Hiking Halape, Hawaii

This is a back country hike that requires you to obtain a permit from the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Back Country Office. For information on how to obtain a permit, and other pertinent information on choosing the best hiking trail to Halape that meets your physical ability, please visit the the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park website for more details.

Top: Shea and Ester, beginning our journey through the lava field on the Keauhou Trail.
Bottom: Ester, Shea, and Yomar hiking through non-native grasses.

Hike In
Keauhou Trail via Chain of Craters Road to Halape
Distance: 8.4 miles
Time: 4.5 hours
Rating: difficult

Hike Out
Keauhou Trail via Puna Coast Trail to Chain of Craters Road
Distance: 9.5 miles
Time: 5 hours
Rating: moderate and difficult

Our journey began at the grocery store, because some of us are less prepared than others. I was actually quite happy that we stopped. This was my first time visiting a KTA grocery store and it felt so much like I was back in Japan. Taro root sweet breads and anpan, impressive cuts of seafood, Ramune drinks, and Local "rubbah slippahs" and tabi fishing shoes. I now know where to get my anpan fix.

After meeting up with Ester and Yomar, we made our way to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Kīlauea Visitor Center, stationed 4,000 feet above sea level, to grab maps and discuss our plan of attack. The best way for us to access our trail of choice was to mark our starting point at Chain of Craters Road. Here we picked up the Keauhou Trail at 2,698 feet elevation, making our first steps over the threshold and into the lava field. From this starting point, you wouldn't recognize this as an access trail to some far away beach oasis. The landscape is very hostile with sparse plants that have endured solid layers of cooled lava, or basalt. The seeds of slow growing shrubs and trees, like the highly variable ōhiʻa lehua are found speckled across these alien terrains. The trail is difficult to follow, at times. Trail markers can be found in the form of cairns, or human-made piles of lava rocks constructed by park staff to keep you on course. These cairns are not to be tampered with, nor are new rock piles to be constructed by non-park staff. It is against federal law to alter the natural setting of this World Heritage Site and can come with a misdemeanor charge punishable by up to 6 months in jail and a heavy fine of $5,000.

As we made our way, the basalt terrain turned to a steep rocky decent. All I can say here, is watch your step. Loose rocks are plentiful and lava rocks are sharp as hell. There is no shade on this trail, so protect yourself from the sun accordingly. We stopped several times to reapply sunscreen and drink plenty of water. We began our hike at 10:30am, which was far too late in the morning. By the time we reached a plateau in our course, the open grassy landscape signaled 3 more miles and we realized just how long the rocky decent had taken us to get to that point. Palm tress could be seen along the white water shoreline in the far distance at Halape. Their beckon called with each step and the promise of anchialine tide pools, fresh coconuts, and a shaded place to hang my hammock was the driver of our course.

On arrival to Halape, the first thing you see is two small structures before you hit the beach. One of these is a shade structure, which we immediately collapsed in for a good 15 minutes. Behind this structure is a water catchment tank with drinking water that needs to be filtered before consumption. It's important to ask the Back Country Office before your hike what the levels are in this catchment, or else you will need to carry all of your water in for the duration of your stay. I packed in 3L, which was plenty for the day, and I didn't have to refill until the following evening. The other structure houses a private composting toilet with a view. Bring your own toilet paper and follow the instructions posted above the container of sawdust. Toilet paper can be discarded into the compost pit, but any other garbage you have accumulated needs to be carried out with you.

This area is located in the tsunami danger zone, and it is important to have a safety protocol in place before you get here. Due to volcanic activity, the Big Island experiences roughly 4-10 earthquakes a day. Most of these are small (less than 2.2) and are not likely to be felt or of great concern. Earthquakes can cause falling rocks, or collapses in land mass that can result in a locally-generated tsunami. If you experience a strong earthquake, move to higher ground immediately (as fast as humanly possible). Additionally, a volcanic eruption is also possible at any time; stay upslope and upwind from active lava flows and their gasses. Volcanic gas (vog) can present breathing problems miles downwind from its source. Stay on the trail--earth cracks, thin crusts, and lava tubes are numerous (search: "Seismic and Volcanic Hazards" for more info; check out seismic activity here).

The beach was pretty packed when we made our way down to Halape. Sixteen people are permitted to be in the area at a time. Once you hit the beach, most camping areas are located to the east, and the best spots are in shaded areas with some protection from the sun and fierce trade winds. If you can set up camp in a location that protects from this, you'll be much happier as you sleep at night. The first night, I had to set up my hammock away from the others. The thing about hammocks is you need suitable trees to set up shop. I actually really loved my location and enjoyed the quiet time at night to ponder my new situation in Hawaii. The best thing about camping in the wilderness is that you're dictated by the elements. When it rains or is too hot, you can take shelter under a tree. When the sun goes down and you can't have a fire (no fires in Halape), you go to bed at sundown and wake up with the sun. It's amazing, and something I had been missing in my life. We arrived around 3pm and had a few hours of daylight to set up camp, explore, and take a dip in the popular anchialine tide pool (a brackish, landlocked body of water) called the Queen's Bath. The pool is immensely refreshing and a highlight of the trip. Shea set up crayfish traps to catch the nonnative species here. If you plan to do this, catch up on some reading about the differences in the nonnative Thai species vs. the native Hawaiian species--these you cannot take. Also, fishing is permitted at Halape, but not in other areas of the park. You can read up on that here (search: "Fishing").

The next morning I awoke to the rising sun, and Shea walking up from the surf carrying a large jackfish. Shea was the master fisherman for the group and fed Ester and Yomar a delicacy of fried jackfish, fresh sea urchin, and opihi. I don't eat meat, and stuck with my usual camp food goodies of peanut butter, mixed nuts, dried fruit, apples, corn tortillas, and Clif Bars. Later on, we tied the GoPro to a piece of washed up coral and entertained our morning by baiting moray eels into the tide pools with remnants of the jackfish. Apparently, the moray eels are used to this, and we were able to witness a pretty good show.

Baiting the moray eels and trying to capture it with the GoPro.

Yellowmargin moray eel (or maybe it's a giant) has the first try at taking the jackfish bait, but got spooked back into the surf.The final taker was a viper moray eel, the most vicious of all Hawaiian morays.

Viper moray eel

The viper moray eel digesting the jackfish.

We coordinated our trip during a three day weekend, which gave us one full day to relax and enjoy our stay. West of Halape is Halape Iki, which has other quiet coves for calm surf, snorkeling, and fishing. East of Halape is Keauhou Point. On our second day most of the people staying in Halape had departed and we seemed to have the beach mostly to ourselves.

On the morning of departure, we arose before sunrise and packed up all of our gear by headlamp. I could sense a little hesitation amongst my mates when it came time to putting on our packs, knowing what lies ahead. The journey in and the journey out certainly have a different sense of enthusiasm to them. On the way in, there is this overwhelming excitement for adventure. On the way out, there is the promise of accomplishment. Its that thought that always seems to be just enough to put one foot in front of the other. A gorgeous sunrise is always good motivation, too.

For more information on backcountry hikes in Hawaii Volcnaoes National Park, please visit the Backcountry Office website. Happy hiking xoxo


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