Molten. Lava. These two words alone draw millions of onlookers every year. There are only a handful of places on earth that you can walk right up to the gooey, sorta liquid, kinda rocky red stuff and watch as it gobbles up anything and everything in it’s path.
The volcanoes of Hawaii, or more specifically, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on Hawaii Island, draw not only those looking to observe natural devastation first hand, but also throngs of creative types, scientists, space travellers, hikers, bikers, naturalists and more. The days of “coming to see the lava” have turned into “how many ways can you experience the lava.”
The hundred year old park, which begins at the summit of Mauna Loa Mountain and ends at the sea, encompasses 333,000 acres, with over 150 miles of hiking trails, ancient petroglyphs, a visitor centre, a restaurant and nearby dwellings that range from rustic to, well, a little more rustic. Mauna Loa erupted most recently in 1984, but has since been a quiet lass; sister peak Kilauea began erupting just after New Year in 1983 and hasn’t stopped. (In the last decade, nearly 500 acres of land have been added to the island thanks to hardening lava).
The “hottest attractions” of late are the sunrise and sunset boat tours, where participants can see lava crashing into the sea at Kalapana. A few outfits will take you on a vessel to the nearest safety point in the water where you can witness (on a good day) a natural fireworks display that can shoot flames dozens of feet into the air. On mellower days, it’s a plume of steam rising from the sea as liquid magma pours off the craggy coastline into the azure waters.
Another product of the incredible volcanoes of Hawaii are the professional photographers that take amateur shooters on photo tours of the park, helping with the capture of spectacular photographs to take home. These range from group tours where you learn the basics of digital imagery, to one-on-one hikes with a professional for personalised instruction.
Where there are mountains in Hawaii, there are people who offer bicycle tours down them. Although hardened lava is razor sharp and not generally something humans want to come into direct contact with (especially, say, falling off a two-wheeled cycle), the graceful roads that wind through the park – past steaming calderas, fern-lined jungles, canopies of trees and barren moonscape – make for a study in contrasts well worth your while.
And of course, the armchair heroes can always count on a “lift” from one of the local helicopter outfits that will whisk you up above the steamy action. You won’t burn a single calorie, but you’ll certainly see more of the park in an hour than anyone on the ground could manage in a full day.
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Have you visited the volcanoes of Hawaii? Let us know in the comments section below.
Written by Brian Berusch