have a fear of heights. Further up the river you will find the Boiling Pots which due to the hexagonal nature of the slow cooling basalt lava, bubble as if they were boiling. While both of these are very beautiful and a quite site to see, they are not safe for swimming.
Although we did get some cold weather similar to that of my hometown, I have never had a more adventurous and awe-inspiring Christmas holiday. Perhaps this will be a new yule-tide tradition!
Blog Post by Sam (co-owner & planner, The Manini Experience)