The Tri-Park Pass: Rediscover the Island’s Shape-Shifting Wonders

©istockphoto/photo75 If it’s been a while since you’ve visited Maui’s geological masterpieces, the new Hawaii National Park Tri-Park Annual Pass should be a good incentive to commit to getting out there and experiencing these intriguing ever-changing landscapes. The pass is just $25 and is good at all three parks for one year from the date of purchase. The pass features an image of naupaka kahakai, a native coastal plant that can be found growing around Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Puuhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park, and on Maui around Haleakala National Park. The drawing was made by Hilo artist John Dawson, whose natural-scenery art has appeared on multiple U.S. Postal Service special edition stamps. Very few places in the world exist where you can easily drive or walk in to a landscape created by the timeless forces of fire and water, and at a bargain rate such as the Tri-Park Pass's. With the inexorable pull of busy lives, many residents and only a fraction of visitors, ever make it past the towns, resorts or beaches to the island's highest geological masterpieces. But getting out to these places is a good reminder that change is the only constant, and even though we have indeed manipulated Mother Earth to suit are needs, unpredictable remodeling continues beyond our control. The islands' summits were formed when magma from below the Earth's crust repeatedly erupted out of fissures in the ocean floor, spewing layer upon layer of molten lava, which hardened and created mountains that eventually rose above the sea. But the work never seems to be done, and from time to time, the shape-shifting landscape belches a new layer of foundation, and pushing access layers toward the sea. If you can’t see them all, consider just one of these places—Hawaii Volcanoes National Park—deemed by scientists as one of the most diverse biosphere reserves in the world. Home to a vast variety of plant and animal life, it’s easily within a few hours drive no matter where you live or are staying on the Big Island of Hawaii. Right now, you can even take in the live-action geological remodeling that is going on at Kilauea. The volcano has recently been spewing molten lava into the sea. Currently, Kīlauea volcano continues to erupt from within the park at Halema'uma'u Crater and from the Pu'u 'Ō'ō vent in the remote inaccessible east rift zone about 10 miles east of the Kīlauea summit. According to the National Park Service, no lava is currently flowing into or towards the ocean at this time. A Few Hours to Spare
Only have a few hours to spare? The National Park service rangers recommend exploring the summit of Kilauea volcano via Crater Rim Drive—the 11-mile summit caldera ring road that passes through desert and lush tropical rainforest, and traverses the caldera floor. Along the way, stop at the well-marked scenic stops and take short walks. (Note: check for intermittent closures due to eruptions). Half-Day Visit and Full Day
If you're constrained to four to five hours, consider exploring the periphery of the East Rift and coastal areas of the park via Chain of Craters Road. Here, you'll descends 3,700 feet in 20 miles via numerous backcountry hikes that take you away from the roadways, and depending on volcanic activity, within eyesight of active lava flows, especially near the end of Chain of Craters Road. The road’s terminus was obliterated in 2003 by lava flows but you can still walk around and see the spectacular remodeling. The Tri-Park pass is currently only available for purchase at the entrance stations of any of the three parks. At only $25, the cost is the equivalent of a single visit to each park with a vehicle, and represents a considerable savings over the park service’s $80 Interagency Recreation Pass (which allows visitors annual admission to any U.S. national park) and can be shared between any two people (though at least one of the pass holders must be present at the time of use). It covers the pass holder as well as anyone accompanying them in a single, private, non-commercial vehicle, or, if arriving by foot, bike or public transit, any immediate family members accompanying the passholder. By Jo Ostgarden