At the summit, the Halema`uma`u vent (the one seen from the Jaggar Museum) has been spewing ash and sulfur dioxide since 2008 and more recently, a lava lake has been bubbling up deep inside the caldera but within view of web cams. You can see the glowing red at night.
Kilauea, the active volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii is often referred to as the "drive-thru volcano." Hawaii's volcanic eruptions are not the blow the top off variety. Lava's been steadily flowing from Kilauea ( the world's most active volcano) since 1983. At the Hawaii Volcanoes Visitor Center, you can watch a movie on their big screen about the Big Island's active volcano and its volcanic origins. If you follow the Park's rules and the rangers suggestions, you're in for a real treat.
This doesn't mean the area's without dangers. Land masses the size of football fields drop into the sea, and walking in areas where lava flows just below the surface or is newly crusted is very dangerous. Don't wander off the paths, and believe the signs that caution you away from certain areas (no matter what you see others doing). We watched several people venture out onto a cooled lava shelf overlooking the sea, ignoring the warning signs. Early the next morning, about 2 a.m. the whole shelf collapsed into the oean. Fortunately nobody was out there at 2 a.m.
There is much to see and do at Volcanoes National Park. While most visitors know about the short and easy hike through the songbird forest and Thurston Lava Tube, many aren't aware that if you bring a flashlight you can explore the cave (lava tube) next to Thurston. Many families make the short trek to the
tunnels end. Just watch for low ceilings and the large rocks that litter the path.
Also, we found to our delight, there is a wild cave and there is a tour (not advertised - rangers seem to want to keep this hush-hush to a degree). They only go once a week, and you must sign up at the Visitor Center ahead of time.
Several, new, black sand beaches are formed from the lava, and coconuts washed ashore and carried by locals sprout within in days.
Kilauea's Volcano House is a must see - when it reopens. The National Park closed it in June of 2010 for renovations. The lodge is perched among cedar trees and lush, green forests, overlooking a steaming crater and offers natural, volcanic steam baths in its rooms, and a big, stone fireplace (it can get chilly at night). In the park, towering koa trees form lacy canopies over trails. There are though other nice accommodations in and around the Park, including cottages and campgrounds and B&Bs. The volcano area, like the island, is a study in diversity – stark, lava rock and empty, steaming craters contrast with Hawaii's finest greenery and a birdwatcher's paradise. Locals visit here at Christmas time to pluck greenery and olelo berries for their wreaths. it is a beautiful place, and moreso with the contrast to the starkness you'll see along Chain of Craters road. The Hawaii National Park site has lots of information, images and videos, including information on Hawaii Heritage Days held here.
Remember to respect the aina (land) here, as everywhere in Hawaii, but also keep in mind this is very sacred Hawaiian ground. Respects are paid to Pele, the volcano goddess, daily as you will see near the craters where lei and other gifts are left. The mana (spiritual energy) here is powerful. Pele's sister, Hiaka, the goddess of Hula also dwells here also, and if you time it right, you will be able to watch hula danced here at the volcano.
To find out about the possibility of viewing lava from land on a given day, call the Kalapana Lava Viewing Hotline at (808) 961-8093 or the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park at (808) 985-6000. Other ways to see the red molten lava are by airplane, helicopter or as of more recently,an exciting lava boat tour (click here for image). The volcano does emit sulfur dioxide. Often this blows over to Kona but sometimes it hangs over the Park. We lived across the highway from the up near the Volcano Golf Course when Halemaumau starting going off, and unfortunately the sulfur in the air was too much so we moved down to sea level (also very nice to be close to the beach). Still an awesome place to visit though! Before visiting, you can check the Volcanoes Park sulphur dioxide levels and alerts here.
May 2012 update: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park earned the national Safety and Health Group Award from the National Park Service for its good job monitoring the Volcanoes Park air quality and for it communications to the public.
Learn how to experience Volcanoes National Park and other exciting activities and attractions on the Big Island, without spending a fortune:
Big Island - Volcano National Park
The Big Island's Hawaii Volcano National Park, the most popular attraction on the island, offers a science museum, walk-through lava tubes, and trails that lead through lush green forest, homes to native songbirds, and across old lava flows and past steam vents. The Park also hosts cultural events and offers lodging...