Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Get a close-up look at an active volcano
Born of violent underwater eruptions, and shaped by a million years of pounding waves, driving rain and occasional earthquakes, Big Island is the youngest and largest of the 1,500-mile-long Hawaiian archipelago (measuring 93 by 76 miles, it’s about the size of Connecticut). The island, a miracle of diversity, contains 11 of Earth’s 13 climate zones—from lush tropical rain forests to desolate, black lava deserts to arctic tundra. Its beaches offer white, black and even green shades of sand.
The island’s most prominent features are its five volcanoes; the largest, Mauna Kea, extends from sea level to 13,796 feet. View these primitive forces in the 330,000-acre Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, a journey back into the creation of Earth, where deep, smoldering calderas hiss, smoky black pit craters belch out sulphur fumes, multihued cinder cones provide the backdrop for miles of charcoal-coloured flows and lava tubes cut their way through the jungle-like prehistoric railway tunnels. Kilauea Volcano, the park’s biggest draw, has been spewing 2,000° F (1093 degrees Celsius) molten lava almost continuously since 1983. According to ancient legend, Pele, goddess of the volcano, searched the entire Hawaiian island chain before settling in Kilauea’s Halemaumau Crater, and today she continues to create land through daily eruptions.
From the Visitor Centre on the north rim, follow Crater Rim Drive, an 11-mile loop that circles the summit, traverses a desert and winds through a native rain forest. Sites along the way include Kilauea Caldera, a 2.5-mile-wide, 500-foot-deep pit; the Sulphur Banks and Steam Vents, where an active volcano emits trails of smoke and steam; and Pele’s home, Halemaumau Crater. Depending on volcanic activity, there may be opportunities for viewing active lava flows; check with rangers at the Visitor Centre about how and where. At night, the streaming lava glows like an incandescent ribbon on the flank of the mountain.