Warren Costa packs a damn fine picnic. Big sandwiches bursting with fillings, the perfect pineapple, and those One Ton chips that I can’t seem to find on the mainland. That’s not, in itself, a good enough reason to take a volcano tour. Nor is the opportunity to gawk at Warren’s spectacular tattoos, though I don’t know when I’ve seen finer work. Those are some nice extra benefits, but really, the reason you want to visit Volcano National Park is because Warren, the man behind Native Guide Hawaii, knows the park like, well, forgive the cliche, the back of his hand.
Warren says that he grew up with the park as his playground, he’s FBI, after all — From (the) Big Island. But also, he worked in the park for many years as a natural resources manager, building fences, removing invasive plants and seeding native species. He also worked as an archeologist, doing field surveys and mapping. All those years off the trail and in the back corners of the more than 200, 000 acres of park mean he knows where the cool stuff is — the vertical lava tubes left behind when floes wrapped around tree trunks, the spatter ramparts, and more. He knows the names of the plants and the birds and where to find them. Led by Warren, you’ll wander off the road, off the trail, and while you might not know where, exactly you are — or how to get back to the car — all those years in the park means he knows exactly where the minivan is.
Last spring, I spent a day exploring with a small group of visitors and Warren. During that time we stood in complete darkness in the under-visited part of the Thurston Lava Tube, learned about the difference between various kinds of trees, looked for but did not see honey creepers, petted giant hairy ferns and little red lehua blossoms, and stood watching the steam and gas stream in to the sky out of the Halemaumau volcano vent. Warren answered all of our questions with patience and good humor all day long, and hey, did I mention he packs a damn fine picnic?
Sure, you can take the ranger led hikes in the park — and really, you should. The park service does a great job of introducing you to the geology and natural history of the region. But if you want to slow it down and see the park from a local perspective, planning a trip with Native Guide Hawaii can deepen your understand and appreciation for Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and for Hawaii.