The Hawaiian Islands were created long, long ago in some -ic era like Cenozoic or -ene period like Pliocene. But we’re not here to talk about geology terms (I don’t know them, anyway, as they’ve long since fallen out of my head since my college geology class). We’re here to talk about volcanoes – specifically the ones found on the Big Island of Hawai`i.
The Big Island has the most active volcanoes in Hawai`i (Haleakala is a volcano on the island of Maui, but it’s been pretty sleepy) and you can actually see the reddish-orange lava oozing out of pores and spraying from spouts. But just because you can see the lava doesn’t mean you will. And I think that this has a lot to do with Pele.
Pele is the Hawaiian people’s goddess of fire. She lives in the Kilauea crater. Pele has been described as fiery and unpredictable and I think that due to her moody nature, you just never know if she’ll feel like putting on a good show for you.
The two times I’ve been to the Volcanoes park, I didn’t see anything all that crazy. One time I saw a big black blob of lava that was in the cooling-down phase after a big eruption (but I do remember being impressed at the amount of heat still emanating off of the lava). The other time I spied through binoculars though a tiny crevice some 20 or 30 feet away a very very small amount red-hot lava inching along at a porcupine’s pace (porcupines move slowly don’t they? Maybe not, but for some reason I imagine they do).
But it’s okay if you don’t get to see the lava in full-on action. Your visit to Hawai`i Volcanoes still has plenty of potential for excitement – just a different kind.
Take walking, for instance. Maybe you’ll visit the park with your mom. And maybe she will decide she wants to get a closer view of the cliff by overtly climbing over a rock wall attempting to prevent this very action. Then maybe, as she makes her way halfway over said wall, straddling it, you’re lucky enough to see and stop her, admonishing her like a child and shaking your head in disappointment and disbelief (I think we really do swap roles with our parents at a certain age). Or maybe that’s just me. I’m guessing your experience doesn’t involve your mother being one misstep away from plummeting into the fiery lava water below. Instead, your excitement could include fun dangers like noxious fumes, steam vents and random holes you could step (or fall) into.
Most of the trails are pretty tame, though, and you can experience all types of terrain from drier, wide-open craters to lush, tropical forests. The Thurston Lava Tube is a great example of the latter and you can enjoy a unique stroll through an underground cave that lava once passed through. And after you exit that short, lighted area, you can even venture into a different section that’s completely unlit to see what it’s really like to be in a cave with zero light. It’s pretty crazy just how dark it gets and I imagine it would be a good place for Hawaiian vampires to hang out if it weren’t for all the tourists (or maybe they’d like all the fresh meat, who knows).
So there ya have it, Hawai`i Volcanoes National Park. When you visit here, you’ll have the opportunity to learn how the islands came to be and possibly even see the Big Island getting a little bigger if Pele happens to be feeling particularly feisty when you visit. And, despite what my geology professor might argue, you can still fully appreciate the volcanoes without knowing where exactly they fall along the geologic time scale.
More Hawaii Volcanoes Details
Hawai`i Volcanoes National Park – official website
Maps of Hawai`i Volcanoes – on the National Park Service website