Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

From Honolulu we flew to Hawaii’s Big Island (also called Hawaii) to visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Hawaiian Islands were formed by lava flowing from a hot spot under the Pacific Ocean, and the Park preserves and guides you to volcanic eruptions and lava flows.

Shown above, a plume of volcanic gases rises from Halemaumau Crater within the much larger Kilauea crater. Halemaumau Crater is about a half-mile (800 m) wide with a lava lake inside.

Kilauea Iki, in the foreground, had a spectacular eruption in 1959, with lava fountains “reaching nearly 580 m (1,900 ft), among the highest ever recorded”. A trail crosses the crater, appearing as a light trace, and a person dressed in white is hiking in front of the reddish cinder cone. Click on the photo for a larger image. Halemaumau and its smoking plume are in the distance.

Kilauea Iki with Halemaumau in distance
Kilauea Iki with Halemaumau in distance

Light-gray lava is older, and the darker lava is newer. This road was built on top of the lava flows.

darker lava flows are more recent
darker lava flows are more recent

Lava is a liquid usually at temperatures from 700 to 1,200° C.” A lava flow burns and buries everything in its path, so process of regrowth following a lava flow is important. The ohia lehua is a native Hawaiian tree that’s a pioneer species, “the first to colonize previously disrupted or damaged ecosystems, beginning a chain of ecological succession that ultimately leads to a more biodiverse steady-state ecosystem.” The roots help break down the lava and form soil for other plants. The Big Island has forests of ohia trees with their brilliant red blossoms, but the ohia is being attacked and killed by a fungus called Rapid Ohia Death, where “previously healthy-looking trees begin to exhibit symptoms they typically die within a matter of weeks”.

ohia lehua, a pioneer of lava flows
ohia lehua, a pioneer of lava flows

Ferns also grow in new lava. Notice the ripples in the otherwise-smooth surface of the lava below. Lava with this smooth surface is called pahoehoe.

pali with dark lava flows
pali (cliff) with dark lava flows

Lava can flow to the ocean, where wave action erodes the volcanic rock, sometimes forming sea arches.

Holua sea arch
Holei sea arch

We rented a cottage just outside the Park in a fern forest with anthuriums and orchids, a welcome change from the traffic of Honolulu and Waikiki. The cottage is at 4,000 feet, high enough to rain often and support the fern forest. Lower elevations on this part of the island are much drier.


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I enjoy travel, art, food, photography, nature, California native plants, history, and yoga. I am a retired software engineer. The gravatar is a Nuttall's woodpecker that visited our backyard.

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