The Big Island of Hawaii is the only Hawaiian island with active volcanoes. They are located in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Hawaii Volcanoes also has the largest mountain in the world if you measure from the base of the mountain. Mauna Loa is 13,796 feet above sea level, but extends an additional 33,000 feet below sea level to the ocean floor. Mauna Loa dominates the landscape everywhere on the Big Island. You can get to the summit, but it is a very strenuous hike.
The star of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is the currently active volcano, Kilauea. Kilauea is the youngest of the Hawaiian volcanoes and is the most active volcano on earth. It has been erupting continuously since 1983 resulting in the destruction of 200 homes on the island. Unlike explosive Mount St. Helens, however, Kilauea oozes. The constant lava flowing into the ocean adds about 14 acres to the Big Island each year.
Kilauea has a large summit caldera with a central crater. According to Hawaiian legends the crater is the home of the fire goddess Pele. Until 1924, it contained a lava lake. A Visitors Center, hotel, campground, and the Jaggar Museum all sit on the summit about a mile from the caldera. The National Park Service tries to keep people well away from the dangerous areas. But when eruptions occur in the caldera, people flock to see it. The last eruption was September 4, and you can see a video of it here.
Tom was a little disappointed not to see any hot lava, but we saw plenty of other volcano action. There are steam vents everywhere, which made us feel like we were on another planet. We were able to stand right over some of the steam vents (the ones with low sulfur dioxide emissions). Tom and I walked through the Thurston lava tube, created when hot lava continues to flow through a tube of cooling lava. We also saw examples of flowing lava (pahoehoe) and thrown lava (a’a).
You can get to the places where there is active lava flowing. You take a boat to the ocean entry point and then hike four miles to the Ranger station. We didn’t have time to do that. But we still felt like we were able to experience the volcano and enjoy this special place where the earth is being created as we watch.