Nature flourishes at Kipukapuaulu

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A ranger goes bird-watching on the Kipukapuaulu trail at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Native Hawaiian birds such as the elapaio, apapane and amakihi dwell in the trees near the trail.
A ranger goes bird-watching on the Kipukapuaulu trail at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Native Hawaiian birds such as the elapaio, apapane and amakihi dwell in the trees near the trail. Photo Credit: Sami Steinkamp/National Park Service
Although lava might be forefront in the minds of many travelers dreaming of a visit to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the Big Island of Hawaii attraction also offers visitors a wonderful opportunity to experience some of the Aloha State's healthiest native forests.


Those eager to spend time hiking through the increasingly rare ecosystems might want to start with the 1.2-mile Kipukapuaulu trail, which loops through an impressive collection of native Hawaiian trees, plants and flowers.

"You have more square footage of native plants in Kipukapuaulu than you do anywhere else in this national park," said Jessica Ferracane, the park's public affairs specialist. "That's saying a lot, as we have at least 20 special ecological areas where things are saved, and Kipukapuaulu is the most dense."

Protected for nearly 100 years, Kipukapuaulu benefited greatly from the fencing out of cattle, deer and pigs, enabling native plants and trees to flourish. Today, visitors will encounter native manele, olopua, koa and ohia trees, and fortunate hikers may also spot a wide range of native Hawaiian forest birds, including the elepaio, apapane and amakihi.

"It's also the place where you can see one of the rarest plants in Hawaii: the hau kuahiwi, or native hibiscus," Ferracane said. "They've been successfully saved from the brink of extinction because of the natural resource planning of the park service."

Located about five miles south along Highway 11 from the park's main gate, the Kipukapuaulu trail is easily manageable for most folks, requiring about 90 minutes to complete. Park officials have put together a comprehensive trail guide hikers can pick up at the main visitor center or download from the website prior to their walk. Visitors should also inquire about guided hikes.

"Every once in a while you can luck out and get on one of those guided programs, which is always fun," Ferracane said. "But the trail guide is really great. It's very easily explored on your own."

A guestroom at the Volcano Village Lodge, which is 4,000 feet above sea level.
A guestroom at the Volcano Village Lodge, which is 4,000 feet above sea level.

Meanwhile, Big Isle travelers looking to stay overnight in a native Hawaiian rain forest should consider booking time at the Volcano Village Lodge. Situated on an acre just outside the small town of Volcano, which is a five-minute drive from the national park's main gate, the bed and breakfast features five comfortable guest lodges in a setting many travelers might not picture when they imagine a Hawaii vacation.

"We have some really old-growth, native Hawaiian rain forest on our property," said head innkeeper Meghan Jerolaman. "We designed it to be as environmentally friendly as possible, [and] we do have a lot of native bird species on our property."

A popular accommodation option for both honeymooners and families, according to Jerolaman, the Volcano Village Lodge offers starting room rates of $280, terrific breakfasts featuring lots of local produce and a wonderfully tranquil atmosphere.

Guests will certainly want to rent a car, however, as the property is about a 40-minute drive from Hilo. That transportation will go to good use for those looking to explore the many first-rate hiking trails within very nearby Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Folks will also want to pack some long-sleeved clothing as both the lodge and much of the nearby national park attractions are around 4,000 feet in elevation.

"When we head into December through March, sometimes it drops into the 30s up here," Jerolaman said.

I certainly ran my guestroom's propane wood stove quite a bit during a recent stay, and each of the lodges is outfitted with either an electric fireplace or propane wood stove.

"In the summer months, people may just be using it for ambience," Jerolaman said. "But in the winter months, it will keep the rooms pretty warm."

Visit www.volcanovillagelodge.com and www.nps.gov/havo.

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