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Halema’uma’u Crater Overlook
Breathtaking, awe-inspiring, sacred. Clearly overcome with awe and wonder, when he visited Kilauea a century and a half ago, Mark Twain remarked aptly: “…here was room for the imagination to work!”
A spectacular eruption has been underway in Halema’uma’u Crater since March 19, 2008. Because of this, Crater Rim Drive is closed at Jagger Museum and at the junction with Chain of Crater Road, so the Halema’uma’u Overlook is inaccessible. Great viewing of the eruption can be had from Jagger Museum; views of the ash cloud at night, lit up with the glow of molten rock from below the surface of Halema’uma’u, are particularly exciting. Please go here to learn more about this eruption.
The Hawai’ians revered the area around Halema’uma’u Crater as the home of the volcano Goddess, Madame Pele, who journeyed from Tahiti to Ni’ihau and Kau’ai before settling down at Halema’uma’u. For generations Hawai’ian Kahuna came here to divine the future, hold rituals, make sacrifices and appease the goddess with offerings. Commoners among the native Hawai’ians were not allowed within sight of the sacred grounds. Continuing into modern times on several ceremonial days each year (in times of eruptive quiescence), modern Hawai’ians gather on the crater floor to perform hula dances and other rituals to appease the goddess Pele.
Today, a large parking lot and several trailheads converge at the junction of the two crown jewels of Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, Kilauea Caldera and inside it, the more recent center of eruptive activity, Halema’uma’u crater. Not many years ago, there was an active lava lake in Halema’uma’u Crater, which was first documented by Europeans in 1823 by William Ellis. Over the past 230-some years of recorded history, more the 20 major eruptions have taken place here.
In 1924 an explosive eruption shattered Halema’uma’u Crater, doubling its size and the lava lake drained. A spectacular fire-fountain eruption occurred inside Halema’uma’u in 1974, and the crater floor has risen and fallen a couple thousand feet over time from more than 1300 feet deep to over-flowing into Kilauea Crater.
Currently, Halema’uma’u Crater is a robust 300 feet deep and 3000 feet across; even so, it is almost lost inside the lager and deeper Kilauea Crater. Although covered with a hard crust of frozen lava, both craters still steam and smolder and the volcanic heat flowing up through them is still very evident, even on a hot day. A whiff of sulfurous gases emanating from the many steam vents is also evident to the modern visitor; a century and a half ago, Mark Twain commented: “…the smell of sulfur is strong, but not unpleasant to a sinner!”
Many natives, kama’aina and tourists alike pause here at the overlook to offer the goddess gifts of food, flowers, gin or feathers wrapped in leaves.
The easy, half mile walk around the overlook is well worth the thirty or so minutes it will take. This hike requires no special equipment or preparation. For a longer hike, taking off from the Halema’uma’u Trail at a bout ½ mile, the Byron Ledge Trail follows a ledge system above the crater floor 3 miles to the Devastation Trail and ultimately to Kilauea Iki Crater; this is best done as a car-shuttle hike. Another wonderful hike, though dry, hot and challenging, is the 3.5 mile trek across Kilauea Caldera leads back to the Volcano House, which takes 2 hours of steady hiking. These two latter trips require you to take plenty of water, rain gear, suncream, a map and compass (and the knowledge to use them), to wear sturdy hiking shoes or boots and to be in fairly good physical condition. As always when hiking in the Park, it is wise to avoid the noonday sun, and afternoon showers, particularly along the crater rims are common.
Remember to wipe all gear down and to clean the lenses of cameras, binoculars and glasses after visiting the crater; the volcano smog has a corrosive effect upon precision optics and electronics.
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All media copyright 2010 by Donald B. MacGowan. All rights reserved