Hawaii Volcano Park

Checking out real lava at Hawaii’s Volcano Park


Hawaii is home to five volcanoes (Kilauea, Mauna Loa, Mauna Kea, Hualalai and Kohala), and the island itself is the product of multiple volcanic eruptions over thousands of years. Mauna Loa is the largest mountain on the face of the planet, taking up over 10,000 cubic miles of space. The tallest is Mauna Kea, which racks up an impressive 13,796 feet. But the one that is of special interest is Kilauea which is the most recent addition to the family, and extremely active. There’s a satellite vent, called Pu’u’ O’o which is the source of all current lava flows in the area.

Hawaii Volcano Park

flickr image by Shay Tressa DeSimone

So if you want to check out lava in real life, it’s off to Kilauea that you must go. Your first stop on the way will be the visitor’s centre, in part to pay for your ticket but also to ensure that you understand what’s going on at the volcano that day. It’s not a joking matter. Researchers have been severely injured while mapping lava flows on the mountain. While there have been no recent fatalities, that’s down to the careful work of the guides to the volcanoes, and

There are four major routes up the volcano for walkers, and it is also possible to drive around the caldera (this is the sunken crater caused by the collapse of ground following an eruption which is then plugged by cooling lava). All the hiking paths are for people with a moderate level of personal fitness, the walks should only last a couple of hours each but there may be some steep stretches.

Hawaii Volcano Park

flickr image by santinacooper

You’ll want to be prepared too; get your hiking boots and because lava cools in uneven formations some of which can be sharp – make sure the soles are tough. Take sun screen and a coat, because it can start raining at any time. Finally, if you’re an asthmatic or have any kind of lung condition, you may want to stick to the nature trails nearby because the volcano has a tendency to spew out toxic gases which may set your condition off.

If everything’s OK, you’ll want to head out on Mauna Ulu trail to watch Pele the God of Volcanoes handiwork at first hand. Mauna Ulu itself sprang from a vent in 1969 where fountains of lava as tall as the world’s tallest building shot from the ground. As you climb the trail you’ll start to find traces of the lave from that and other eruptions, cinders which are tiny gas bubbles trapped in rock, Pele’s tears which are smooth drops of solidified lava, reticulite a light form of pumice which is mainly air and Pele’s hair which is thin strands of once sticky lava.

You’ll be able to walk across streams of solidified lava, the folded ropy stuff which is relatively smooth is known as pahoehoe, and the jagged lava fields as ‘a’a. If you look carefully you’ll also find tiny green crystals in some of the formation as mineral salts reform as the rock cools.

Best of all you may be able to see real activity as you pass within sight of Pu’u’ O’o, where the most likely thing is sprays of volcanic gasses as they are released. The last eruption from this site was in 2011, and the area remains likely for future activity too. Hopefully you won’t get close enough to an eruption to experience the fiery heat of the lava which tends to suck the breath from your lungs, and leave you choking from the gasses produced. But if you’re really lucky it’s here that you may be able to see lava flowing from a safe distance, however pretty it looks you don’t want to touch!

Further on down the trail you’ll find a “lava tree” or two which thanks to insulation from water escaping from the wood as it was heated wasn’t completely destroyed by the flow but rather surrounded by it. As the cooling process occurs, the lava surrounding the tree collapses leaving an interesting rock formation behind.

If you head up towards the coast you can see more than 150 acres of island that weren’t there before the last eruption. Yes even today Hawaii is growing thanks to the action of Kilauea.

Date posted: 25th September, 2013

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