This posting is dedicated to the main reason we traveled to this rainy, cool side of the island, Volcanoes National Park. We were now at an elevation of 4,000 feet and it was very chilly!! Our little cottage in the rain forest had a heater in the living room and an electric blanket on the bed, and we used them both during our four night stay. I never thought we would ever be using an electric blanket in Hawaii!
Volcanoes National Park was established in 1916 and became a World Heritage Site in 1987. The Big Island is the largest and the youngest of the Hawaiian Islands, home to the world’s most active volcanoes, and this park is a good example of why and how this is true. The overcast sky is due to increases in gasses called “volcanic smog”, also called “vog”. This vog blows west towards Kona during trade wind weather. The park is 33,000 acres of lava land on the slopes of Mauna Loa volcano which you may remember from an earlier blog is the world’s largest mountain by volume and the world’s tallest when measured from the ocean floor.
The first day we stopped at the Visitors Center and watched a very informative movie about volcanoes as well as an excellent Ranger talk about the five volcanoes that make up the Big Island. We then drove Crater Rim Drive to the Jagger Museum which had interesting exhibits on Hawaii volcanology and spectacular views of the Kilauea volcano and Halemaumau Crater emitting a steady gas plume. This volcano is responsible for the current threat to small towns near Hilo. Kilauea is a relatively young volcano estimated to be 600,000 years old and first erupted 2,500 years ago. Its present eruption began in 1983 when fountains of lava shot 1,500 feet into the air. Since 1983 it has created 500 acres of new land and destroyed 214 homes, with more homes and businesses currently threatened.
The newest Hawaiian island, already named Loihi, is being created 22 miles offshore from volcanic activity growing on the ocean floor. It will be thousands of years before the new island emerges, so don’t let anyone try to sell you a cheap condo there!
After sunset we drove back to the Halemaumau Crater to see the plumes of gas dramatically lit by the lava below.
We drove to the Thurston Lava Tube, a 500 year old massive lava cave. It was an easy walk through the well lighted cave.
The next day we drove the 38 mile Chain of Craters Road dropping 3,700 feet to the coast where we could see a 2003 lava flow that reached all the way to the ocean. We saw a beautiful sea arch there and found a geocache.