It took me a while to discover the various trails off Saddle Road. That’s because, from the road, they look like they’re mostly lava with some scrubby vegetation, but this is misleading. The kipukas (areas of land where lava has flowed around leaving it relatively untouched) are full of plants and a haven for wildlife including many endemic species. The whole area is an example of the cycle of destruction and regeneration that shapes this island and, indeed, the Earth.
The Pu’u O’o Trail, off of Saddle Road, has nothing to do with Kilauea’s Pu’u O’o vent. It refers to the Pu’u O’o Ranch on Mauna Loa. The trail was used for moving cattle from one grazing area to another.
The trail alternates between crossing lava flows and passing through kipukas. Depending on the age of the flow, it might have a good deal of greenery on it, but more recent flows are stark lava fields. While the open lava flows offer great views of Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea (assuming it’s a clear day), the kipukas offer shade and are alive with bird calls, most of which I don’t recognize.
After about 4 miles the trail intersects with the Powerline trail and a loop can be made back to the start, or simply retrace your steps. Bear in mind that if the clouds roll in, which they do on a regular basis, the trail is a good deal harder to follow.
For more information about this, and other hikes on the Big Island, go to bigislandhikes.com.