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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.

Kilauea erupting at Halema'uma'u Crater, 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.

Kilauea lava flow from Kupaianaha Vent, Hawaii: Photo Courtesy of Big Island Air

Kilauea Volcano

Although it is the most active volcano on earth, many visitors to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park standing on the very summit of Kilauea Volcano often stare and wonder “Where’s the volcano?” Nestled snugly up against Mauna Loa, and not as vertically spectacular as either this near neighbor or Mauna Kea, Kilauea doesn’t even appear to be a bump on the landscape from the usual viewpoints. Even though it doesn’t standout visually, Kilauea is one of the most intriguing and fascinating volcanoes on earth…let’s just take a quick look at some of the reasons why.

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 Kilauea eruption at Halema'uma'u Crater from Jagger Museum at night: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Comprising the entire southeastern portion of Hawaii Island, Kilauea Volcano is not only currently the world’s most active volcano, it is also the home of the fire-goddess Pele. Early geologists believed Kilauea was merely a satellite vent of Mauna Loa, as it lies directly on that mountain’s southern slopes. However, Kilauea is now recognized as its own, distinct, volcano which has its own, separate, magma source and unique plumbing.

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 over the shield of Kilauea, at some of the 760 billion tons of lava Mau Loa o Mauna Ulu, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Presenting the classic “Hawaiian Shield Volcano” shape, a basic oval with low, shallow slope angles, volume-wise Kilauea is one of the the world’s most massive mountains. Standing 1240 meters (4080) above sea level, the above-ocean part of the volcano is about 80 km (50 miles) long and 32 km, (20 miles) wide, along an axis trending roughly southwest to northeast. However, like all the other Hawaiian volcanoes, the great majority of its vast bulk lies below the sea, about 5.5 km (18,000 feet) deep here, making Kilauea’s true base-to-summit height about 7 km (23,000 ft).

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.

A lava flow from Kilauea blocks the highway at Kalapana Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Sometimes vying with Mts. Aetna and Stromboli for the title of “most active volcano on earth”, Kilauea has been erupting continuously since January 1983; between then and June 2009, nearly 700 acres of new land was created on Hawaii Island by Kilauea lava flows. As the time scale of human lives and human tragedy are so much shorter than geologic time scales, and thus human memories of past disasters grow dim rather rapidly, this volcanic growth has come at quite a cost because people insist on building villages, towns and roads on this highly active landscape. In recent decades, the towns of Kapoho (in 1960), Kalapana (in 1990), and Kaimu (in 1990) have all been burned, buried and destroyed by Kilauea, and now are seemingly all but abandoned except by a few hardy souls. Although popularly thought to be rather tame with fairly peaceable eruptions, Kilauea in the past has had its fair share of explosive, violent, phreatomagmatic eruptions, spewing great quantities of ash as well.

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 summit of Kilauea Volcano with the much more massive Mauna Loa looming in the background, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Kilauea owes its peculiar shape to two long rift systems, the currently active East Rift and the Southwest Rift. These rifts are comprised of huge, deep fractures through the bulk of the mountain. Magma rises from deep below the volcano to a pool just below the summit caldera, then flows through internal plumbing down either rift, causing flank eruptions at vents down-rift. These flank eruptions greatly enhance Kilauea’s exaggerated elongate shape. In recent times, many more eruptions have occurred along the East Rift, than the Southwest Rift.

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.

A patch of sunlight illuminates the nearly 1400 feet of throw on the Holei Pali fault scarp, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

The orientation of these rifts is controlled by the geography of Mauna Loa and Kilauea, as well as by gravity. Because the north side of Kilauea is well buttressed by the huge mass of Mauna Loa and the unsupported south side slopes-off into the sea, the very mass of Kilauea is pulling it down slope, into the sea. Indeed, the sub-sea, southern slope of Kilauea is a vast, hummocky field of debris from enormous landslides. Above sea level, this slumping activity is evidenced by the several, sub-parallel ridges (or “Pali”, in Hawaiian) on the southern flank. With throws of much as 430 meters (1400 feet), these faults represent the massive fracturing of the volcano’s southern flank and the subsequent slumping of these giant blocks down slope. A drive down the Holei Pali along Chain of Craters Road will quickly demonstrate the magnitude of seaward movement as Kilauea erupts, slumps and grows.

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 Kilauea Iki Crater, within the much more massive Kilauea Caldera, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Seaward slumping is exacerbated by the volcanic activity itself; as Kilauea fills with magma, it swells and slumps southward, producing massive earthquakes and landslides. The slumping, however, also exacerbates the volcanic activity. By opening-up new voids in Kilauea’s internal plumbing, the slumping allows injection of even more magmatic material into Kilauea, which then causes more earthquakes and more slumping. Essentially spreading under its own enormous weight, the synergy between magma injection and slumping allows Kilauea to grow both by eruption of, and intrusion of, magma.

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.

A pahoehoe lava flow sizzles into the sea at La'epuki on Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

The supply of magma to the volcano is fairly consistent at 1.8 cubic km (1.0 cubic miles) per year, however forty to fifty per cent of the melt never makes its way to the surface. Called “endogenous growth”, nearly half the growth of Kilauea can be attributed to magma cooling and solidifying below ground, in the growing voids opened by the synergistic magma injection and seaward slumping of the mountain.

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 out over Kilauea Caldera from the back porch of Volcano House, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Conjoined on its northern flank by the vastly larger Mauna Loa, Kilauea doesn’t appear to the casual observer to have a true summit. However, the summit region, around which Crater Rim Drive circles, is comprised of a larger collapse crater (Kilauea Caldera), which contains three smaller collapse craters (Halema’uma’u, Keanakako’i and Kilauea Iki Craters). Collapse craters, such as here and those along Chain of Craters Road, are formed when magma is withdrawn from a reservoir during an eruption, and the suddenly unsupported land above simply collapses into the void. As you look out over the enormous cavity formed by Kilauea Caldera, imagine the immensity of the eruptive event that left enough of a void in the magma chamber to allow this huge crater to form.

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.

Offerings to the Goddess Pele at Halema'uma'u Crater in Kilauea Caldera, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Kilauea’s large magma pool lies just below the summit region, somewhat south of Halema’uma’u Crater, at a depth of about 1.5-5 km (1-3 miles). Forming a magma reservoir several kilometers wide, it acts as central storage for the entire summit-rift magma plumbing system. Partial melting in the mantle at a depth of 40-60 km (52-30 miles) produces magma which rises through the earth and pools within a couple kilometers or so of the surface, and which then flows almost immediately to the site of eruption (summit or flank), having very little residence time within the volcano itself. This “open door to the mantle” feature is a fairly unique to Kilauea Volcano.

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.

Pu'u O'o Vent on Kilauea in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Shannon Walker

Based on eruptive patterns in recorded history, Kilauea has been observed to follow three shifting modes of eruptive behavior. The first mode involves explosive volcanism at Kilauea’s summit. This activity contributed to the formation of past and present calderas in the summit area as well as having showered Ka’u with a cover of cinder and ash. The second mode is continuous effusive eruptive activity at the summit. This mode is typified by features such as the former lava lake at the summit which was present well into historic times, and events such as voluminous outpouring of lava from several summit vents. This mode tends to fill-in summit calderas and produce a landscape of broad, coalescing shields atop the various vents. The third mode of eruption is the continuous flank eruption, as seen today on the East Rift at vents such as Pu’u O’o and Kupaianaha.

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.

A view into the vent at Kupaianaha on Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

These modes are derived from observation of the volcano’s activity only during modern times, and almost certainly Kilauea’s behavior over geologic time must be much more complex. Rather than a view of the evolution of Kilauea Volcano, these modes may serve more as template through which to view what the volcano is capable of doing. It has been observed that periods of volcanic quiescence, or of small eruptions which shift location from summit to flank, may herald a shift in these eruptive modes. Further, it has been suggested based on recent observations that large, south-flank earthquakes initiating magma intrusion can greatly alter eruptive modes.

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 at Halema'uma'u Crater from Steaming Bluff, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

So, now that we understand a little of the mystery and complexity of Kilauea Volcano, where is the best place to see it from? For starters, one cannot beat the view off the back porch of Volcano House in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which encompasses much of Kilauea Caldera and Halema’uma’u Crater. Although currently closed between Jagger Museum and the intersection with Chain of Craters Road because of the ongoing eruption in Halema’uma’u Crater, the portion of Crater Rim Drive which is open provides a unique view of the volcano in a scenic loop around the entire summit region. Of particular interest are the stops at Steaming Bluff, Jagger Museum, Halema’uma’u Crater (closed), Southwest Rift Zone (closed), Keanakako’i Crater (closed), and Kilauea Iki Crater Overlook.

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 at the trail across Kilauea Iki Crater, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Driving across the summit dome and down to the slump-block cliffs on Hilina Pali Road takes you on a fabulous backcountry exploration from a nether-world of volcanic destruction and to lush, tropical dryland forest and savanna. Hikes along Devastation Trail, through Kilauea Iki Crater and out to the caldera overlook at Waldron Ledge give fabulous insight to Kilauea Volcano and are particularly beautiful as well as fascinating, and fairly easy for those in reasonable physical condition.

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.

View down the slump blocks that comprise the Hilina Pali, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Aside from the summit region, the Chain of Craters Road travels through the most interesting geography of Kilauea, including lava flows from numerous recent eruptions. Although everywhere fascinating, stops at Pauahi Crater, Mauna Ulu and Muliwai O Pele are almost mandatory. As mentioned earlier, this drive gives stark perspective on the slump blocks and the slippage of Kilauea’s south flank toward the sea. Stops at Kealakomo Overlook, Halona Kahakai, Alanui Kahiko and Holei Pali illustrate the vast nature of the slow creep of Kilauea’s southern flank down-slope. A stop to see the amazing, ancient petroglyphs at Pu’u Loa Petroglyph Field provides a moving, human connection to the peoples of the past, the awe and respect they had for this Goddess and her mountain home. The end of Chain of Craters Road gives way to a playground of geological landscapes, booming sea cliffs and ancient villages, as well as providing the jumping-off point for hikes to see the flowing lava, when it is flowing within the Park boundaries.

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 eruption of Kilauea at Halema'uma'u from Jagger Museum, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

A complete guide to exploring Hawaii Volcanoes National Park can be found here; you should plan to spend the better part of a full day in the park—unless you’ve been here before, it will be the most interesting place you’ve ever been to yet. Viewing the flowing lava, the spectacle of the earth remaking herself, is one of the most moving, soul-filling, surprisingly emotional experiences you can have. The current eruption in Halema’uma’u Crater, although it hasn’t yet produced any lava flows, is best viewed from the Jagger Museum; at times of peak activity, it is most spectacular when viewed after dark. Guides to Lava Viewing in the Park and at the County of Hawaii Lava Viewing platform east in Puna at Waikupanaha can be found here and here respectively. A general outline of the volcanoes of Hawaii Island is presented here, a brief discussion on the differences between a’a and pahoehoe lavas can be found here, and an overview geologic history of the Hawaiian Islands can be found here.

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.

A hiker watches lava from Kilauea Volcano flow into the ocean at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Perhaps no other volcano in the world, certainly no active volcano, is so easy to explore, to touch, to experience. If you come to see Kilauea, home of the Goddess Pele, be sure to give yourself a lot of time—you’ll be more captivated than you expect; certainly you’ve never experienced anything like this before. Come, explore, enjoy, stand at her door and breath the breath of the Fire Goddess.

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 plume from littoral explosions where lava from Kilauea Volcano enters the sea at Waikupanaha, Hawaii: 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.

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 the Mauna Ulu Crater, Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

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.

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.

The steam cloud at Waikupanaha where lava fro,m Kilauea meets the sea, Hawaii: Photo 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.

The County of Hawaii Lava Viewing Platform at Waikupanaha, Hawaii: Photo 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.

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

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 down into Kilauea Caldera from Waldron Ledge, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

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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.

The Mauna Ulu A'a and Pahoehoe Lava Flows at Alanui Kahiko, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Graphic from Photo by Donnie 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.

Pahoehoe flow at night on Kilauea, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo Courtesy of Big Island Air

Pahoehoe, A’a, Pele’s Tears and Pele’s Hair

It is obvious to even the most causal observer that various lava formations and lava fields of Hawaii display two distinctly different types of lava flows. Some flows are very smooth, with obvious, well-preserved flow structures, looking almost like poured taffy that has hardened. Others appear more clunky, clinkery and jagged like a field of sharp boulders and cobbles. These two unique rock types result from two distinctly different types of lava flows, Pahoehoe and A’a.

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.

Pahoehoe lava flow, showing well-developed flow structures at La'epuki, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

The onomatopoetic word “pahoehoe” flows across your tongue in the same fashion that pahoehoe lava flows down the volcano. Gelatinous and smooth, it looks a bit like small waves with bulbous, lobate “toes” at the front of the flow. As the advancing lobe cools, a thin crust forms on its surface. This crust is expanded and broken by the pressure of lava flowing in behind, in a continually advancing flow. A distinctive breaking-glass sound is made when that cooling crust fractures, which can be disorienting and surprising at first.

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.

A flowing field of pahoehoe lava, note the intense orange glow just under the chilled surface, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

The Hawaiian word “pahoehoe” means “to paddle a canoe vigorously” or “well stirred” and indeed, pahoehoe lava has the look of water being furiously paddled by canoeists, or indeed, of well-stirred poi. These highly fluid pahoehoe flows form from the hottest lava with high dissolved fluid content. As the lava cools and de-gasses, the second kind of flow, a’a lava, is formed from it.

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.

An a'a lava flow, piled up on a pahoehoe flow in front of Pu'u Huluhulu, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

A’a flows travel along as a dense mass of highly viscous lava covered in sharp, broken shards called clinkers. Like a tractor tread, a’a clinkers fall off the advancing front of the flow and are buried as the flow moves forward over them, sounding for all the world like a herd of wild bulls has run amok in the world’s largest china shop.

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 Kuamo'o Battlefield, near Kailua Kona Hawaii is an example of a Hawaiian battle that was fought on an a'a flow. Note the large Hawaiian tombs made of a'a: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

A’a lava, which cools to great piles of razor sharp clinkers, has given rise to the myth that its name derives from Hawaiian’s walking across the cooled a’a barefoot, wincing and saying “Ah! Ah!” with every cringing step. In fact, the word “a’a” in Hawaiian not only means “to blaze or glow” but also “to dare or challenge”. It is a testament to the toughness of Hawaiian warriors that when choosing the site for a battle field, inevitably they chose to fight on an a’a field—using the razor sharp a’a strewn along the landscape as a weapon in and of itself.

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.

An a'a lava flow engulfs pahoehoe lava flow at Alanui Kahiko, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Flows generally emerge from the volcano as pahoehoe and change to a’a as they cool and de-gas or as they are subjected to stress and strain forces. It is especially common to find pahoehoe flows changing to a’a in the midst of a steep drop over a cliff, or when butted-up against an impediment to flow. Like the cucumber becoming a pickle, once pahoehoe turns to a’a, in can never turn back into pahoehoe.

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.

Littoral explosions cause lava to splatter out into the blowing wind where Pele's Tears and Pele's Hair can form, Waikupanaha, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Where fire fountains and geysers of lava occur, Pele’s hair and Pele’s tears will form. Pele’s hair are thin, fiber-like strands of basalt glass pulled and spun from the lava fountain by the blowing wind,. Pele’s tears are the droplet-sized, cooled splashes of basalt glass that from from showering, spraying lava.

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.

Pele's Hair from Kilauea Volcano, 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.

Pele's Tears from Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii: 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.
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.

Pahoehoe lava flowing on Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii, showing large-scale flow structures: Photo Courtesy of Big Island Air

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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”.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

The Hapuna Prince Hotel at Hapuna Beach, Kohala Coast Hawaii: 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.

Awesome, Sumptuous Hapuna Beach

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Aerial photo by Hapuna Beach, Kohala Coast Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Always rated in the Top 10 of American beaches, Hapuna Beach with it’s crystalline turquoise waters is the premiere beach destination on the Island of Hawai’i. A half-mile long, wide arc of phenomenal coral sand, it has everything one dreams of in a Hawai’ian beach: abundant sun, surf, clean, clear and quiet snorkeling water, palm-tree shade and well-maintained facilities.

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Hapuna Beach early in the morning, Kohala Coast, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

North of Kailua Kona along the Kohala Coast, the turnoff to Hapuna Beach is immediately south of the 69 Mile Marker on Highway 19. Follow the signs down to the end of the road, turn left and then right to parking. Parking is impossible after 10 a.m. on weekends and not much better on weekdays. Get there early!

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Hapuna is the ultimate family beach on Hawaii, Kohala Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

The center of the beach is for wave play and boogie boarding, the north and south coves are quieter, for snorkeling or gentle floating. There is a small coral garden leading to amazing underwater topography and a large reef around the point on the south end of the beach.

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Hapuna Beach, Kohala Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Although most of the shore is relatively free of currents, only experienced snorkelers who are strong swimmers will want to snorkel around the south end of Hapuna, past a sea arch and to the reef and cove of Waialea Beach (Beach 69)—a long, but rewarding swim with some of the most incredible underwater vistas available to the snorkeler in the word.

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Sunbathing at Hapuna Beach, Kohala Coast Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

As with all Kohala Beaches, it tends to get windy in the afternoon and there is generally a cloud cover by 2. Don’t fret; go take a hike around the rocks on the south side of the beach to the sea arch, take a nap in the shady grass fields, cook a big barbecue lunch—just be sure to stay here until sunset. I’m not joking. The sunset from Hapuna Beach, with Haleakala on Maui glowing golden-purple in the sea, is by itself worth the price of first class airfare to Hawaii. Do not forget your camera.

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It's a long hike from the parking lot to Hapuna Beach, plan ahead, Kohala Coast Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Within the park exist several pavilions, barbecues, picnic tables, restrooms, showers and a small vendor with some food and beach supplies. Don’t use the restrooms by the upper parking lot nor the ones on the south side of of the beach. Trust me. There are small camping cabins for rent behind the parking lot available for $30 a night. If you rent one, be prepared to thoroughly swab it out before you occupy it. Lifeguards are on duty sometimes, even though the sign on the north lifeguard tower says “No Lifeguard on Duty”.

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Hapuna is Hawaii's Most Popular Beach, Kohala Coast, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Although most patrons must walk about 100 yards down a path from the parking lot, Handicapped Parking exists right on the beach. If you arrive with a lot of gear, it is permissible to drive to the handicapped lot, unload your gear (and leave a person to watch it) then go park in the regular parking.

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Lost in translation, Hapuna Beach, Kohala Coast Hawaii: Photo by Donnie 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.
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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.

Playtime at Hapuna Beach, Kohala Coast Hawaii: Graphic from Photo by Donald B MacGowan

by Donald B. MacGowan

 

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Kilauea Lava Stream at Night: Photo courtesy of Big Island Air

There area 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.

 

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Amanda Maus at Thurston Lava Tube, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Uncle Donnie MacGowan

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

The Pacific Ocean and Waikupanaha Ocean Entry Explosion Plume at the End of Chain of Craters Road, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

This day trip may be made a part of a longer scenic drive, including the wonders of Puna and lava viewing at Waikupanaha; after reading this article, please go here.

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Dusk at the Waikupanaha Lava Ocean Entry, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

A Scenic Drive Through Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park

Introduction

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

La'epuki Lava Ocean Entry, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park is a magical, spiritual, wondrous, strange and beautiful place comprised of great contrasts and contradictions: dry as dust desert to teeming tropical jungle; frigid sub-arctic wasteland to steaming black sand beaches to rivers of flowing lava.

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Kilauea Crater and Eruption of Halema'uma'u, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

The star attractions in the Park are a pair of active volcanoes; Mauna Loa is the largest mountain on earth and Kilauea is most active volcano on earth. However, there are numerous other wonders from lava tubes to crawl down, black sand beaches with sea turtles to watch, mysterious petroglyph fields to explore, tropical jungles to hike through, endangered bird species to find, happy-face spiders to amuse and an otherworldly volcanic landscape so fresh it’s still steaming.

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Hikers warily approach a stagnant lava flow whose surface is still glowing gently, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. During daylight hours, an access fee is charged. The Visitor Center has a 24-hour information line at 808.985.6000 and there is a 24-hour eruption hotline at 808.987.8862. Within the Park tune to A.M. radio 530 for continuous information broadcast. There are tourist items available for sale, and one restaurant and in the park; however, generally, shopping, restaurants and gasoline are mainly only available in the nearby village of Volcano.

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Mauna Loa Looms over the Ka'u Desert, in Spring Bloom, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

There are four main roads which access most of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: the Mauna Loa Scenic road, which lies above the visitor’s center and winds up the slopes of Mauna Loa; Crater Rim Drive which circumnavigates the summit crater of Kilauea Volcano; Chain of Craters Road which runs down the southeast rift zone along a series of volcanoes and pit craters to the ocean and Hilina Pali Road, which cuts across Kilauea Volcano to the cliffs along the sea.

Mauna Loa Scenic Road

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View of Mauna Loa from the Mauna Loa Scenic Road, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

This gateway to the southern flank of the world’s largest mountain, Mauna Loa, lies about 2 ½ miles west of the main entrance to the park. The road traverses lava desert, ohi’a scrub savanna, fern forest and ends at the start of the hiking trail to the icy heights of Mauna Loa’s summit.

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Lava Tree Molds, Mauna Loa Scenic Road, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

A small fork road heading east just after the start of Mauna Loa Road leads to a series of tree molds that formed when lava poured through the deep tropical forest. The trees were too wet to burn and the lava simply cooled around the trunks. Later, as the trees rotted, these unusual, deep pit molds were left behind. Definitely worth a visit, there are even pit toilets available at the Tree Molds.

About 1 ½ miles further along Mauna Loa Road is Bird Park, or Kipuka Puaulu. A forested island in a giant lava flow, this micro-ecosystem preserves forest plants and animals and is a haven to many bird members of Hawai’i’s endangered species. Cool, quiet, restful and inviting, there is a one-mile nature trail around this tropical forest oasis.

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Looking into a Lava Tree Mold, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Mauna Loa Road is closed at various elevations at various times due to fire hazard. If one has the time and an adventurous heart, it is well worth the trip to drive to the end of the road and perhaps even hike a ways up it. The start of the Mauna Loa summit trail is here, but for even hardy hikers, that goal is at least two days hard hiking distant. The world’s largest active volcano is a LOT bigger than it looks! More about the Mauna Loa Scenic Road can be found here.

Crater Rim Drive

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Sunrise Mauna Loa from Crater Rim Drive, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

A fine introduction to the wonders of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Crater Rim Drive circles the summit crater of Kilauea Volcano, including Halema’uma’u Crater, the home of Madame Pele. The drive runs 11 fabulous and amazing miles through arid, barren volcanic desert, ohi’a forest and grassland and lush fern jungle. The most interesting sites along the drive are the Visitor’s Center, Jagger Museum, Halema’uma’u Crater, Kilauea Iki Crater, Devastation Trail and Thurston Lava Tube. Although the circuit can be made in under 40 minutes, one should allow at least three hours even to begin to explore this fantastic place; if you have never been here before, you certainly have never seen anything like it. Many people who plan to rush through the Park find themselves utterly engrossed, wind up spending much more time than they planned here and extemporaneously changing their plans, cutting time from some other attraction. Best plan to spend sufficient time here in the first place.

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Halema'uma'u Crater, The Home of Madame Pele: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Experience has shown that the impact of the landscape is much greater if the drive is done anti-clockwise

Below are some suggested highlights along Crater Rim Drive. The road currently is closed between Jagger Museum and the intersection with Chain of Craters Road due to the eruption in Halema’uma’u Crater. Also, bear in mind that there are no services available along Crater Rim Drive, except for restrooms, drinking water and the book shop at Jagger Museum.

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Frank Burgess Browses the Kilauea Visitor's Center Book Shop at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Kilauea Visitor Center: Newly remodeled and updated, the Kilauea Visitor’s Center is an outstanding resource of information on Hawaii’s volcanoes and the National Park; the not-to-be-missed first stop in the park you must make. The Center is run by enthusiastic and knowledgeable staff that has the most up-to-date information on viewing the eruption, hiking and camping, bird watching, stargazing and just about any other topic of interest to Park visitors. Available for sale in the Center are maps, guidebooks, books and videos about the volcanoes, Hawai’iana, history, plants and every topic you can imagine pertinent to the Park, even souvenirs. There are free brochures and pamphlets on various trails, attractions, hiking safety and lava viewing hazards and precautions.

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Visitors Inspect the 3-D Physiographic Map of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park at the Kilauea Visitor's Center: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

The Visitor Center is open daily from 7:45 a.m. to 5 p.m.; there are public restrooms, water and pay phones available. Starting at 9 a.m. and showing every hour on the hour is a 20 minute informative movie about the Park; the film changes from time to time, but always contains spectacular footage of eruptions, information on volcanology and the natural and human history of the Park. For information, please call their Info Hot line at 808.985.6000.

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The Halema'uma'u Eruption from the Jagger Museum, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Jagger Museum and Hawai’i Volcano Observatory: Famed for its fabulous views of Mauna Loa and Kilauea as much as for its interesting exhibits, The Jagger Museum (named for geologist Thomas A. Jagger) is open daily from 8:30a.m. to 5:00p.m. Exhibits include murals by Herb Kawainui Kane, seismograph charts of eruptions and earthquakes, geological displays and displays about the natural and human history of the Park.

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Jagger Museum Parking lot is near a Nesting Ground for the Endangered Nene Goose, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

When entering the parking lot of the Museum/Observatory, be especially careful of the Federally-protected Hawaii Goose, the Nene, who seem to congregate here. The Nene is the State Bird of Hawai’i, and this parking lot and its surrounding area constitute one of the best places for viewing them.

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Everett Maynard Explores the Entrance to Thurston Lava Tube, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Thurston Lava Tube: Nahuku, the Thurston Lava Tube, gives the visitor an opportunity for a close-at-hand inspection of the inner plumbing of a volcano. It also makes for an interesting and unique way to escape the noonday heat or afternoon shower, briefly. Lava tubes form when the outer crust of a flowing river of lava begins to cool and crust over, but the lava continues to flow beneath it; as the margins of the flow begin to cool and form walls growing towards the middle, the nascent tube is formed. When the flow has completely drained away, the lava tube is left behind.

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Inside Thurston Lava Tube, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Thurston lava tube is a remarkably large, well-preserved and accessible example of a lava tube-type cave. An easy, 0.3 mile trail (about a 15 minute hike) winds through lush fern forest alive with singing birds and buzzing insects, down into a collapse crater entering the lava tube and slipping about 300 feet through the well-lighted, floored cave, popping up through a skylight in the tube and returning to the parking lot. A very easy walk and certainly a “must see” for any visitor to the park.

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Eric Carr Enters Thurston Lava Tube, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

When Lorrin Thurston, founder of the Honolulu Advertiser, found the cave in 1913, the roof reportedly was covered with stalactites, now there are none—it is said that rapacious tourists removed every one in the intervening years.

More about Crater Rim Drive can be found here.

Chain of Craters Road

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Rainbow at Kealakomo Overlook, Chain of Craters Road, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Following along Kilauea’s East Rift Zone, Chain of Craters Road passes through an amazing array of rift volcanoes, pit craters, lava trenches and flow fields. This road traverses and opens-up some of the most wild and beautiful landscapes seen anywhere, terminating near the active lava flows from Kilauea Volcano. Perhaps nowhere else on earth are the elements high mountains, wild seascapes and active volcanoes and their lava flows more dramatically displayed. Altogether, Chain of Craters Road is a singular and essential addition to any visit to the Island of Hawai’i. Crazily switching-back repeatedly down the Holei Pali, Chain of Craters Road finally reaches the untamed and scenically wild coastline, where giant waves spray and spume over sea cliffs dozens of feet high. Towering steam plumes in the distance at the end of the road mark where unimaginably hot liquid rock pours into the wild, wild sea. A place of mystery, a place of power, a place of wonder

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Pitiful Remnant of a Once Enormous Rain Forest on the Holei Pali, Now Surrounded By Fresh Lava: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Once connecting Volcano Village through the Park to Puna and State Routes 130 and 137 at Kalapana, Chain of Craters Road has repeatedly been badly damaged by earthquake, buried in lava, re-routed and re-built and broken up and buried again. The current eruption, which began in 1983, has buried a significant portion of the currently-closed nine miles of road between its temporary end inside the Park and the eastern closure at the town of Kalapana, outside the eastern edge of the Park. The road is now closed at the 19-mile marker, right at Holei Sea Arch.

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Visitors Walk Through the Pu'u Loa Petroglyph Field, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Collapse features, such as the numerous “pit craters” found along the Chain of Craters Road, form when lava drains out of subterranean chambers, causing the surface to collapse. Notice how all the debris seems to point downward into the bottom of the crater; there is no material around the rim of the crater that is suggestive of eruptive or explosive events. On the walls of the crater, one can see numerous, inter-layered, pre-collapse lava flows and airfall beds that were truncated by the collapse and exposed.

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Petroglyphs at Pu'u Loa, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

If a car ride back up the pali can be arranged, riding bicycles round Crater Rim Drive and down Chain of Craters road can be a momentous and fun excursion. Starting slightly above 4200 feet in elevation and ending at virtually sea level, this 22 mile drop from misty mountain cloud forest, running through tropical rain forest and into tropical desert is invigorating physically, stunning visually and makes a wonderfully memorable addition to any visit to the Island of Hawai’i. However, if you decide to pedal the 4200 feet elevation and 22 miles back up Chain of Craters Road to Kilauea Summit in the heat of day, this will also ensure a quite memorable, though far less pleasant, addition to your visit.

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Sea Cliffs, Sea Arches, Wild Surf and Magnificent Bird Watching Near the End of Chain of Craters Road, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

There are no services, water, food or gasoline available along the length of Chain of Craters Road. Do not underestimate the draw of this area on your imagination and your spirit; you WILL spend more time here than you think. Plan ahead, get food, water and gas before venturing down the road. Remember, after dark on the South side of Hawai’i Island, it is virtually impossible to find gasoline or food for sale along the highway between Volcano Village west to Kona or north to Kea’au.

For more about Chain of Craters Road, please go here.

Hilina Pali Road

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Vast Ocean Vistas and Incredible Sunsets are Some of the Rewards for Exploring Hilina Pali Road, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

At 2.2 miles down Chain of Craters Road is the turn off to the Hilina Pali Road. This road is 9 miles of some of the most spectacular, lonely and striking scenery in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. Spectacular coastal views, strangely-colored rock and twisted trees under weird skies make this an fantastic side trip for exploration and photography. Be especially careful when driving this road, it is mostly only one lane and there are more people enjoying this trip through the backcountry than you might think.

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Kulanaokuaiki Campground on Hilina Pali Road, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

About halfway to Hilina Pali Overlook is the Kulanaokuaiki Campground. Set amongst rifts, collapse features and flows, this desert campground is secluded and spectacular. Driving further across the broad lava flows, past panoramic vistas of Mauna Loa, along the spectacular drop-off of the Hilina Pali (literally “cliff of faith”), one comes to the Hilina Pali Overlook, a great place for a picnic or short hike.

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Mauna Loa from Hilina Pali Road, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Connecting with several longer trails across the Ka’u Desert, Kilauea Crater, or down the Pali to such abandoned coastal villages as Halape and Keauhou, the Hilina Pali Overlook is the central cross-roads of back-packing trails which crisscross the park.

 

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Spectacular coastal views, strangely-colored rock and twisted trees under weird skies make Hilina Pali Road a fantastic side trip, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Hilina Pali Road, due to its remoteness and lack of bus traffic, is a great place for a mountain bike ride, birding, or just getting away from crowds and tours. There are magnificent views, heart-stopping sunsets and pit toilets at the Campground and Overlook,. There is no water or other services available. Hilina Pali is a nesting place for the endangered Nene, the Hawai’i State bird, which is related to the Canada Goose. Hilina Pali Road may be closed during Nene nesting season.

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Devil's Throat, Just Across Chain of Crater's Road from the Hilina Pali Road Intersection: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Less than 1/10 of a mile from Hilina Pali road is the unmarked Devil’s Throat collapse crater…an excitingly vertically-sided pit that is worth the visit just for the “okole squeezing” peering down the throat will give you. More about Hilina Pali Road can be found here.

End of Chain of Craters Road

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Holei Sea Arch, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

The end of Chain of Craters Road is currently at the 19 mile marker near the Holei Sea Arch. This is where the road was cut off by flowing lava which also destroyed the 2 million dollar Visitor Center. When the lava is flowing near the road, one can walk right up to it. There are displays about the volcano and natural history of the area, as well as a wealth of information on hiking to, and viewing, the lava, available here.

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Hiking to the La'epuki Lava Ocean Entry from the End of Chain of Craters Road, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Hiking all the way out to the active flows is one of the most spiritually rewarding, awe-inspiring, curiosity quenching and amazing things one can do anywhere in the world—but it is neither for the physically unfit nor the meek of spirit. It is a long, hot hike (currently seven miles) over broken ground and glass-sharp rocks; the heat from the volcano is savage; the weather, if clear, is sweltering…frequent squalls blow in off the ocean and the rain and wind can get pretty wild out on the lava plain where there is absolutely no cover or shelter to protect you. No water or shade is available anywhere along the hike. Plan assiduously before you go, make sure you have TWO working flashlights per person for the long hike back in the dark.  For specific information about hiking to the lava flows from the end of Chain of Craters Road, please go here.   More about activities and sights at the end of Chain of Craters Road can be found here.

Lava Viewing Near Kalapana

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Yet another lava viewing photo from Waikupanaha, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

At this time, there is nowhere else can you see lava flowing from a volcano into the sea; no Big Island visit is complete without seeing this awe-inspiring show. Currently lava is only flowing into the sea outside the Park. From the belt Highway, turn south at Kea’au on Highway 130, continuing through Pahoa to the 20 mile marker; take the exit clearly marked “Lava Viewing”, a right branch about, for two miles to the parking area. Port-a-potties are available here. The road is open from 2 p.m. until 10; no cars allowed in after 8. Lava viewing information is available from Hawaii County at 808.961.8093; check conditions before you go. The easy trail, a 20 minute stroll to the viewing area, is well-marked.

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Littoral Explosion Plume at Waikupanaha Lava Ocean Entry, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

The quality of viewing varies as lava flows nearer or farther from the trail. Viewing is best at dusk so bring flashlights for the hike out. Take close-toed walking shoes and a hat, long pants and long-sleeved shirt, at least 2 liters of water, sun block and a rain jacket and camera. It’s a good idea to bring a tripod for your camera, or your shots will be blurred. Remember food and gas are not available anywhere nearby after dark, so fill up BEFORE you park, bring snacks and drinks. There are port-a-potties available at the parking lot.  More about lava viewing at Kalapana can be found here.

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Kilauea Lava River, Hawaii: Photo Courtesy of Big Island Air

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.

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

The Best Lava Viewing at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is from the Air: Photo by Shannon Walker

Copyright 2009 by Donald B. MacGowan. All rights reserved.