In Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island of Hawaii, you can stand and watch the Kilauea Volcano violently spew molten lava. An active volcano on the island’s south eastern side, this hot spot called Kilauea, in one way or another, dominates the entire island.
The Big Island, larger than all the other Hawaiian islands combined, has five volcanoes. Three are currently active, one is dormant, and one is extinct. Of the three active volcanoes, Kilauea (pronounced kill-ah-way-ah) is the most active.
The other two active volcanoes on the Big Island: Mauna Loa and Hualalai (see map below).
There are many craters, vents, and lava tubes surrounding Kilauea.
Kilauea (meaning “spew” or “much spreading” in Hawaiian) is 300,000 to 600,000 years old; it emerged from under the sea approximately 100,000 years ago. The first well-documented eruption occurred in 1823, though verbal stories go back much farther. It continues to erupt to this day.
The current Kilauea lava explosions of today began on January 3, 1983. Amazingly, it has continued to erupt for 33 years. One of the longest-duration volcanic eruptions in the world, it has added 499 acres (202 ha) of land to the island.
Since 1983 towns and villages have been obliterated, 214 structures were buried, and nine miles of highway were decimated by lava 115 feet (35m) thick.
Historically, some years are explosive, other years are not. From 1823 to 1924 Halema’uma’u Crater (Hawaiian for “house of eternal fire”) was a lake of lava. Sometimes the crater was so full of molten lava that it overflowed, spilling rivers of fiery lava across the caldera.
Then in 1924, underground contact between magma and groundwater set off violent steam explosions. One explosion hurled an 8 ton (8,128 kg) boulder 1,000 feet (304 m) into the air. More Kilauea info here.
In addition to the volcanic eruptions that burn down forests and smother struggling plant growth, this animated landscape of constant tectonic movement creates earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic fog.
To see the spurting geysers of red-hot lava, you can hire a helicopter. Less expensive, a visit to the Jaggar Museum; it provides ample information about Kilauea’s activities over the centuries, and good views of Halema’uma’u Crater.
Lodging at Volcano House, a historic lodge on the edge of Kilauea, is another way to see the volcano. Beautifully renovated, they hosted many famous guests including Mark Twain and president Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Hawaiian mythical legend embraces Pele, the goddess of fire. It is said that she resides inside the Halema’uma’u Crater.
As we watched the hot lava flaring up, fuming, and spurting inside this crater, we saw an amazing fiery spectacle.
It is the most primal form of heat this planet has…and it’s alive and volatile and wildly beautiful.
Photo credit: Athena Alexander, unless otherwise specified