The Big Island Part II: Madame Pele

Posted by on May 28, 2015 at 10:57 pm :: No Comments

The beaches of Hawaii may be exceptional but the volcanoes are absolutely unique. There are only a few spots on Earth where you can walk on ground younger than you, the Big Island is one of those places. It’s got plenty of youthful dirt and more fiery births than Baby Story.

The waves at South Point were the biggest I've ever encountered.

The waves at South Point were the biggest I’ve ever encountered.

The Big Island is home to five volcanoes. Only two of them, Kilauea and Mauna Loa, are currently active but that couple’s commotion more than makes up for the sleepiness of the others. Kilauea is the most active volcano in the world. It has been continually erupting since 1983 and spews somewhere between 300,000 and 1,000,000 cubic yards of lava out every day. Additionally, Kilauea’s Halema’uma’u Crater has the divine distinction of being home to the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes, Pele. She knows how to pick quality real estate but her residence was a bit disordered during our stay.

South Point is not safe for swimming...or anything else really.

South Point is not safe for swimming…or anything else really.

Although Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, which contains all of Kilauea’s craters and rift zones, was more than a couple hours from our hotel, we decided it couldn’t be missed. We therefore planned a two-day excursion to the brink of that federally-funded inferno.

Halema'uma'u Crater was a blistering wound on the blackened landscape during the wee hours of the morning.

Halema’uma’u Crater was a blistering wound on the blackened landscape during the wee hours of the morning.

We took our time heading to Kilauea, pausing for a few distractions. South Point, the southernmost spot in the United States and a great place to witness the awesome power of the ocean, was our first diversion. There, the currents are so strong that if a vessel ventures out too far its next stop will be Antarctica. (Fishermen tie their boats to the shore when at South Point to prevent unplanned penguin parties.)

Kilauea Iki, a pit crater next to the main caldera of Kilauea, erupted in 1959. Its cracked basin looked more like a manmade mess than nature's handiwork.

Kilauea Iki, a pit crater next to the main caldera of Kilauea, erupted in 1959. Its cracked basin looked more like a manmade mess than nature’s handiwork.

We also detoured to Punalu’u. This black sand beach, curiously, had lots of sightseers milling about on it like they didn’t know what to do with a beach. Incompetent tourists or just confusing colors?

Construction rubble or baby stone?

Construction rubble or baby stone?

Later that afternoon, we arrived at Volcanoes…along with a whole bunch of other people. You see, a few days before our southbound journey, a series of small earthquakes blocked Halema’uma’u’s vent forcing lava usually hidden 100-200 feet below the crater floor to spout above ground in a breathtaking display. Nothing so dramatic had been seen at Halema’uma’u since 2008. While we were thrilled that we happened to be on the island at the right time to catch this magma magic, we weren’t the only ones eager to observe it. The locals were pouring in from all over the islands to witness Pele’s tantrum and congest my park experience.

These streaming rocks resulted from a 1972 eruption of Mauna Ulu.

These streaming rocks resulted from a 1972 eruption of Mauna Ulu.

After walking a mile that evening around the Sulphur Banks Trail, which showcases colorful minerals deposited by volcanic gases, we went to bed early and woke up at 3:30 AM so we could see Halema’uma’u’s glow show minus the crowds. It was spectacular but freezing, despite the 1500-degree magma.

Holei Sea Arch, hollowed from lava rock by the relentless ocean, epitomized the everlasting battle between fire and water.

Holei Sea Arch, hollowed from lava rock by the relentless ocean, epitomized the everlasting battle between fire and water.

Following an indispensable three-hour nap, we did several more hikes in Volcanoes. Our first was through Thurston Lave Tube, a 500-year-old cave formed by lava flow. Next, we hit Kilauea Iki Crater. Kilauea Iki, which is offset from the main Kilauea summit, exploded in 1959. We trekked four miles through the leftovers of that eruption. The scene looked more like a demolition zone than a piece of nature. Finally, we rambled a mile and a half to the Pu’u Loa Petroglyphs, the biggest petroglyph field in the state. Thousands of markings stud the frozen lava in this area. It was a fascinating glimpse into Hawaii’s past.

Jason "sensed" lava everywhere.

Jason “sensed” lava everywhere.

That was the end of our volcanic adventures. Pele was a mesmerizing yet violent hostess.

Next time, for the last part of our Big story, I will recount the highly engrossing tale of our journey through the skies and history of Hawaii. Plus, there will be seahorses.

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