Kilauea Volcano

Halema'uma'u Crater, Kilauea overlook

Halema’uma’u Crater, Kilauea overlook.

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).


Close-up, Halema'uma'u Crater at Kilauea Volcano

Close-up, Halema’uma’u Crater at Kilauea Volcano. The flames are lava.

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.


Lava Tube, Big Island

Lava Tube, Big Island. Open and lit for tours.

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.


Photo of Kilauea Halema'uma'u Crater in 1924

Photo of Kilauea Halema’uma’u Crater in 1924. From: The Big Island by Glen Grant et al.

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.


View from Volcano House. Photo W.Nowicki. Courtesy Wikipedia.

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.


Kilauea cone Pu’u’O’o, 1983. Photo: G.E. Ulrich, USGS. Courtesy Wikipedia

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.


Kilauea Iki Crater with hikers on trail

Kilauea Iki Crater with hikers on trail

Photo credit: Athena Alexander, unless otherwise specified









Five volcanoes of The Big Island. Courtesy Wikipedia

Map of Hawaii highlighting Hawaii (island).svg

Hawaiian Islands, The Big Island in red. Courtesy Wikipedia.


87 thoughts on “Kilauea Volcano

  1. Cool, or should I say hot, post. I am reminded of my geology studies. The magma plume from the core under the Hawaiian archipelago doesn’t move. The Earth’s plate is moving over the plume creating new islands as it passes over the plume – burning holes in the plate.

    • Interesting note on the underground plume, Sherry, thank you. I find it all fascinating, this geological aspect of Hawaii, and then seeing the hot lava shooting out of the earth, well that just intensifies and underscores the beauty of this hotspot on earth. Thank you~~

  2. I didn’t understand that last photo at first – and then I saw those little ants, sorry, people walking across at the bottom. Seems a bit mad to me but I assume it is safe enough . . . or is it?
    The lava tube is really cool! Have fun while you’re away 🙂

    • It’s so difficult to capture the immensity of the craters, so I was glad she got the tiny ant people in there for perspective. That crater with the people in it is safe currently, it erupted in 1959. Crazy place, isn’t it, Alastair? Thank you as always for your comments, visit, and good wishes.

  3. I love volcanos, and would like to see this one some day. The only one’s I’ve seen were in the Cascades and Alaska, but one of the Alaska ones was active and kept my plane grounded for days. Have a wonderful break, and I look forward to your return.

    • I love them too, Craig, and then you get them active and they really command the surroundings. Crazy that your plane was grounded for multiple days. Thank you — see you soon~~

      • Yup, Mt. Spar seemed to send the ash plume right over Anchorage airport, until it didn’t and we slipped out in the middle of the night. We were lucky to get on the plane too, other people had the same problem.

  4. This is something I definitely hope to see one day Jet. So fascinating and I can hardly believe the stats of how much the lava has swallowed up over time.
    Wishing you a very restful break and looking forward to your stories when you return!

    • You are astute, Gunta. The topic was not an accident. But I won’t go into it. We move on, just like the plants and animals surrounding volcanoes. Many thanks my friend — see you soon. 🙂

  5. Fascinating Jet! I’ve never been up close to a volcano. I love the photo of the crater with the hikers on it … It really puts it into perspective.
    Have a great break 😃

    • There’s a special fern that grows in this area and when you hike around here it is wonderfully uplifting to see this gorgeous fern growing up through the lava. It’s a fun experience to be in the world of volcanoes, but only if they quiet or far away, as you can imagine. I’m happy to bring it to you today, Val.

    • I hadn’t either, Jan. Although we didn’t stay there, they allow the public to walk through the lobby and out onto the back verandah which has a vast view of nothing but the crater and the surrounding cliff walls. It’s magnificent. Glad to share Kilauea with you, though I have the feeling you have been here. You know Hawaii well. Mahalo!

  6. Nice post. It brought up memories of my time at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. It was awesome to hike into Kilauea Iki Crater among other neat hikes through lava fields. Thanks.

  7. It scares me to get so close to those volcanoes because you never know when they will really explode like Mt. St. Helens. Enjoy your time away!!!

    • When we visited the Jagger Museum, there was also an observatory. There is amazing science now regarding volcanoes and their underground activities. So I don’t think they explode without some kind of notice, but of course, I’m no expert. Maybe that week was my lucky week and it blew up right after we left. Nature has a way of being unpredictable, it’s true. Thanks Bill~

  8. An interesting post once again. All those eruptions south of the border, and not all are anywhere near as interesting or grand like the volcanic activity you’ve shared here. Lovely timing!
    Enjoy your break!

    • It’s a wonderful place for hiking there at Kilauea and Volcanoes NP, pc. You and Mrs. PC would have great fun here. I’m glad I could give you a glimpse of this vast lava world, pc. As always, thank you so much. BTW, I am still enjoying Frank’s Powder Philosophy — many thanks!

  9. Great post and very informative…I have had the pleasure of visiting there a couple of times and actually saw part of the highway buried on trip two that was still exposed on trip one…hiking down into the crater onthe path is a very humbling experience…as always thanks for sharing!!

    • I had that same experience, Kirt. The Chain of Craters Road was much more accessible the first time, in the early 90s, then we visited the same road two months ago, and wow, it was gone! Took that hike to the petroglyphs, too. I love The Big Island, don’t you? Many thanks, my friend~~

    • Hi Indah, I just got back from a trip, thus the delayed response. The Big Island is my favorite of all the Hawaiian Islands, and I’ve been there six or more times. If you have any questions, please feel free to email me. I’m glad this post provided you with info…fortunate timing.

      • Hi Jet, thank you! I just bought the flight ticket to Kona for April trip. I am planning to scuba dive for 3 days and 3 days exploring the island – i hope 6 days would be enough for 1st visit..Do you recommend to stay near to the volcano? Will send you further message via email later on 🙂

      • Oh what fun Indah! Our favorite Big Island experiences include both sides of the island, the Kona side, and the Volcano side. It takes several hours to get from one side to the other, so we stay on the Kona side in a condo on the beach when we’re snorkeling and enjoying water adventures; and then stay near Volcanoes Nat’l. Park when visiting Kilauea. So yes, when visiting the volcano, stay near the volcano. We have stayed at Kilauea Lodge in Volcano, Hawaii many times and enjoy it a lot. Link: Aloha!

  10. Very interesting and informative post, Jet! Nature’s power is amazing. I have only witnessed relatively small eruptions of Etna in Sicily. I hope you are having a great time away!

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the Kilauea Volcano post, Helen. I just returned, and thank you, it was a wonderful vacation. You know how trips go, the camera hasn’t been uploaded yet and we’re just settling back in, but soon some new posts will appear. How wonderful for you to have seen Mt. Etna in Sicily….

  11. Incredibly interesting post with great photos to accompany the descriptions. We spent six years living in Nicaragua, which has quite a few active and inactive volcanoes and that was definitely an eye opening experience for me having had no previous “encounters” with them.

    Looks like a great place to hike just as the volcanoes on the Island of Ometeppe in Nicaragua are.


  12. PRIMAL is a perfect way to describe volcanoes. Last month we were fortunate to be able to see Kilauea at night from the sea. Magnificent.

  13. Not too sure if I would be adventurous enough to get that close. Those hikers are nuts IMO. Oh my gosh! Beautiful photos and I was fascinated by the history you provided. Thank you, Jet! 💖

    • The colors, power, and action of a volcano are truly mesmerizing, but whoa, only from a distance. I’m happy you enjoyed the beauty of it, David. I appreciate that you find beauty in everything on this earth. My thanks for your visit.

    • Oh yes, definitely put the Big Island on your list, Hien. I recommend visiting Volcanoes National park on the east side, as well as the west coast around Kona and environs. There are many other wonderful spots on the Big Island, but these two vicinities are my favorites.

    • Hi Sylvia. Yes, I had seen smoking volcanoes up to that point, too, and then when we spotted the spuming red lava…whoa, I was in complete amazement. Fun to share it with you and your husband.

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