Lava Land, the Big Island

Saddle Road, Big Island, vast landscapes of lava


Punalu’u Beach, Black sand beach from lava

The Hawaiian Islands are like no other place in the world. While there are many tropical attractions for vacationers including beaches, palm trees, and balmy fragrant air, it is the volcanoes that lend a unique aspect to these picturesque islands.

Lava beach


Here in the northern Pacific Ocean, there is a volcanic hotspot where magma from below the surface wells up. Movement over this magma hotspot by the largest tectonic plate on Earth, the Pacific Plate, creates the volcanic activity. This is what created the islands.


The eruptions have been occurring for millions of years, and still do to this day.


Crab, Big Island


All of the Hawaiian Islands show evidence of lava flows, but there is no island more active today with volcanic lava flows than the Big Island. It is on the far east end of the archipelago, and is the youngest island, and therefore has the most activity.


All photos posted here are from the Big Island.


Big Island, wall made of black lava rocks


Evolution of Hawaiian Volcanos


Visitors to the Big Island can see steam vents, craters, lava tubes, and vast landscapes of hardened lava.


Thurston Lava Tube, Big Island


I have visited the Big Island seven times since 1996. What I find most extraordinary is that the land, especially near Kilauea Volcano in Volcanoes National Park, is constantly changing shape due to the volcano activity.


Roads we drove on and trails we hiked in the 1990s have been swallowed up by lava flows, gone now.


These two photos taken at Kilauea as recently as 2016 reflect a landscape that no longer exists, due to the massive eruption in May of 2018.


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


Halema’uma’u Crater, Kilauea overlook in 2016


Take a look at this video with shocking aerial footage of the lava flows during the May, 2018 eruption. 2018 Eruption of Kilauea.


This photo shows folks watching a Kilauea eruption in 1924.


Photo of Kilauea Halema’uma’u Crater in 1924. Big Island, HI.


The National Park Service has a website that is constantly updated for people who are planning a visit to the Big Island, supplying information on the most current eruptions, conditions, and road closures.


Big Island Hawaii Volcanoes

Big Island Hawaii Volcanoes. Courtesy


But it’s not just around Kilauea where you see the lava activity. Evidence of lava flows new and old can be seen on the Big Island wherever you go.


Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park, aka The Place of Refuge, is located on the west coast of the Big Island. Until the early 19th century, this 420 acre (1.7 sq. km.) site was a designated place of refuge for Hawaiians who had broken the law.


Walls of this ancient site, built centuries ago, were built with lava rock.


Pu’uhonua O Honaunau, Place of Refuge, Hawaii


Place of Refuge aka Pu’uhonua o Honaunau


The place where Captain James Cook was killed on February 14, 1779, shows his monument built on black lava rocks.


Cook monument, Kealakekua Bay, HI


Residents live around the lava, turtles hunt on it, birds and crabs traverse it.


Wherever you venture on the Big Island, black lava tells poignant stories of the numerous eruptions and the people who have embraced this magical, but volatile, land.


Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.


Green Sea Turtle on lava, Big Island


51 thoughts on “Lava Land, the Big Island

    • Thanks so much, Michael Stephen, I’m glad you enjoyed the Big Island post. And yes, that sea turtle is a beauty. They nose around in the algae and lava there.

    • Oh, I hope you do go back to the Big Island sometime, easterntrekker. I’m glad the photos inspired you to return. Thanks so much for your visit and comment.

  1. Oh Jet, this is a wonderful post…Thank you so much. It’s such a fascinating part of the world and one I hope to return to. I have a dear friend who lives in Honolulu who is planning on attending my course in Portugal next month. She has given me an open invitation to visit her. Time is of the essence. Thinking of you and hoping that all is well and that your book is progressing well. ….Janet X

    • Dear Janet, I’m so glad you have had the pleasure of visiting Hawaii. I hope when you see your friend next month in Portugal that you can work out a time to visit her in Honolulu. In the meantime, I’m glad this post brought you some aloha pleasure. The book is progressing well, thanks so much. Thinking of you with lots of smiles, so lovely to hear from you.

  2. I’ve been on many lava flows, but never to Hawaii. They’re amazing places and that’s where I learned to “look small.” The big picture is dark and dismal, but under your feet is a multitude of life and interesting formations.

    • You captured the personality of lava, Craig, in your words here. There is so much life in the lava, poking through the holes and gaps, and so much history, too. They are indeed amazing places. Thank you, as always, for your visit…always a pleasure.

  3. I loved reading this and watching the short video – such drama, what stories to be heard from those living on volcanic islands. The footage in the video is draw-dropping. As a child, I remember learning about farming on volcanic plains, how the promise of crops came at the expense of living in the shadow of a volcano, and wondering how that must feel.
    Thanks for this one, Jet – very happy to read from earlier comments you have a book in progress, hope it is ready for an audience soon – have a wonderful weekend!

    • I enjoyed your comment, PC, as always. It is so true that farming on volcanic plains is tentative. The volcanoes have a way of dominating all life around them…powerful forces they are. I’m really glad you had a chance to look at the video. It really is jaw-dropping, I agree. Hard to imagine that people lived and survived from that onslaught. I’m happy to be back to writing my next book, but it is in early stages. I so appreciate your enthusiasm toward it, pc, thanks very much. You, too, have a great weekend.

    • I’m delighted you enjoyed the Hawaii post today, Irene, thanks so much. Athena spent so many hours photographing that turtle. The turtle got knocked about in the waves a lot, but it wasn’t a problem with that big, thick shell. Glad you enjoyed it.

  4. So interesting! The video of the Kilauea eruption was Fascinating! Thanks for including the link. Paradise isn’t all lovely birdsong and pretty flowers! I’m glad you shared this side of it.

    • The dominating lava on the Big Island is a joy to see in all its various forms, and wherever you turn. I espec. like to see the mix of black lava and white coral in landscaping and paths. Glad to have some aloha moments together today, dear Nan. Thank you.

  5. These pictures are great! I especially love the one of the bright red crab on the black lava ground. Some impactful! I knew the eruptions had been going on for a long time but I wasn’t aware that it had been for millions of years.

    • Thanks so much for stopping by, Nina. I’m glad you enjoyed the Hawaii post today. I like that crab photo on the black lava, too. More often we saw black crabs on the black lava.

  6. Looking at this post makes everything else going on in the world seem rather trivial. Great photos, and thanks for the informative write-up. I had a look at the video and was amazed at the power of nature.

    • Yes, I agree, Anneli. Amazing to think of the HI volcanoes just forming and re-forming century after century, and we are such a tiny part of it all. I’m happy you enjoyed the post and witnessed the power of the fiery, explosive volcano eruption in the video. Thank you for always visiting, it is much appreciated.

  7. Place of refuge for criminals? Interesting notion. I didn’t realize there was more than one volcano on the Big Island but then I’ve never been there! It’s on the list.

    • I, too, found it a curious notion to send criminals to this beautiful place. It was how they escaped being put to death. As for the Big Island today, I guess when you travel to HI you must go to one of the other islands, so I’m glad I could share a bit of my favorite island with you, Jan. My favorite place to stay: Kona.

    • I, too, think of the Big Island as stunning, Cindy. A very special place. It’s the only place in the world I’ve ever gone to visit multiple times, other than cities where family live. I’m glad you stopped by, thank you.

    • You’re right, Belinda, the Big Island and its constant changing can be unsettling. The lava rules, and that must be very difficult to live with. I’m glad you enjoyed the post, my friend, thank you.

    • The shield volcanoes in Hawaii are the most studied in the world, and are therefore quite predictable. But my guess is the Big Island is not a place for you, Bill. Thanks for your visit, as always.

  8. Even though I was stationed in Pearl Harbor back in 65, I never did get to see the Big Island. Wish that I did. You have taken some nice pics of the place. Wish I could return there.

    • Oahu is a beautiful place to be stationed, Les. My nephew was stationed there a few years ago, and took us on a tour of the Army base. I hope you get a chance to visit HI again sometime, but if not, I have some posts of Oahu to entertain you. Enter “Oahu” on the search button in the right margin, several posts come up, including two on Pearl Harbor. I appreciate your visit and input, thanks so much.

  9. There’s always a fascination with volcanoes, isn’t there? Incredible to think of the activity that goes on beneath our feet in this strange world we inhabit. 🙂 🙂

    • I agree with you whole-heartedly on both counts, Jo. Volcanoes are fascinating, and yes, it is incredible what’s going on beneath our feet in this world we inhabit. Always a delight to have you swing by for a visit.

  10. We have never been to the Big Island but have seen the remnants of lava flow on Maui. The video is jaw dropping. The power is extraordinary.
    We are headed to Hawaii in two weeks with our family. Looking forward to more exploring.
    Hoping this finds you and Athena well. Glad to read in a comment above that your book is going well.

    • Oh so wonderful to receive your visit here, Sue. Wonderful that you have the opportunity to travel to HI in two weeks with family. March is when the humpback whales are migrating through the Hawaiian islands, I hope you see them. How very lovely for you. I’m glad you had the chance to look at the video, and thanks for the encouragement on the book. Always a delight, my friend. Aloha!

    • I am always curious to see old photos, it lends me enormous perspective about life on earth. I am not surprised that you liked the old photo, Sheryl, given your dedicated study of life in earlier times. Thanks so much for your visit and comment, always enjoyed.

    • I’m glad you mentioned the names, Cathy. Hawaii is a bonanza in vowels, and I always get a kick out of it. Residents can rattle those words off in the most beautiful way. Thanks so much for stopping by, wonderful to “see” you.

  11. I am fascinated by the place for those having broken the law being called The Place of Refuge. Does that demonstrate a level of enlightenment/wisdom that we do not possess today or is it a reflection of what can be done in a less dense population? It’s a complex topic but I know we are not getting things right these days.
    I was mesmerised by the video you linked to – now I understand the reality of the volcanic activity there.

    • You just made my day with this comment, Alastair, and it’s not even light out yet. The Place of Refuge these days still holds a special magic, and I share your fascination with what it was in ancient times. And yes, the video was mesmerizing. I’m really glad you had a chance to view it, and am happy this post had you thinking about the beautiful Big Island. Many thanks, as always, and cheers to a good week ahead.

  12. The photo of the crab is especially pleasing; the lava provided a perfect backdrop for it. I very much enjoyed the photo of the people watching the eruption in 1924. It reminded me that people of even earlier times would have watched in the same way: perhaps with less understanding, but with equal awe. On the other hand, living with forces like that sometimes breeds a certain cheerful familiarity. I know a woman who lived in Sicily, relatively near Mt. Etna. She said it was a usual evening’s entertainment to sit outside with a drink and watch the volcano when it was stirring. She also said it was rather like having a pet python in the bathtub. It was interesting, but potentially very, very dangerous.

    • I so enjoyed this story of the Sicilian woman, Linda, and the entertaining Mt. Etna. The comparison, having a pet python in the bathtub, is wonderful. That would make me too uneasy, but everyone is different. Always a joy to have you stop by, my friend, thanks so much.

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