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by Donald B. MacGowan

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Visitors Watch the Halema'uma'u eruption of Kilauea at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Graphic from Photo by Donald B MacGowan

There are many wondrous, enigmatic and fascinating attractions on the Big Island of Hawaii, some better known than others, many out of the way and generally off the beaten track. Tour Guide Hawaii has produced an encyclopedic collection of the most up-to-date information, presented as short GPS-cued videos, in an app downloadable to iPhone and iPod Touch that covers the entire Big Island, highlighting the popular and the uncrowded, the famous and the secluded, the adventurous and the relaxing.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Aerial view of Pu'u O'o Vent on Kilauea, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Photo by Shannon Walker

The Geologic History of the Hawaiian Islands

The Hawaiian Islands, part of a much longer chain of oceanic islands and seamounts called the Hawaiian-Emperor Chain, is comprised of 8 principal islands and 124 islets, shoals, atolls, seamounts and banks, all volcanic in origin.  The Hawaiian Islands proper extend from Kure Atoll in the mid-Pacific, trending southeast to Hawaii Island (the Big Island) and Lo’ihi submarine volcano.  The eight major islands of the Hawaiian chain are named, from northwest to southeast, Ni’ihau, Kauai, O`ahu, Moloka`i, Lana`i, Kaho`olawe, Maui, and Hawai`i. Unraveling the geologic history of the Hawaiian Islands provides a fascinating glimpse into structures and process occurring deep within our Earth.  To understand how the Hawaiian Islands were formed, let’s review a bit about the nature of our planet.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Kilauea Lava Stream, Hawaii Photo courtesy of Big Island Air

Layered like an onion, our seeming solid earth is actually a heaving mass composed of various solid, partially-molten, semi-plastic and liquid layers.  The solid crust (or lithosphere), which covers the entire surface of the earth, seems strong and robust but is, in fact, quite thin and malleable.  About the same thickness relative to the rest of the planet as an onion skin is to an onion, the Earth’s silica-rich crust more or less floats upon a much thicker, partially molten, more iron and magnesium-rich, semi-plastic layer of much hotter material called the “mantle”.  Below the mantle are the liquid outer core and the solid inner core of the Earth.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Halema'uma'u Crater and eruption on Kilauea, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Earth’s crust comes in basically two varieties, oceanic crust which is quite thin (only 5-7 km thick) and continental crust, which is much thicker than oceanic crust (up to 200 km thick).  Oceanic crust is composed almost wholly of an effusive volcanic rock type called “basalt”, its intrusive volcanic, subsurface equivalent called “gabbro” and a thin covering of sediment. The continental crust, which underlies the seven continents and the more massive islands, and upon which most human activity takes place, on the other hand, is composed not only of basalt and gabbro, but all the other rock types as well.  Continental crust is much less dense than oceanic crust, being much more silica-rich, and therefore is more buoyant on the mantle.  This, in part, accounts for its relative thickness and higher elevation compared to the denser, thinner oceanic crust.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Lava from Kilauea flows into the sea at La'epuki, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

The Earth’s crust is further divided-up into various distinct pieces, called “tectonic plates”, all moving relative to each other. Plates are composed almost wholly of either oceanic or continental crustal material. These plates “float” on the semi-plastic mantle, and are carried along by currents on the mantle’s surface. Mantle currents are caused by various physical process of heat transport within the mantle.   Think of a pot of boiling soup; the point of the boil in the soup is analogous to the heat transfer in the mantle and the skim of chilled soup riding around on the surface is analogous to the moving tectonic plates carried on top of the mantle.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Hikers pause to look over at the summit of Mauna Loa From the summit of Mauna Kea, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Interactions along the edges of these plates, whether slipping past each other (such as along the San Andreas Fault), one riding up over another (such as beneath the Himalayan Mountains), or one being subducted beneath the other (such as along the western edge of North America), accounts for much of the earthquake, mountain-building and volcanic activity seen on the surface of the earth, and plate margins are certainly the most geologically active places on earth.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Kilauea eruption in Halema'uma'u Crater at night Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Occasionally, exceptions to this generality occur, and the Hawaiian Islands are one such spectacular exception. To understand the forces and process which shape the Hawaiian Islands, we must look a little closer at the origin and movement of the crust and the structure of the mantle.  Happily, we need only concern ourselves with oceanic crust in general and the Pacific Plate in particular, as well as one, singular feature of the mantle.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Skylight at Kupaianaha Vent, Kilauea Volcano Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Oceanic crust is continually created by volcanic action along giant ridges which run generally north-south down the middle of the ocean basins.  The hot liquid magma at the ridges is much less dense than the surrounding, cold crustal rocks, and so “floats” these ridges and the still hot, newly-formed oceanic crust, up above the surrounding ocean basin, thus forming the ridge.  As volcanic eruptions along these ridges add hot, new material to the edge of the oceanic plates, the mass of new material drives the older oceanic crust away from the ridge, down both sides of it.  As the new material cools and becomes less dense, it sinks and further drives the crust away from the ridges.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Lava Flowing Into the Sea at Waikupanaha, Hawaii Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Called “Mid-Ocean Ridge Spreading”, this process can be likened to a conveyor belt where new crust is created at the mid-ocean ridge, and is driven along by buoyancy and gravity, farther and farther away from the ridge until the plate’s leading edge interacts in some way with another tectonic plate.  Thus we see that the floors of the ocean basins, all around the world, are in constant, relative motion.  The Pacific Plate, upon which the Hawaiian Islands are built, has been moving at a rate of about 3.9 inches per year to the northwest, relative to other plate motions, for about the last 42 million years.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Sunset on Haleakala from Kiholo, Hawaii Photo by Donnie MacGowan

But what causes the enormous volcanoes that comprise the Hawaiian Archipelago to form in the middle of the ocean basin?  As mentioned above, the mantle is far from uniform either compositionally, thermally or in terms of the processes controlling its internal motions.  There are places on the earth where, for a variety of reasons, hot and buoyant mantle plumes rise above the general surface of the mantle, into the crust, carrying great amounts of heat and semi-liquid material quite near the earth’s surface.  Called “Hot Spots”, extreme volcanism can result from these thermal plumes.  The volcanic fields at Yellowstone in North America are one such example of this “hot spot magmatism”; the Hawaiian Islands are yet another.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

The heavily-dissected mountains of Kauai completely obscure the original shield shape of the volcano Photo by Donald B MacGowan

The Hawaiian Hot Spot has caused the creation of at least 129 volcanoes on the ocean floor, the center of volcanism on the Pacific Plate continually migrating across the plate as it travels over the hot spot. Of these 129 volcanoes, 123 are extinct, three are dormant and three are active.  At first, the trend of volcanoes was almost due north-south.  Then, somewhere between 41 and 43 million years ago the relative motion between the Pacific Plate and the hot spot changed, becoming more northwesterly; this caused a sharp bend in the line of island-forming volcanoes.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Aerial view of Pu'u O'o vent on Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Although all were formed by the same, continuing tectono-volcanic processes, two island groups are named from this bent line of islands, atolls and seamounts.  North of the bend are the Emperor Seamounts, a long chain of islands, seamounts, atolls and reefs trending steeply southeast to northwest between Abbot Seamount in the mid-Pacific and Meiji Seamount near the Aleutian Trench.  South of the bend are the Hawaiian Islands, trending from the active volcanism at the Big Island and Loihi Volcano today, gently northwest to Kure Atoll in the mid-Pacific. Movement of the Pacific Plate over the hotspot is such that Midway and Kure Atolls were where the Big Island is now, directly over the hot spot, about 30 million years ago.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

The steep sides of Mt. Rainier in Washington result from its relatively high-silica, viscous lava Photo by Donald B MacGowan

The chemical composition of the Hawaiian magmas plays a central role in determining the physical form of the Hawaiian Islands.  All crustal rocks are formed of minerals composed of aluminum and silicon oxides with varying amounts of iron, magnesium, sodium, calcium, potassium and other elements stirred in.  In lava, silica tends to polymerize and greatly increase the viscosity of the melt—thus silica-rich lavas are fairly “sticky”, forming slow moving lava flows that pile-up into steep volcanoes which are typified by explosive eruptions. Silica-poor melts, on the other hand, because they are not so polymerized, form very fluid lavas that flow quickly and easily, forming gently-sloped volcanoes typified by relatively quiescent eruptions.  Remember the key words here are: “relatively quiescent”.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Mauna Loa floats above the fields of Kohala, Hawaii Photo by Donald B MacGowan

One glance at the profile of the Hawaiian volcanoes is enough to convince us that the lavas must be very silica poor, since they are very gently-sloped and the eruptions relatively peaceable; certainly civilized enough so that the casual viewer may approach them quite closely in relative safety.  Compare these with the very steep-sided, highly explosive eruptions of volcanoes like Mt. St. Helens, which is comprised of lava much more intermediate in silica composition, or the smoking hole in the ground that is the Yellowstone volcanic field, left by a massively explosive, very silica rich (and very, very viscous) lava erupting.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Layered basalts in Waimea Canyon on Kauai show the structure of the Island, flow upon flow: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

The rocks formed when the lava from Hawaiian volcanoes hardens are called “basalt”.  Although you hear the term “lava rock” used by laymen, it is a nonsensical word geologically and the registered trademark of a commercial product.  Commonly misapplied, it makes even less sense than the equivalent of using the term “water solid” instead of “ice”. The name “basalt” denotes both the silica-poor composition, as well as the fact that it was erupted onto, and it has cooled at, the Earth’s surface.  When lavas cool within a magma chamber before being erupted onto the surface, they are called an “intrusive volcanic” rock; intrusive volcanic rocks formed from lavas of basalt-like composition are called “gabbros”.  There are a few rocks in the Hawaiian islands of differing composition and texture than basalt and gabbro, but they are unimportant to this discussion.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

The classic, low-angle shield shape of Mauna Loa seen from Hilo, Hawaii Photo by Donald B MacGowan

The angle of repose, which is controlled by the viscosity of the melt, is about 6 degrees for Hawaiian basalts. Melt viscosity is a function of its temperature, silica content and fluid composition.   Hawaiian basalts are very fluid because of the low silica content and high eruptive temperature (in excess of 1100 degrees C); this low viscosity accounts for low angle, “shield shape” of Hawaiian volcanoes.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Kohala Volcano is dissected by several major fault-bounded valleys, further obscuring its original shield shape Photo by Donald B MacGowan

As soon as the Hawaiian volcano forms, other forces begin to act upon it, affecting the general “shield shape” of the volcano: tides and waves attack the edges, rivers and streams begin to dissect the shield into ridges.  As time goes on, erosion from surface water flow produces fluting along those ridges.  Great landslides produce enormous cliffs; faulting produces huge valleys and collapse produces enormous craters and calderas.  Further, the later stage of Hawaiian volcanism is typified by increasing violence, which makes deep explosion craters, steep-sided cinder cones and steeply sloped, but easily eroded, ash deposits.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Stream erosion dissects the shield volcanoes into valley and knife-like ridges Photo by Donnie MacGowan

To look at the volcanoes of Hawaii starting in the southeast at Kilauea and Mauna Loa and moving northwest, one can see this evolution quite clearly.  Kilauea and Mauna Loa, being quite young, are still broad and shallow-sloped, basically the classic shield-shape.  Mauna Kea and Hualalai are obviously more mature, showing steeper slopes, a reflection of greater ashfall and greater erosion, as well as pocked with explosion craters and cinder cones.  Moving father along, Kohala Mountain is so deeply eroded and festooned with long, fluted ridges as well as cut by enormous canyons, that it is almost unrecognizable as a shield volcano.  And so it continues as one proceeds north through the older islands and the more highly eroded mountains; the original shield shape of the volcanoes become more and more obscured by deeper and deeper erosion.  By the time one gets to the famous and spectacular Na Pali Cliffs of Kaua’i, all that is left of the original volcano are the deeply fluted, now almost knife-like, ridges.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Ancient Petroglyph, Keauhou Historic District, Hawaii Photo by Donald B MacGowan

The great mass of these volcanoes causes them to begin to sink back into the mantle.  This is evident on even relatively young volcanoes.  For instance, on the slopes of Hualalai Volcano on the Big Island, along the shore at Keauhou, numerous petroglyphs commemorating the famous victory of King Lonoikamakahiki of Hawaii over King Kamalalawalu of Maui were carved in the rock around the end of the 16th century.  Although when they were originally carved they stood above sea level, in the intervening four centuries, the island has sunk sufficiently that they are now mostly awash in the sea and submerged at high tide.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Glacial cirque and terminal moraine on Mauna Kea, Hawaii Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Another process, operative in the geologically recent past, has served to shape the slopes of the Hawaiian volcanoes, at least those which are or great height.  Glaciers covered the summit of Mauna Kea (and possibly Mauna Loa and Haleakala) three times between 200,000 and 13,000 years ago, leaving behind many glacial features such as cirques, u-shaped valleys and scoured bedrock; surviving into the present is a remnant rock glacier near the summit of Mauna Kea.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Valleys and Ridges of the Famous Na Pali Coast, Kauai Photo by Donald B MacGowan

The complex interaction of volcano growth, coalescing of various volcanoes forming a single island and the eventual subsidence of the volcanoes into the crust determines the shape and size of the individual Hawaiian Islands through time.  Today, the youngest islands are largest and the oldest islands, generally, are the smallest…this trend continues throughout the Hawaii Island/Emperor Seamount chain.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Lava flows from Kilauea to the sea at Waikupanaha, Hawaii Photo by Donald B MacGowan

In the case of the Big Island, even though the first volcano to form, Mahukona, has completely subsided below sea level, the Big Island still comprises more than twice the area of all the other Hawaiian Islands combined, due to the large number of volcanic peaks forming it. However, through their history, all the Hawaiian Islands will experience the same pattern of growth, coalescence, subsidence and submersion, and so may have been much larger at one time.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Haleakala from Kohala, Hawaii Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Maui, today comprised only of the remnant peaks of Haleakala and the West Maui Mountains, at one time formed a single giant landmass with the islands of Lana’i, Moloka’i, and Kaho’olawe.  As the continual northwest movement of the Pacific Plate carried Maui away from the Hawaiian hot spot, continued subsidence submerged the larger landmass, known as Maui Nui, or “Big Maui”, into the oceanic crust, leaving only these four, very much smaller, islands above the surface today.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Superstition to Science, Pu'u Weiku Summit, Mauna Kea Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

In fact, Kaua’i, Ni’ihau and O’ahu all represent the tiny remnants of once much larger landmasses that are actively subsiding into the oceanic crust.  Tracing the Hawaiian Archipelago to the northwest, and thus to very much older islands, we see this evolution continue as the great volcanoes are completely submerged below the surface leaving only the fringing coral reefs and a tiny remnant island above sea level, such as we see at Laysan Atoll and Midway Island. Continuing along through the chain to the Emperor Seamounts, not even that much is left as all traces of these islands, once proud and beautiful like the Hawaiian Islands today, become totally submerged beneath the surface of the ocean.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Alpen Glow on Hualalai Volcano and Sunset on Kailua Kona Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Add to this mental picture the fact that the Pacific Plate relentlessly drives northwestward, carrying all the Hawaiian-Emperor Chain with it, northward to the Aleutian Trench, where it is subducted and destroyed beneath the North American Plate.  Eventually, in the far-distant future, this fate awaits all these beautiful, precious islands.  Such is the ephemeral nature of the Hawaiian Islands, and this vision of their very delicate and temporary nature should make us respect and wonder at their splendor and beauty, all the more.  And increase our desire to protect and preserve them.

To see the new iPhone/iPod Touch App, please visit http://www.tourguidehawaii.com/iphone.html.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

The steeper, crater-poked slopes of Hualalai indicate it has moved on to the later stages of volcanism Photo by Donald B MacGowan

The best of Tour Guide Hawaii’s free content about traveling to, and exploring, the Big island, can be found here.

For more information on traveling to Hawaii in general and on touring the Big Island in particular, please also visit www.tourguidehawaii.com and www.tourguidehawaii.blogspot.com.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Watching Lava Pour Into the Sea at Waikupanaha, Hawaii Photo by Donald B MacGowan

All media copyright 2010 by Donald B. MacGowan. All rights reserved.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts   the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and   WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or   www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Lava ocean entry, Waikupanaha, Hawaii: Graphic from Photo by Donnie MacGowan

by Donald B. MacGowan

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

They aren't kidding about Devil's Throat, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Graphic from Photo by Donald B MacGowan

There are many wondrous, enigmatic and fascinating attractions on the Big Island of Hawaii, some better known than others, many out of the way and generally off the beaten track.  Tour Guide Hawaii has produced an encyclopedic collection of the most up-to-date information, presented as short GPS-cued videos, in an app downloadable to iPhone and iPod Touch that covers the entire Big Island, highlighting the popular and the uncrowded, the famous and the secluded, the adventurous and the relaxing.

Devil’s Throat

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Devil's Throat, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Less than 1/10 of a mile southwest along Chain of Craters Road from the Hilina Pali Road turnoff is a small patch of bare ground, the parking spot for the unmarked Devil’s Throat collapse crater. Devil’s Throat is an excitingly vertically-sided pit crater that is worth the visit just for the “okole squeezing” peering down the throat will give you.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Devil's Throat lies along this lineament of large surface cracks, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

An unmarked, approximately 50 meter trail leads south east from the road along a prominent earth fracture to the 30 meter wide by 55 meter deep pit. Keep your eyes on the trail in front of you at all times as you approach. Do not allow children or exuberant adults run ahead, especially in the dark, fog or vog, as there are NO safety rails and absolutely NO warning the crater is coming up…one simply arrives, teetering, at the brink. Be extremely careful approaching the crater rim, as the edge is very unstable and prone to collapse. It is also an interesting hike to trace the prominent fracture lines back towards Hilina Pali on the northwest side of the road to the prominent fault escarpment.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

There are no ejecta surrounding the crater indicating that Devil's Throat formed from collapse not explosion, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Collapse pit craters are formed when magma is rapidly extruded from one portion of a subterranean magma chamber to another, or is erupted onto land. The ground above the recently evacuated portion of the magma chamber simply collapses. Essentially, the entirety of the land traversed by chain of Craters Road is pocked with these features.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

The hiker comes upon Devil's Throat with absolutely no warning of the gaping pit yawing before them Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Viewing and photography are best done at Devil’s Throat when the sun is high in the sky and the walls and bottom of the crater are not in shadow.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Frank Burgess is wise to keep well back from the lip of Devil's Throat, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

To see the new iPhone/iPod Touch App, please visit http://www.tourguidehawaii.com/iphone.html. The best of Tour Guide Hawaii’s free content about traveling to, and exploring, the Big island, can be found here.For more information on traveling to Hawaii in general and on touring the Big Island in particular, please also visit www.tourguidehawaii.com and www.tourguidehawaii.blogspot.com.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

The trail to Devil's Throat is an unremarkable path along some prominent earth fractures, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

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All media copyright 2010 by Donald B. MacGowan. All rights reserved.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Looking Into Devil's Throat, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Graphic from Photo by Donald B MacGowan

by Donnie MacGowan

Looking Across Kilauea Iki to Halema'uma'u Eruption; The Kilauea Iki Trail Can Be Seen Etched Across the Floor of the Crater: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Looking Across Kilauea Iki to Halema'uma'u Eruption; The Kilauea Iki Trail Can Be Seen Etched Across the Floor of the Crater: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Hawaii is, in fact, an island that is served by very few roads, that many people come to visit each year and that makes most of its wealth from the tourism industry.  Given this, it’s quite surprising how hard it can be to find useful, reliable and up-to-date information about anything from “is your favorite restaurant still in business” to “how’s the snorkeling this month?”.

A Morning Glimpse of Mauna Loa Behind Kilauea Iki Crater: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

A Morning Glimpse of Mauna Loa Behind Kilauea Iki Crater: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Road names are in the unfamiliar Hawaiian language; friendly locals give helpful directions, but in rapid-fire pigeon English using landmarks unfamiliar to the visitor and many guidebooks are either woefully out of date or flat wrong. The first time visitor to Hawaii may be overwhelmed when bombarded by advertising disguised as visitor information, overzealous salespeople from rapacious time-share resorts and racks and racks of of advertising for tours, attractions and restaurants.

Looking Down From the Rim of Kilauea Iki Crater as Hikers Cross the Floor of the Lava Lake: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Looking Down From the Rim of Kilauea Iki Crater as Hikers Cross the Floor of the Lava Lake: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Even the experienced Hawaii traveler may find it difficult to ferret out the information he needs to find a unique, secluded or unusual experience in Paradise.  Finding current, reliable information on hikes on the Big Island can be equally frustrating.

Misty View of Kilauea Iki Crater and Rainbow: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Misty View of Kilauea Iki Crater and Rainbow: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Clearly, the visitor to Hawaii can use some help finding special places in general and information about, and help getting to, the best hikes on Hawaii Island.

To help you find the more secluded, wild and exotic destinations in particular, and to help you get more out of your Hawaii vacation in general, Tour Guide Hawaii has released a brand new iPhone/iPod Touch App.  This “must have” travel app is packed with hours of informative video on the most interesting places on Hawaii; helps navigate you to all the most popular visitor destinations, the most interesting attractions, the most romantic and secluded beaches; helps you effortlessly find hikes, snorkel spots, historical and cultural landmarks, shopping and dining. And of course, our new App includes directions to, and rating of, all the public restrooms! Learn all about the App, here.

The Jumbled floor of Kilauea Iki Crater Lava Lake: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

The Jumbled floor of Kilauea Iki Crater Lava Lake: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

But first, let’s talk about what is arguably the finest short hike on the Island of Hawaii.

Kilauea Iki Crater Trail

Frank Burgess Along the Kilauea Iki Trail: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Frank Burgess Along the Kilauea Iki Trail: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Perhaps the finest short day hike in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park—and one of Hawaii Island’s best hikes, this four-mile, 2-3 hour trip climbs down into, across and back out of Kilauea Iki Crater. Crossing the crater floor on this surface provides one of the most interesting hikes in the Park. Looking up from the bottom of the crater, one can see the distinctive “ring around the crater” marking the high point of the lava lake during the last eruption. The four mile loop-hike descends from the rim in two places and crosses the crater floor in about three hours hiking at a nominal pace, giving one an intimate feel for volcanoes, Hawaiian-Style.

Along the Kilauea Iki Crater Rim Trail: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Along the Kilauea Iki Crater Rim Trail: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Along one side, thick fern and ohi’a forest skirts along the rim and on the other, lush tropical rainforest crowds to the very brink of the crater; bleak volcanic desert lines the crater walls and covers the floor. The start and finish of the hike are along well marked, wide trails following the rim with handrails and stairs in some spots as you begin to descend into the crater. The remainder is an easily followed, well marked trail with stone ahu (cairns) over the crater floor.

Pu'u Pua'i From Kilauea Iki Crater Rim Trail: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Pu'u Pua'i From Kilauea Iki Crater Rim Trail: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

The hiker should keep their eyes open for Pele’s Hair and Pele’s Tears (fine, thread-like and bead-like deposits of volcanic glass), gaseous vents and other marvels of the living lava mountain. Bore-hole measurements taken in 1988 indicated that roiling molten lava was lying only 230 feet beneath the skin of the caldera at that time; today it is unknown what amount of liquid may be left, but the temperature just a couple hundred feet beneath your hiking boots is in excess of 1000 degrees.

On this hike you should take plenty of water, light rain gear, suncream, a map and compass. In addition, you should wear sturdy hiking shoes or boots and be in fairly good physical condition. As always when hiking in the Park, it is wise to avoid the noonday sun, and to remember that afternoon showers are common, especially along the crater rims. Remember that the start and finish of this hike are at an elevation of over 4000 feet…take it easy and enjoy the incredible views.

Looking Straight Across Kilauea Iki Crater: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Looking Straight Across Kilauea Iki Crater: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

A video about this hike is available here.

Looking Out of the Forest Across Kilauea Iki Crater: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Looking Out of the Forest Across Kilauea Iki Crater: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

For more information on traveling to Hawaii in general, hiking the Big Island in particular, or about our new iPhone/iPod Touch App, please also visit www.tourguidehawaii.com and www.tourguidehawaii.blogspot.com. For information about the author, please go here.

All media copyright 2009 by Donald B. MacGowan.  All rights reserved.

Kilaue Iki Crater and Trail from Pu'u Pua'i Overlook: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Kilauea Iki Crater and Trail from Pu'u Pua'i Overlook: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

A River of Lava Flows Down The Pali Toward The Ocean Entry at Waikupanaha, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Big Island Air

A River of Lava Flows Down The Pali Toward The Ocean Entry at Waikupanaha, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Big Island Air

Whether you visit the Big Island for a few days, a couple weeks or a few months, you want to make the most of your time in Paradise.  With such a wide variety of natural and commercial attractions, it is natural for the visitor to get a little overwhelmed in the “Option Overload” and not be able to make a balanced and informed decision on what they want to do and how best to spend their time.

Glow From the Vent in Halema'uma'u, Kilauea Crater, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donnie MacGowan August 2008

Glow From the Vent in Halema'uma'u, Kilauea Crater, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donnie MacGowan August 2008

Even choosing what activities you want to participate in…do you want to snorkel, hike, go on a whale watching tour?  We highly recommend you go hiking on your visit…but where do you go?  Many of the justly famous mountains, canyons and beaches of Hawaii all have superlative hikes, but which are best?  Which suit your interests?  Are you looking for an experience that is away from crowds, secluded and empty or one that’s exciting, but perhaps a little more tame?  Do you want to hike near your resort or find one that’s at the end of a day of delicious wandering?  Do you have the hankering to climb Hawaii’s highest peak, and the world’s highest peak from base to summit?  How about a stroll through dryland forest, over ancient lava fields to a wilderness beach? And what about hiking to the Lava…is that really safe?  Is it as unimaginably magical as it sounds?

Ranked in order, with the best on top, are our picks of the finest hikes on the Island of Hawaii.  We’ve tried to strike a balance in ranking these places since each is a gem in its own right, we’ve had to leave off many that are equally fine in their own right and of course, recommending some means that their popularity will increase and hence, they will become more crowded.  This list at least provides an excellent starting point for deciding where you want to spend you trail time.  When you arrive we ask that you treat these special places, and the people who live near them, with care, respect and aloha.

Explosion Cloud of Littoral Explosion at the Waikupanaha Lava Ocean Entry, Big Island, Hawaii:  Photo by Donad B. MacGowan

Explosion Cloud of Littoral Explosion at the Waikupanaha Lava Ocean Entry, Big Island, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Lava Viewing at Waikupanaha Ocean Entry: This is truly the one “Must-See” trip for every visitor to Hawaii Island; the unimaginable spectacle and beauty of the earth remaking herself thorough volcanic eruption.  Explosions, glowing and flowing lava, waterspouts. lightening and every kind of geological excitement you can imagine, located at the end of an extremely short hike along a trail that is accessible to almost everyone.  See a video here.

Littoral Explosions as Lava Enters the Ocean Near Royal Gardens: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Littoral Explosions as Lava Enters the Ocean Near Royal Gardens: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Kilauea Iki Crater in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: An amazing, wonderful walk through lovely fern and ohi’a forest down the sides and onto the still-steaming floor of an enormous volcanic crater that was, only a few short decades ago, the hellish cauldron of a frothing, liquid lava lake of fire. A fascinating, 4 mile/2 ½ hour loop hike of only moderate difficulty, most people in only fair shape can easily complete it in a couple hours. See a video here.

The Beautiful Green Sand Beach at South Point of the Island of Hawaii is Reached by an Easy 2 1/4 Mile Hike: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

The Beautiful Green Sand Beach at South Point of the Island of Hawaii is Reached by an Easy 2 1/4 Mile Hike: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Mahana Green Sand Beach at South Point: One of a handful of true green sand beaches in the world, the Mahana Green Sand Beach near South Point is not to be missed.  Beautiful, haunting, intriguing. Although the hike is 2 ¼ miles each way, the trail is relatively flat and easily followed. Swimming and snorkeling in the bay is fabulously weird due to the water color, just be wary of currents out from the mouth of the bay.

Hikers on Mauna Kea Summit Looking at Mauna Loa Summit: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Hikers on Mauna Kea Summit Looking at Mauna Loa Summit: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Mauna Kea Summit: Whether you struggle up the 6-mile climb from the Visitor’s Information Station, or take the 20 minute short hop hike from the end of the road, visiting the summit of Mauna Kea should be on every visitor’s wish list of things to do.  Simultaneously the highest point in the state of Hawaii and the tallest mountain from base to summit on earth, Mauna Kea is an otherworldly, unique, starkly beautiful place.  The hiker is reminded to be wary of changeable weather, severe snow storms that can strand you, altitude sickness, dehydration and sunburn. See a video here.

Makalawena Beach: Perhaps the loveliest beach in Polynesia, Makalawena is the perfect sand crescent, beach backed by palms and iron wood trees with morning-glory-draped sand dunes.  A easy mile hike in from Kekaha Kai State Park keeps this beach uncrowded. Snorkeling here is better than perfect, camping here is so wonderful we don’t know why it’s not mandatory.

Long, Lonely and Wholly Wonderful Makalawena Beach in Kekahai State Park: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Long, Lonely and Wholly Wonderful Makalawena Beach in Kekahai State Park: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Captain Cook Monument on Kealakekua Bay:  Accessed by a steep trail this 2.5-mile hike takes about 1-1 1/2 hours to descend, somewhat more time to come back up.  The snorkeling at the monument is second to none and the hike is a fabulous walk back in time, through fruit groves, cattle pastures, lava flows and an abandoned Hawaiian village.  Take water, a lot of water, there is none to drink anywhere along the trail or at the bay, once you are there or on the all-uphill hike out. See a video here.

The Captain James Cook Monument at Ka'awaloa Village in Kealakekua: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

The Captain James Cook Monument at Ka'awaloa Village in Kealakekua: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Waipi’o Valley: An amazing hike into the Waipi’o fastness, down a steep narrow road to the largest black sand beach on the island.  If vast open spaces, scenery, wild tropical flowers, waterfalls and amazing beaches are your thing, this is your hike.  Once on the valley floor, exploring along the beach or farther on to subsequent valleys can take hours, or days, depending on your level of energy and interest.

Waipi'o Valley on the Hamakua Coast of the Big Island: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Waipi'o Valley on the Hamakua Coast of the Big Island: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Honomalino Beach: Starting in the Old Hawaiian Fishing Village of Miloli’i, the hike wanders along the coast in and out of the surf line to the wild and untamed Honomalino Bay—a wonderful place to picnic, snorkel or kayak. Exploring on foot in the area of the bay provides many wonders and archeological treasures, from abandoned temples and villages to the largest holua, or sledding track, in Hawaii. Remember to respect the Hawaiian natives, their culture and their sacred sites.

A Small House on Honomalino Beach: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

A Small House on Honomalino Beach: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

For more information on traveling to Hawaii in general or exploring the Big Island in particular, please also visit www.tourguidehawaii.com and www.tourguidehawaii.blogspot.com. Information about the author can be found here.

Lava from Kilauea Enters the Sea at Waikupanahu: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Lava from Kilauea Enters the Sea at Waikupanahu: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

All media copyright 2009 by Donald B. MacGowan, except where otherwise noted.

Let’s Go to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park!

About a two hour straight drive from Kona, going south, brings you to the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. If you have a Golden Eagle Pass your entrance is free. If not, it is only $10.00 per carload to enter the park. The rangers at the gate will give you detailed maps of the area.

Super tip: Your receipt will give you free access to the National Park for seven days.

My first suggestion is to go to the Kilauea Visitors Center and the Jagger Museum. This will give you a nice overview of the park and rangers are there to answer questions. This spot also looks over the majestic Halemaumau CraterTour Guide will get you to the park and lead you to more than 50 sites. It is also possible that our state bird, the Nene Goose, will be huddled in the parking lots. They are protected as an endangered species, so be careful when parking nearby.

Another great place to visit is the Volcano Art Center. It may seem a strange, but the Volcano Art Center boasts one of the best collections of art in the whole state. World renowned artist in various media are on display as well as theatrical and musical performances.

There is only one restaurant in the park proper, and that is the Volcano House. Built as a lodge in the mid 1800’s, the Volcano House has hosted dignitaries, politicians, sports heroes and movie stars from all over the world. This grand edifice sits right on the lip of Halemaumau Crater and the views from her restaurant are stunning. Tour Guide will give a complete history of how it came to be. The food is good and the prices are reasonable. Bicycle rentals are also available near the lodge.

Crater Rim Drive is a great driving introduction to the park. It encircles the Halemaumau Crater and, for only an 11 mile drive, passes through several dramatic climate zones. You will encounter arid desert, grass savannah, and into tropical rainforest; this loop can easily be done in forty minutes. However, you will want to take more time to appreciate the beauty and majesty of one nature’s most awesome wonders. Tour Guide will suggest short to medium hikes and bicycle trails as well as over 50 historic and geologic sites to visit within the park.

If you are up for some hiking, Tour Guide will lead you to the trail for Waldron Ledge Overlook. This short hike is through the Ohia and fern jungles, shaded most of the way, and can be done on bicycle as well. From this vantage point one can see the active vent, Kilauea Iki, and breathtaking views of the coast.

Along the Crater Rim Drive you will also see many steam vents and the Sulfur Banks. This is where water seeps into crevices and meets the molten magma about a half mile below the surface, is super heated, and returns to the surface as steam. These vents are often accompanied by a “rotten egg” smell common where sulfur is rising with the steam, turning the ground around the vents hues of yellow, green and white.

For more information on visiting Hawaii and the Big Island in general, and touring Hawaii Volcanoes National Park in particular, please visit www.tourguidehawaii.com and www.tourguidehawaii.blogspot.com.