Pu'u Pua'i and the eruption of Halema'uma'u, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Graphic from Photo by Donald B MacGowan
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Pu’u Pua’i Overlook/Kilauea Iki Crater
Frank Burgess approaches the base of Pu'u Pua'i in Kilauea Iki Crater, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan
Pu’u Pua’i, which means “gushing hill”, is a cinder cone perched atop the rim of Kilauea Iki. At Pu’u Pua’i Overlook an incredible view of Kilauea Iki, which means “Little Kilauea” spreads beneath you. Eruptions of Kilauea Iki in 1959 followed almost a century of quiescence and produced fire fountains exceeding 1900 feet—the highest on record anywhere. The overall eruption proceeded in “spurts” of activity—brief eruptive events separated by times of quiet–which produced enough lava and airfall material to bury a football field 15 inches deep every hour (about two million tons of lava per hour). However, in between eruptions the lava drained back into the vent, only to be ejected again and again over the 36 day life of the eruption.
Pu'u Pua'i and Halema'uma'u eruption across Kilauea Iki crater, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan
Today, the mile-wide cooled and solid surface of the lava lake, tucked 400 feet below the crater rim, is cracked and undulating, pocked and tiled in tilted pahoehoe blocks, issues steam from many vents. 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. Hot, liquid rock still roils only a few hundred feet below the hardened modern surface of the crater floor.
Hikers on Kilauea Iki Crater Trail from Pu'u Pua'i, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan
Distances are difficult to comprehend here, unless you see hikers on the trail, across the rim or on the crater floor for scale. Once you have an idea of the magnitude of this crater, bear in mind that the fire fountains in the 1959 eruptions, at their peak, reached about four times the height of the current crater walls.
Pu'u Pua'i from Devastation Trail, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan
It is both extremely unsafe and ecologically unsound to visit the actual summit of Pu’u Pua’i. The entire Devastation Trail area is an outdoor laboratory in forest regeneration after the devastating burial in hot air fall material. Please stay on designated trails and do not wander out across the cinder landscape; you will destroy delicate plant life and interrupt soil-forming process, disturbing the natural laboratory.
For more information on Kilauea Iki, please go here; for information on hiking the Kilauea Iki trail, please go here; for information on the Devastation Trail area adjacent to Pu’u Pua’i, please go here.
The eruptive vent on Pu'u Pua'i from Kilauea Iki Crater, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan
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Hikers on the Kilauea Iki Trail from Pu'u Pua'i Overlook, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan
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All media copyright 2010 by Donald B. MacGowan. All rights reserved.
Pu'u Pua'i and Halema'uma'u eruption across Kilauea Iki crater, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Graphic from Photo by Donald B MacGowan