Day 7 The Big Island in Hawaii the volcano tour - 19 June 2015

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June 19th 2015
Published: June 25th 2015
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Hawaii on Oahu & The Big island (Hawaii)

We flew from Honolulu to Hilo

Day 7 The Big Island in Hawaii the volcano tour - 19 June 2015

This was our chance to visit Hawaii’s only active volcano and see the youngest of the Hawaiian Islands, known to the locals as The Big Island (its real name is Hawai'i Island). Our inter-island excursion started after we were picked up from our hotel at 4.15am to catch a plane to Hilo on the Big Island. Steve, our tour guide, met us at Hilo Airport. He drove us all around Hilo which was excellent.

Hilo was a busy farming and fishing area in early times, which evolved into a commercial centre for the sugar industry in the 1800’s. Downtown Hilo was built around its crescent-shaped bay and became the seat of county government. In 1946 and 1960 the town was nearly swallowed by a tsunami. But Hilo’s waterfront was rebuilt and today Hilo is a vibrant town, home to great museums including the Pacific Tsunami Museum, art galleries, unique shops (including the Big Island Candies which we visited).

Hilo’s newest world-class attraction, the Imiloa Astronomy Centre, is housed beneath three striking titanium cones representing the three largest mountains on Hawaii Island. This is where we came back later to have our lunch.

Hilo offers natural beauty too. Serene Liliuokalani Gardens is right on Banyan Drive (the main entry road from the airport) near Hilo’s major hotels, the Castle Hilo Hawaiian Hotel, the Naniloa Volcanoes Resort and Uncle Billy’s Hilo Bay Hotel.

The north eastern coast of Hawaii Island is the wetter side of the island, so we also found many natural wonders, including Waianuenue, also known as Rainbow Falls and Boiling Pots in Wailuku River State Park.

We watch the landscape change before your very eyes at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Located 48 kilometres southwest of Hilo, this is the home of Kilauea volcano, one of the most active volcanoes on earth. From the viewing platform we had spectacular views. The chance to witness the primal process of creation and destruction make this park one of the most popular visitor attraction in Hawaii and a sacred place for Native Hawaiians.

Founded in 1916, the Park encompasses 133,500 hectares, from the summit of Maunaloa to the sea. Here we found a walk-in lava tube and two active volcanoes: Maunaloa, which last erupted in 1984 and Kilauea which has been erupting since January 3rd, 1983. The extraordinary natural diversity of the park was recognised in 1980 when it was named a World Biosphere site by UNESCO and in 1987 when the park was again honoured as a World Heritage site.

Kilauea is sometimes called "the world's only drive-in volcano." This prolific volcano currently produces 230,000-600,000 cubic metres of lava per day, enough to resurface a 32-kilometre-long, two-lane road daily. As of January 1994, 198 hectares of new land have been created on Hawaii Island. The current eruption may last another 100 years or stop tomorrow.

Pele, the volcano goddess who lives here, is very unpredictable. But the chance to watch Kilauea's blistering lava flows meet the sea was just one of the reasons to visit.

We also visited the Kilauea Visitor Centre. When we arrived, we watched a half hour film to introduce us to the park. Rangers were also available to ask any questions we had.

We learned that on the afternoon of December 21, 2011, U.S. Geological Survey scientists at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory detected a small but distinctive earthquake in the summit area of Kīlauea Volcano. Real-time webcam images revealed that a large portion of the rim of “Overlook crater,” nested within Halemaʻumaʻu Crater, had collapsed into its lava lake, triggering a violent explosive eruption of gas and hot lava fragments.

Donning helmets and gas masks, the scientists drove the five minutes from the observatory to Halemaʻumaʻu and set out to sample and map the new deposit.

This episode was yet another explosive event in the ongoing eruption at Kīlauea’s summit that had begun more than 3 years earlier. Kīlauea forms the southeast portion of the Island of Hawaiʻi, and most eruptions occur from its summit or down the flanks along its two “rift zones.”

Since 1983, an ongoing eruption on the East Rift Zone, around Puʻu ʻŌʻō cone, has covered 124 square kilometres with lava flows and destroyed more than 200 structures, including scores of homes. With the summit eruption ongoing since March 2008, it is the longest time in at least two centuries that eruptions of Kīlauea have occurred simultaneously at the summit and along a rift zone.

After overflowing the vent rim between April 28 and May 8, 2015, Kīlauea's summit lava lake began to drop on May 9. Since then, the lava lake level has fluctuated—rising with summit inflation and dropping with summit deflation—varying between about 40 and 73 m below the new rim in recent weeks. Fascinating!

After the Visitor's Centre and in several stages, Steve took us on the Crater Rim Drive which is a 17-kilometre drive that circles Kilauea Caldera. Driving around this loop took us to the park's main attractions: the Kilauea overlook, Jaggar Museum, Halemaumau Crater, Devastation Trail, Kilauea Iki Crater Overlook and the Thurston Lava Tube.

The Thomas A. Jaggar Museum was named after the person who pioneered the study of vulcanology at Kilauea. Here we saw geologic displays, maps and videos about the study of volcanoes.

The Halemaumau Crater is where steam vents plume from this massive crater, known as the home of Pele, the volcano goddess. In 1967, this crater was filled with a lake of lava that eventually drained away. The locals say that great respect should be paid at this sacred site.

We then drove onto the Thurston Lava Tube (Nahuku) where we walk through this 500-year old lava cave formed when an underground channel of molten lava drained from its cooled walls forming a massive, hollow chamber. One end of the lava tube is surrounded by a tropical rainforest so it was a beautiful walk.

Currently Kilauea's lava activity isn't centred in its caldera (the large depression at the top of the volcano) but at the Puu Oo vent in the East Rift Zone. Puu Oo's lava flowed in underground tubes that emptied dramatically into the sea. We drove from the top of the rim, right down to the sea. As we drove down the Chain of Craters Road (1.2 km drive) we got a closer look from the new Kalapana viewing site outside the park. Kalapana offers a good view of activity from Kilauea’s Puu Oo vent, the source of the volcano’s most recent activity. In March of 2009, federal, state and Hawaii county leaders officially opened the Kalapana viewing area to provide safe viewing of the current lava flow by foot. This was the first time lava has reached the sea since June 2007.

Toward the coast we found the end of the road was covered in hardened, black lava. In 1990, lava from Kilauea volcano engulfed Kalapana, a historic Hawaiian fishing village and residential area, as well as the famous black sand beach at Kaimu. Pele, the volcano goddess, also destroyed Hawaii’s oldest heiau (temple), two subdivisions and four kilometres of public highway. No lives were lost, but 182 homes were swallowed by lava. Today there’s an entirely new coastline here with a few poignant traces of the town that once thrived here. A visit to Kalapana is a sobering reminder of the raw power of Pele!!!!.

We also visited the Volcano House hotel overlooking Halemaumau Crater which has been operating since it was a grass shack in 1846. Even Mark Twain once stayed here on his visit to Hawaii. The hotel has recently undergone renovations and is open under new management. If we were staying on the Island over night, this would be the hotel to stay at as there is a spectacular view of the caldera from the sunroom which you can see the lava glow at night (something you can't see in daylight).

Wow, what a day. Steve took us back to the Hilo Airport for us to catch our 8.00pm flight back to Oahu. We arrived at Waikiki beach at 10pm. Although a very long day (18 hours), it was worth every hour.

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