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By Donnie MacGowan

Lava from Kilauea Volcano flows into the ocean at one of three ocean entries along the Puna Coastline near the former village of Kalapana: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Lava from Kilauea Volcano flows into the ocean at one of three ocean entries along the Puna Coastline near the former village of Kalapana: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Lava continues to to gush unabated from Kilauea Volcano on the big Island of Hawaii through the former village of Kalapana into the Pacific Ocean, yielding one of the volcano’s best spectacles of the last ten years.  That’s the good news.

This is about all you can see from the Kalapana Lava Viewing Area, August 2010: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

This is about all you can see from the Kalapana Lava Viewing Area, August 2010: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

The bad news is you cannot see any of it from the County of Hawaii Lava Viewing Area.  This is not the County’s fault; the entire area is not only private property, but also highly unstable and ferociously dangerous.

For obvious reasons, trespassing on private property is not an option, here.  Further, Big Island Mayor Billy Kenoi has promised the residents whose homes are in danger of being engulfed that he will not turn their personal tragedy into a public spectacle by opening up the area to casual tourism.

My PhD is in geology and I have spent years wandering the lava flows here and on other volcanoes around the world; I find that I really cannot recommend that folks casually stroll about this area without a basic understanding of some of the hazards. The extreme danger results from several factors. The active lava flow, especially in the vicinity of the County of Hawaii Lava Viewing Area where it is most accessible, is currently surrounded by an enormous area (perhaps 20 or more square miles) of what is called “dim lava”.  This is lava that, mostly still liquid and incredibly hot, has more or less “ponded”, or virtually stopped moving, and has developed about a foot or so crust on top of the still liquid lava.  As such it appears deceptively safe to walk on but actually it is exceptionally dangerous to cross.  Nobody would be foolish enough to walk on lava that is obviously still liquid, but many are tempted to cross the solid-appearing dim lava.  This is extremely, shall we say, stupid; dim lava is highly unstable, subject to rapid changes bringing great masses of liquid rock to the surface and is very, very dangerous.  During daylight hours it is difficult to tell the dim lava from flows that have been solid and cold for years, but one misstep can take you through a thin spot in the crust and into 2000 degree liquid.  The glow from the liquid rock can frequently be seen through cracks in the surface at night, giving you warning that you are on extremely dangerous ground.  Although at times people seem to navigate dim lava safely, it would not be wise for me to advise anyone to venture out onto it.

Dim lava in the light of camera flash: note that you can see no glow at all, erroneously leading you to suspect that, although it's warm, these rocks are safe to walk on: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Dim lava in the light of camera flash: note that you can see no glow at all, erroneously leading you to suspect that, although it's warm, these rocks are safe to walk on: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

The same dim lava in the dark: note the glow indicating the presence of dangerous, liquid lava mere inches below the ground surface: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

The same dim lava in the dark: note the glow indicating the presence of dangerous, liquid lava mere inches below the ground surface: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Additionally, lava is much more viscous than water and flows a bit differently…sometimes, not all the liquid lava is below you.  When scouring a route past the dim lava last week, we were wandering between two lava “hillocks” on long-cooled rock, when we noticed that, ten feet above our heads, was the tell-tale glow of dim lava that had infiltrated the hillocks and could, at any moment, break out and spread over the ground we were walking on.  A very, very dangerous situation and one we immediately remedied by beating a hasty, safe retreat.  No one wins an argument with flowing lava.

A forest fire burns hungrily where the lava stream is burning through the thick jungle kipuka: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

A forest fire burns hungrily where the lava stream is burning through the thick jungle kipuka: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

The second prevalent hazard are the forest fires burning where the lava flows through jungle, especially surrounding the lava ocean entries, the most spectacular part of the flow and the place most people are trying to get to.  The danger from the fires is obvious, but what is not obvious is the fact that methane gas, extremely explosive, accumulates ahead of the flow under the ground surface in forested areas.  Every so often (and without warning), there will be a large methane explosion (in and of itself highly dangerous) that can blow enormous chunks of fiery-red hot liquid lava and solid rock thousands of feet.

Littoral Explosion at Waikupanaha, County of Hawaii Lava Viewing Area, October, 2009: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Another hazard is the littoral explosions.  Littoral explosions occur when hot, liquid lava meets the cold ocean water, mostly where lava tubes empty under the ocean.  Littoral explosions can hurl hot solid and molten liquid material hundreds of meters and are best given about half kilometer leeway. These hazardous explosions were once common at the Waikupanaha Lava Viewing Area, but there are currently no explosions occurring in the Kalapana Lava Viewing Area.  Just because littoral explosions are not occurring today, however, does not mean they could not start again instantly.

Plume and Waterspout at Waikupanaha Ocean Entry, Puna Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Plume and Waterspout at Waikupanaha Ocean Entry, Puna Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Finally, although not common, it is worth bearing in mind that the extremes of temperature of the mixing air, rock and water, the amount of particulate matter and vapor injected into the atmosphere and other weirdly perturbed variables around the ocean entries can cause bizarre weather phenomena, such as waterspouts and highly localized lightning.

Your best bet is to heed the advice of the County of Hawaii Public Safety professionals: do not cross private property, stay off of the dim lava and stay away from where the lava streams cut through burning jungle.  You put your life, and those of any foolish enough to assist you when you get in trouble, at extreme risk.

A large lava stream flows over a falls, Kalapana Hawaii August 2010: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

A large lava stream flows over a falls, Kalapana Hawaii August 2010: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

So…is it possible to see the lava flow without paying a boat captain or pilot to take you safely to the shores’ edge?  In a word, yes.  One can hike along the shoreline from the end of the road at Kalapana (by the new Kaimu Beach), but is is extremely difficult and very, very dangerous. A complete discussion of hiking to see the lava can be found here and here. The route follows the coast on razor sharp basalt, rough, broken and unforgiving, and there is no trail.  The way is at least 5 miles long in each direction of hard, hard hiking and includes about a mile of rank bush-whacking through very, very dense jungle that is not only easy to get lost in, but is on fire in some places.

Lava flows in the rain, Kalapana Hawaii August 2010: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Lava flows in the rain, Kalapana Hawaii August 2010: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

It is frequently quite rainy and, since the best viewing is at dawn or dusk, you are likely thinking about going at least one way in the dark.  Traveling this risky route in the dark and/or rain greatly magnifies the dangers.  Much of the way is jammed in a couple feet between a 60 foot cliff with unforgiving open ocean underneath and the dense jungle pressing you on the other side.  When it is dark or misty or raining, or when you are tired or not paying close enough attention, this is very hazardous.

A Lava Ribbon Flows Into the Ocean, Near Kalapana, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

A Lava Ribbon Flows Into the Ocean, Near Kalapana, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Hard and dangerous.

Honestly, I do not recommend you go at all.  Night after night of hiking in to see the lava, of all the people who set off from Kalapana around when we did, and the many, many we met returning, most turned around after only 3 or so miles of hard hiking over the lava.  Some turned around when they got hemmed in by the dim lava, not knowing to cut through the jungle to the shore; more got lost and wandered for hours in the jungle before turning around.  Many had been told by local residents that the walk was “only 20 minutes or so” and so set off in sandals, or with children, without water or rain gear. Be aware, the hike is, at minimum, two difficult hours in duration each way (due to the difficulty of the terrain), there is no marked trail or path and the rock is like razors if you slip on it.

Lava stream about to enter the ocean, Kalapana Hawaii, August 2010: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Lava stream about to enter the ocean, Kalapana Hawaii, August 2010: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Do not even attempt to hike along the shore to the flows unless you are in extremely good physical shape, confident of both your route-finding and cross country hiking abilities, you are equipped for rain, cuts and bruises, have plenty of water to drink and food.

Strange things seen at the lava flow...Kalapana Hawaii August 2010: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Strange things seen at the lava flow...Kalapana Hawaii August 2010: 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.
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.

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.

Hikers pause to look over the summit from Mauna Loa from the summit of Mauna Kea, 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.

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 from the summit of Hualalai to Mauna Loa Hawaii Photo by Donald B MacGowan

The Volcanoes of Hawaii Island

The Hawaiian Archipelago, part of the Hawaiian Island-Emperor Seamount chain, is the most isolated island group earth and is comprised entirely of volcanic islands and their fringing reefs.  The archipelago was formed as one of the Earth’s great tectonic plates, the Pacific Plate, moved steadily northwest over a stationary plume of molten material welling up from the Earth’s mantle, called a “hot spot”.

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.

Fumes bellow from skylights in an active lava tube on Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii Photo by Kelly Kuchman

Creating a chain of volcanic islands that, today, stretches from the Aleutian Islands to the Big Island of Hawaii, this hotspot gave rise to at least 129 separate volcanoes in the past 86 million years.  There are 19 islands and atolls, and dozens of separate islets, seamounts, reefs and shoals in the Hawaiian Island portion of this chain, stretching from Kure Atoll to Hawaii Island (please go here for a complete discussion of the geologic history of the Hawaiian Islands).

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

Hawai’i is the youngest island in the Archipelago and first began forming about a million years ago as volcanic vents opened above the mantle “hot spot” on the ocean bottom and molten lava began pouring onto the sea floor. Over the centuries, the making of the Big Island as we know it today eventually entailed the growth and conjoining of six separate volcanoes, building all the way up from the seafloor, some 18,000 feet below the ocean’s surface.  These volcanoes, from northwest to southeast, are named Mahukona, Kohala, Mauna Kea, Hualalai, Mauna Loa and Kilauea, and become younger as one moves north to south.

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

Mahukona Volcano, just off the Big Island’s northwest coast, was the first volcano to start forming. Now submerged beneath the surface of the ocean because it is sinking into the Earth’s crust under its own vast weight, Mahukona is no longer visible.  As the Pacific Plate slowly continued moving northwestward over the hotspot, the location of the rising magma moved relatively southeastward, and through time the rest of the Big Island volcanoes formed along that path.

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 Mountain from the slopes of Mauna Kea Photo by Donald B MacGowan

After Mahukona, Kohala Volcano, the precursor to today’s Kohala Mountain, erupted next.  As Kohala Volcano emerged from the sea and joined with Mahukona, a much larger Big Island began forming. With continued movement of the Pacific Plate, the center of volcanism migrated on to Mauna Kea and Hualalai, the middle-aged volcanoes, and finally on to Mauna Loa and Kilauea, which are the youngest volcanoes on the island.  Over the geologically short time of several hundred thousand years, these volcanoes erupted thousands of thin flows which spread over, and built upon, older flows; each volcano growing until it finally emerged from the sea. As time went on, lava flows from one volcano began to overlap flows from other, nearby volcanoes and eventually the peaks coalesced into a single island, the Big Island.

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

In geologically recent times, a new volcano, Lo’ihi, began forming about 18 miles off the southeast coast of the Big Island.  In time, Loihi may join its mass with that of Kilauea, again changing the size and shape of the Big Island.  It is estimated that Lo’ihi, whose summit lies approximately 3,178 feet below the surface of the ocean today, will begin to protrude above the surface in about 10,000 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.

Hualalai Volcano from Saddle Road, Hawaii Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Currently, the remnants of Mahukona and Kohala volcanoes are completely extinct; Hualalai and Mauna Kea are considered dormant and Mauna Loa, Kilauea and Loihi are still very active.   This means that eruptions of Mahukona and Kohala are not at all likely. Eruptions of Mauna Kea and Hualalai are probable at some time in the future, though the major phase of mountain building is over for these volcanoes.  Movement of the Pacific Plate has moved both Hualalai and Mauna Kea off the hot spot so only remnants of liquid magma reside beneath them. These late-stage, mature Hawaiian volcanoes experience violent, explosive eruptions which are spectacular but comparatively small, volume-wise.  Late-stage Hawaiian volcanic eruptions are characterized by crater-forming explosions, tephra-cone building and ash ejecting events.

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 from Bird Park in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Mauna Loa and Kilauea are both considered active volcanoes. Although inflation and dilation events are common on the summit of Mauna Loa, it has not erupted since 1984; Mauna Loa could, however, erupt at any time.  Since 1833 when accurate records began to be kept, there have been 33 eruptions of Mauna Loa, making it one of the most active volcanoes on earth.  Its name means “long mountain”, and Mauna Loa is capable of erupting huge amounts of lava in a very short time, dwarfing the current output of Kilauea.  The most massive mountain on earth, this prolific effusion of molten rock accounts for Mauna Loa’s vast bulk.

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

Kilauea, once believed to be a mere satellite vent on Mauna Loa, is known to be a separate and distinct volcano with its own, geologically separate magma chamber and subterranean plumbing. Nearly half a million years old, Kilauea’s most recent eruption has been continuous since 1983 making it currently the world’s most active volcano. Indeed, between 1983 and 2009 about 700 acres of new land were produced by lava flows from Kilauea.  Articles on how to see the active lava flows on Kilauea can be found here and here. A detailed guide to enjoying Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, featuring Kilauea and Mauna Loa Volcanoes 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.

Kilauea buried the town of Kalapana in the early 1990s and formed Kaimu Black, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Because the time-scale of human experience is virtually instantaneous compared to the aeons-long march of geologic history, there is continuing human drama, a tension, between short-sighted humans attempting to establish roads, villages and towns, and the ongoing geologic processes of the landscapes they choose to inhabit.  In very recent decades, the towns of Kapoho, Kalapana and Kaimu have been inundated, destroyed and buried by Kilauea Volcano (please see a related article on the death and rebirth of Kalapana, here).  As more people move to Hawaii, more such drama is inevitable.

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

The evolution of Hawaiian volcanoes continues even after the major phase of eruptive activity subsides. There are great differences, obvious to even the most casual observer, between the elongated, fluted ridge-like shape of Kohala Mountain and the lower angled slopes of Mauna Loa and Kilauea.  Likewise, steep-sided Mauna Kea has a greatly different physical aspect than does gently-sloped, shield-shaped Mauna Loa.  These differences are accounted for by the differences in their relative ages, and thus eruptive and erosive stages.

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

Remembering that the angle of repose of Hawaiian lava is about 6 degrees, the shield-shaped, gentle slopes of Mauna Loa and Kilauea reflect the fact that they are quite young and are still in the shield-building stage, being built-up by successive flows of highly fluid lava.  The much steeper flanks of Hualalai and Mauna Kea volcanoes are due to the late-stage, explosive eruptions, to erosion and to ashfall which piles up much more steeply than the flowing lava.  The fluted ridges of Kohala volcano result from the deep dissection of the once shield-shaped slopes of the original volcano by streams and surface flow of water.  The distinctive steep valleys and great cliffs seen on the north and east sides of Kohala Volcano result from later process of normal faulting and giant landslides (see further discussion in an article about Waipi’o Valley, 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.

Glacial cirques and moraines along the Mauna Kea summit ridge, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Another process, operative in the geologically recent past, has served to shape the slopes of the volcanoes of the Big Island, at least those which are or great height.  Glaciers covered the summit of Mauna Kea (and possibly Mauna Loa) 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 (a related article on the summit of Mauna Kea and the Hawaiian Snow Goddess, Poliahu, can be found here; details on exploring Mauna Kea can be found here).  Any evidence on Mauna Loa of ice-age glaciers has been covered by recent eruptions.

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.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 subsiding, cut by enormous valleys and giant cliff-forming landslides, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Simultaneously with the ongoing eruptions and island building, due to their enormous mass, the great volcanoes of the Hawaiian Chain begin to subside into the oceanic crust.  After the majority of eruptions cease, with cooling and with a great amount of time, they eventually disappear beneath the surface of the sea completely, as Mahukona Volcano already has.

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.

Originally carved above sea level, these 500-year old petroglyphs at Keauhou today are awash due to subsidence of Hualalai Volcano: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Today, the Big Island of Hawai’i comprises more than twice the area of all the other Hawaiian Islands combined.  It’s size is not anomalous, however, considering the geologic history of the archipelago. All the other Hawaiian Islands experienced the same pattern of volcanic eruption, growth and coalescence, as well as the gradual subsidence and submersion that Hawaii Island has, and thus at one time may have been as large as the Big Island.  Indeed, geologists have demonstrated that Maui at one time formed a single landmass, known as Maui Nui or “Big Maui”, with the islands of Lana’i, Moloka’i, and Kaho’olawe.  Continued subsidence submerged the larger landmass, leaving the four, smaller islands above the ocean surface. Ultimately, this will happen to the Big Island, as well.

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Looking from Mauna Kea summit to Mauna Loa, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

The relentless movement of the Pacific Plate carries it, with the all the islands piggy-backed, inexorably northward to the Aleutian Trench, where it is subducted underneath the North American Plate, melted, and recycled as volcanic material in the Aleutian Island volcanoes.  The Emperor Seamounts are currently undergoing such destruction, and, the evolution of the Hawaiian-Emperor Chain is such that, eventually this fate also awaits the Big Island…but not for tens of millions of years.

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Magical Sunset at the lava ocean entry at Waikupanaha, Hawaii Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Given the ephemeral nature of this precious island, this geologic certainty should serve to make us love and treasure the Big Island more deeply, as well as to spur us to protect and preserve it more completely.

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Silent sunset descends upon Hawaii Island at Kahalu'u Beach: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

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Near the summit of Kohala Mountain, Photo by Donnie 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.

Full moon over Mauna Kea, Hawaii Photo by Donald B 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.

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.

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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.

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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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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.

Lava enters the sea, Hawaii: 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.

Lava Viewing at Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park

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.

Hiking to the lava flows, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Can you believe this? It’s absolutely outstanding and amazing! You can actually walk right up to flowing lava here; see a volcano erupt before your eyes and the molten rock pour into the sea. This has to be one of the four or five most exciting, amazing, wonderful, mystical experiences on earth…you must not miss this!

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

Mauna Loa is active but not currently erupting. The summit area is slowly inflating, filling with magma and the flanks are subject to frequent minor earthquakes, but no obvious activity is apparent to the visitor. Kilauea, the most active volcano on Earth, started its current eruptive phase in 1983, the longest eruption in history. Since then it has ejected almost 3 billion cubic meters of lava. Flowing from various vents in the rift, most notably Pu’u O’o and Kupaianaha, in streams and tubes at over 1000 degrees Celsius, much of the lava makes its way into the sea in fiery, steamy explosions or the incredible incongruity of glowing hot lava pouring directly into the sea with little more apparent than a mere bubbling of the water.

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Helicopter and Volcanic Explosion Plume, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Since the flow of lava over the moonscape plains and into the roiling sea can be seen nowhere else on earth, it is certainly the most exciting, unique and moving highlight of any trip to Hawai’i. People stand at the edge of the flow and weep at the majesty and mystery of the earth remaking itself; it is wondrous, remarkable and unforgettable. Although surface flows and breakouts are frequent and common, there is no guarantee that over any given trip to the Big Island they will be visible or easily accessible to the casual visitor. Before planning a hike to see the lava, check with the Rangers at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park for information on the hike length and location of surface flows and a review of safety information. Eruption information is available from the Park Service at 808.985.6000.

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Hikers going to see the flowing lava past the end of Chain of Craters Road, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Over the months and years, the lava river issuing from Pu’u O’o winds its way back and forth across the lava plain of about 9 miles breadth, sometimes flowing into the sea within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, sometime outside the eastern margin of the Park on County of Hawaii land, sometimes ponding behind the low lava hills for weeks at a time without entering the ocean at all. When you check with the rangers about flow conditions, they can tell you the best way to approach these flows.

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.

Volcanic explosions as seen from the end of Chain of Craters Road, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

If the flows are toward the more western margin and within the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the best approach is to drive to the end of Chain of Craters Road in the Park and then hike in. This hike can be of a few minutes, or a few hours, duration, depending upon how far away the lava ocean entry is. Talk to the rangers beforehand so you can come prepared. The hike is over an uneven, rough surface, hot during the day, even when it rains, cold at night and navigation can sometimes be counterintuitive. When lava is flowing in the park, parking can be monstrous at the end of Chain of Craters Road; please go here for more details about visiting the end of the road.

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.

Hiking to the lava ocean entry, Hawaii: Photo by Donald MacGowan

The trail at first is marked with cairns and reflectors, but after a few hundred meters you are on your own to navigate the basalt wilderness. The good news is, even if the hike is a couple hours duration, when the lava flow is in the National Park, you are allowed to walk right up to it; this is not true if the lava is flowing in the more eastern margin, onto County of Hawaii land. In this case, viewing is from a County of Hawaii-maintained viewing platform at Waikupanaha. Information on viewing the lava flows from County of Hawaii land is available here and from the County of Hawaii at 808.961.8093.

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.

Rain squalls are common at lava ocean entries in Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Whether you approach the lava flows from the west or the east, bring at least 2 quarts of water, a flashlight for hiking out in the dark, camera, food, first aid kit and a light rain jacket; wear a sun hat, sturdy hiking shoes, long pants and a long-sleeved shirt–those rocks are sharp! Sun glasses and sunscreen are a must here; in fact, they are so important in tropical Hawaii, we ask you please go here and here for information on skin and eye protection. Over the years, we have found a stout hiking stick and an umbrella to be of good use as well. Since photos and video are most spectacular at night, it is wise to bring a camera tripod.

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 explosion plume, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

The lava seems to glow with only a dull petulance during the day and may be less than inspiring until nightfall brings it alive and the madly glowing, fiery goddess within is revealed. Thus knowledgeable hikers plan their hike to commence in the afternoon, reaching their destination at dusk, and then hike back in the dark. Check your flashlights before you leave the car and replace weak batteries. Remember that you are hiking on a highly active volcano, if flowing streams of lava strand you, no rescue is practical or possible; plan, take care and pay strict attention accordingly.

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.

Hiking to the lava flows, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Obviously, the lava is lethally hot and sometimes flowing mere inches below seeming solid ground; a stick or ski pole used as a probe helps you determine what is dangerous ground and what is merely “hot and squishy” but otherwise safe to walk on. This is also why you should wear boots, not running shoes or sandals—it only takes having your sneakers catch fire once to drive this point home. When in hot terrain, never stop moving your feet. Even when you are standing still to photograph, walk in place or you may find your shoes afire.

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.

Warning signs at the end of Chain of Craters Road, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

There are other dangers to hiking on the lava plain that might not be obvious to the casual visitor. The steam clouds generated by the lava entering the sea contain fine, glassy particulate material as well as sulfuric and hydrochloric acids in concentration high enough to aggravate the very young and old, expectant mothers and people with respiratory and cardiac conditions. Over the past 20 years, a few adventurous people venturing too close to vents or the sea entries have asphyxiated from toxic gasses.

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.

Volcanic fumes, end of Chain of Craters Road, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

The ocean near the lava entries is superheated and waves lapping on inviting black sand beaches can be scalding hot. One brave (foolhardy?) surfer wanted to be filmed surfing in front of the lava flows and was badly scalded for his efforts. Where explosive, the meeting of molten rock and sea can explode large, searing hot rocks hundreds of feet in the air and throw boiling water, splashing everywhere.

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 just below the surface burns vegetation at the surface, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Methane explosions occur with no notice, dozens if not a hundred feet ahead of flows, flinging huge blocks hundreds of feet. Unstable benches that build up into the sea, and upon which the unwary hike and pause to photograph the scenery, are prone to collapse, carrying all into the sea. Such collapses can cause local tidal waves which scour the landscape clean of everything as they pass. Thin lava crusts can hide lava tubes, caves, hollows and holes into which hikers occasionally fall and are caught.

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.

Skylights along a lava tube on Kilauea Hawaii: Photo by Kelly Kuchman

A volcano is a naturally highly seismically active area and earthquakes are common (there are over 1200 measurable earthquakes a week on the Big Island). Less common, but certainly a constant threat, are local tsunamis generated by these earthquakes. The Park Service has roughly marked the trail to the lava; follow it closely, turning around frequently to acquaint yourself with landmarks for the hike back.

Be sure to take extra film or memory cards for your camera and remember to wipe down all cameras, eyeglasses, binoculars, optics and electronics after your visit; the salt and volcano effluent-laden atmosphere is highly corrosive. Batteries may be drained faster than expected due to the high heat near the lava; bring extra for cameras and flashlights.

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.

Kupaianaha Vent on Kilauea, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Despite the inherent dangers of hiking over liquid rock, steaming and unstable ground along the ever-restless sea, very few hikers are injured here, even fewer are killed. This is only because people enter the goddess’s home with a sense of awe and great caution, and the Rangers are very good about instilling fear and trepidation into the hearts of those who think themselves otherwise immune to the mortal dangers presented here. If you go, remain cautious and vigilant, plan for adversity, think ahead and pay attention. The rewards for this are a moving and amazing experience few ever have, a memory of mystery, awe and wonder to treasure always.

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 Stream, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

If you are planning on viewing the lava at night, be sure to remember that there may be no open gas stations or restaurants when you depart the Park until you reach either Kona or Hilo…plan accordingly, think ahead. Stay safe…stay awesome.

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 explosion plume from the end of Chain of Craters Road, 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.

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, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie 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.

Lava ocean entry, 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.

A remnant of the Naulu Forest remains inside the flows from Mauna Ulu, 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.

Chain of Craters Road

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 Coastal Plain along Chain of Craters Road, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B 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. Leaving Crater Rim Drive at the Devastation Trail parking lot, Chain of Craters Road traverses and opens-up some of the most wild and beautiful landscapes seen anywhere, terminating near the active lava flows from 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.

Lava stream flowing into the ocean at La'epuki, past the end of Chain of Craters Road, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Perhaps nowhere else on earth are the elements high mountains, wild seascapes and active volcanoes and their lava flows more dramatically displayed. 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.

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.

Chain of Craters Road Rainbow, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

A place of mystery, a place of power, a place of wonder.

Altogether, Chain of Craters Road is a singular and essential addition to any visit to the Island of Hawai’i.

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 of the coastal explosion plume from the end of Chain of Craters Road, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: 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 at Holei Sea Arch (the 19 mile marker) and the eastern closure outside the town of Kalapana, beyond the eastern edge of the Park.

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.

Pauahi Crater at Sunset, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Collapse features, such as the numerous “pit craters” found along the Chain of Craters Road (see Puhimau Crater, Pauahi Crater and Devil’s Throat), form when lava drains out of subterranean chambers, causing the ground surface to collapse. Notice how all the debris seems to point downward into the bottom of the crater; there are no materials around the rim of the crater that are 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.

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 towards Keauhou and Halape from Hilina Pali Overlook, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Known for its fine mountain biking, hiking and bird-watching, the Hilina Pali Road turns off Chain of Craters Road at the 2.2 Mile Marker and leads to an expansive area just below the summit caldera of Kilauea Volcano. Besides some of the best views of Mauna Loa in the park, this is an area of massive faults, twisted lava flow fields and amazing scenery culminating in wild views of the coastline from the Hilina Pali Overlook (literally meaning “Cliffs of Faith”). To learn more about the Hilina Pali Road, please go 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.

Sunset at Mau Loa O Mauna Ulu, with Mauna Ulu in the background Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Mauna Ulu, the Growing Mountain, is a fabulous, recent volcanic cone that dominates the central portion of the Chain of Craters Road and warrants some special attention. Numerous short walks and hikes explore the Mauna Ulu region; to see more about Mauna Ulu, go here. Massive flow fields from both Kilauea and Mauna Ulu cross, re-cross and parallel the road, spilling over Holei Pali in a spectacular display of just how the Island of Hawaii was built and grew. To learn more about this portion of Chain of Craters road, please see the sections on Mau Loa O Mauna Ulu, Muliwai a Pele, Alanui Kahiko, Kealakomo Overlook and Holei Pali.

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.

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

Below the Holei Pali there area a number of interesting stops along Chain of Craters Road, including the Holei Lava Tube, the largest petroglyph field in Polynesia, Pu’u Loa Petroglyph Field, Holei Sea Arch and the end of road. Mountain biking, hiking, bird-watching are favorite activities in this part of the Park. For more information about the end of Chain of Craters Road, please go here. If lava is flowing from Kilauea within the National Park boundaries, this is where you will park to begin the hike to see it; for information about hiking to see the lava, please go 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 patch of sunlight on the Holei Pali, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

If a car ride back up from the end of the road 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 into tropical desert and onto desolate volcanic barrens 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 gain and 22 miles back up Chain of Craters Road to Kilauea Summit in the heat of day (highly not recommended), this will also ensure a quite memorable, though far less pleasant, addition to your visit.

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.

Summer Rainbow at Kealakomo, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Other than pit toilets, there are no services, water, food or gasoline available along the length of Chain of Craters Road. Occasionally Volcano House opens their small snack wagon at the end of the road, but do not count on it being open when you are there. 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 southern highway between Hilo and Kona.

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.

Eruptions In Mirror Are Closer Than They APPEAR, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Graphic from 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.
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.

Honu petroglyph at Pu'u Loa, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Graphic from Photo by Donald B 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.

Halema'uma'u eruption from Steaming Bluff, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Graphic 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.

Crater Rim Drive

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 Crater and Eruption of Halema'uma'u, 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 caldera 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.

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 from Crater Rim Drive, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Currently, because of the eruption in Halema’uma’u Crater, Chain of Craters Road is closed from Jagger Museum, south past Halema’uma’u Crater Overlook to the junction with Chain of Craters Road at Devastation Trail. This means that you cannot drive through the interior of Kilauea Caldera and will miss such sites as Southwest Rift, Halema’uma’u Crater Overlook and Keanakako’i Crater, as well as many of the more interesting recent lava flows and ash fall surfaces. However, this allows you to concentrate more fully on other sites.

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 from Kilauea Overlook, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

We recommend that, after entering the park at the Main Gate, you stop and get oriented at the Visitor’s Center, then drive to Jagger Museum through the amazing high-altitude, Ka’u Desert scrubland. Many people find the volcanic barrens disturbingly empty and void of life, but if you look closely, this starkly beautiful desert is quickly being re-colonized by plants. After visiting the Museum, turn around and come back down Crater Rim Drive toward the main gate. Along this section of road are several fascinating stops, such as Steaming Bluffs/Sulfur Banks, Kilauea Crater Overlook, the Volcano Art Center, Volcano House and the hike to Waldron Ledge.

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

Be sure to return to Jagger Museum after dark if you have the opportunity to watch the Hadean glow of the Halema’uma’u Eruption…it is as if someone left the door to the Fires of Hell ajar and you can glimpse inside.

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 misty day on Crater Rim Drive, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Continuing on Chain of Craters Road as it passes the Main Gate, you dive into the wet side of Kilauea Caldera and the two-tiered ohi’a/tree-fern forest, a dense and a seeming impenetrable jungle that teams with flowers, birds and exotic plants. Along this salient of roadway are several not-to-be-missed stops such as the Kilauea Iki Crater Overlook, Kilauea Iki Hiking Trail, Thurston Lava Tube, Pu’u Pua’i and the Devastation Trail. In addition to the beautiful and startling scenery, this part of the drive allows you to get a better idea of how Hawaii’s amazing volcano are born, evolve, and what their inner plumbing looks like. We highly recommend both the walk through Thurston Lava Tube and the hike through Kilauea Iki Crater.

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 Iki Overlook, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Photo by Donnie MacGowan

This tour along Chain of Craters Road can be made in under 40 minutes. However, one should allow at least three hours (more if you are hiking any of the delightful trails) to explore this fantastic place; if you have never been here before, you certainly have never seen anything like 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.

The Devastation Trail at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Many people who plan to rush through the Park find themselves utterly engrossed, wind up spending much more time (and gas) than they planned here. In fact, many extemporaneously change their plans and cut time from some other attraction. Best plan to spend sufficient time here in the first place.

No services are available along Crater Rim Drive.

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.

Maus Family Entering Thurston Lava Tube, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Uncle Donnie MacGowan

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.

Crater Rim Drive is closed at Jagger Museum due to the Halema'uma'u eruption, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: 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.

The two-tiered forest along Crater Rim Drive, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Graphic from Photo by Donald B 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.

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.

Halema’uma’u 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.

Mauna Loa behind Halema'uma'u Crater: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Breathtaking, awe-inspiring, sacred. Clearly overcome with awe and wonder, when he visited Kilauea a century and a half ago, Mark Twain remarked aptly: “…here was room for the imagination to work!”

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.

As if someone left the door to Hades ajar, Halema'uma'u as seen from Jagger Museum, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B

A spectacular eruption has been underway in Halema’uma’u Crater since March 19, 2008. Because of this, Crater Rim Drive is closed at Jagger Museum and at the junction with Chain of Crater Road, so the Halema’uma’u Overlook is inaccessible. Great viewing of the eruption can be had from Jagger Museum; views of the ash cloud at night, lit up with the glow of molten rock from below the surface of Halema’uma’u, are particularly exciting. Please go here to learn more about this eruption.

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.

Appeasing the goddess at Halema'uma'u Crater, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

The Hawai’ians revered the area around Halema’uma’u Crater as the home of the volcano Goddess, Madame Pele, who journeyed from Tahiti to Ni’ihau and Kau’ai before settling down at Halema’uma’u. For generations Hawai’ian Kahuna came here to divine the future, hold rituals, make sacrifices and appease the goddess with offerings. Commoners among the native Hawai’ians were not allowed within sight of the sacred grounds. Continuing into modern times on several ceremonial days each year (in times of eruptive quiescence), modern Hawai’ians gather on the crater floor to perform hula dances and other rituals to appease the goddess Pele.

Offereings to the goddess at Halema'uma'u Crater, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Steam fumaroles at Halema'uma'u, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Today, a large parking lot and several trailheads converge at the junction of the two crown jewels of Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, Kilauea Caldera and inside it, the more recent center of eruptive activity, Halema’uma’u crater. Not many years ago, there was an active lava lake in Halema’uma’u Crater, which was first documented by Europeans in 1823 by William Ellis. Over the past 230-some years of recorded history, more the 20 major eruptions have taken place here.

Offereings to the goddess at Halema'uma'u Crater, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

New life clings to the edge of Halema'uma'u Crater, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

In 1924 an explosive eruption shattered Halema’uma’u Crater, doubling its size and the lava lake drained. A spectacular fire-fountain eruption occurred inside Halema’uma’u in 1974, and the crater floor has risen and fallen a couple thousand feet over time from more than 1300 feet deep to over-flowing into Kilauea Crater.

Offereings to the goddess at Halema'uma'u Crater, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Kilauea Crater and Eruption of Halema'uma'u from Kilauea Overlook, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Currently, Halema’uma’u Crater is a robust 300 feet deep and 3000 feet across; even so, it is almost lost inside the lager and deeper Kilauea Crater. Although covered with a hard crust of frozen lava, both craters still steam and smolder and the volcanic heat flowing up through them is still very evident, even on a hot day. A whiff of sulfurous gases emanating from the many steam vents is also evident to the modern visitor; a century and a half ago, Mark Twain commented: “…the smell of sulfur is strong, but not unpleasant to a sinner!”

Offereings to the goddess at Halema'uma'u Crater, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Bradford MacGowan and Liz Maus at Kilauea Caldera, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Many natives, kama’aina and tourists alike pause here at the overlook to offer the goddess gifts of food, flowers, gin or feathers wrapped in leaves.

The easy, half mile walk around the overlook is well worth the thirty or so minutes it will take. This hike requires no special equipment or preparation. For a longer hike, taking off from the Halema’uma’u Trail at a bout ½ mile, the Byron Ledge Trail follows a ledge system above the crater floor 3 miles to the Devastation Trail and ultimately to Kilauea Iki Crater; this is best done as a car-shuttle hike. Another wonderful hike, though dry, hot and challenging, is the 3.5 mile trek across Kilauea Caldera leads back to the Volcano House, which takes 2 hours of steady hiking. These two latter trips require you to take plenty of water, rain gear, suncream, a map and compass (and the knowledge to use them), to wear sturdy hiking shoes or boots and to be in fairly good physical condition. As always when hiking in the Park, it is wise to avoid the noonday sun, and afternoon showers, particularly along the crater rims are common.

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Along the Halema'uma'u Overlook Trail, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Remember to wipe all gear down and to clean the lenses of cameras, binoculars and glasses after visiting the crater; the volcano smog has a corrosive effect upon precision optics and electronics.

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Aerial view of Halema'uma'u Crater in Kilauea Caldera, 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.

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.

Amy and Amanda Maus at Halema'uma'u Overlook, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: 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.

Appeasing the goddess at Halema'uma'u Crater, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Graphic from Photo by Donald B 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 Halema'uma'u eruption from Waldron Ledge Overlook, 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.

Waldron Ledge Overlook Hike

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 along the way to Waldron Ledge Overlook, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

A short, 20 minute-or-so hike on a section of Crater Rim Drive abandoned after an earthquake made the crater edge unstable. Strolling through lush fern and o’hia forest brings one to spectacular views of the Kilauea Caldera, Waldron Ledge and Pu’u Pai at the mouth of Kilauea Iki Crater. This hike is one of the few places where bicycles are allowed, and the generally shaded road makes for a pleasant, but short, ride or hike. This trail is a great way to get away from noise and traffic and experience the lush, high altitude fern forest firsthand.

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.

Although beautiful, this kind of wild ginger is an invasive pest, Waldron Ledge at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

The overlook at Waldron Ledge is a particularly spectacular place, perched on the edge of the vast wasteland of Kilauea Caldera. It’s a good place to observe the current eruption in Halema’uma’u, especially early in the morning when the rising sun lights up the eruption cloud, or in the evening when the setting sun shines through 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.

The edge of Kilauea Caldera from Waldron Ledge Overlook, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

No services are available once you leave the area of the Visitor’s Center and Volcano House.

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.

Kilauea Caldera from Waldron Ledge Overlook, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: 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.

Pu'u Pua'i from Waldron Ledge Trail, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Graphic from Photo by Donald B 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.

Southwest Rift presents a Mars-like geography, 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.

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.

Fissures at the Southwest Rift, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

A major fissure, or crack, extending across the volcano from its summit out to the coast and down to the sub-sea root of the volcano, the Southwest Rift crosses Crater Rim Drive in the vicinity of the HVO. It is worth the time to stop along the road here and check out this natural weakness, a fissure and vent that goes all the way to the heart of the volcano.

This roadside pullout is infamous for having been featured in an episode of the Discovery Channel television series “Man vs Wild”. Pretending to be dozens of miles in the forbidding volcanic backcountry of Kilauea, Bear Grylls leaps foolishly about the fissures like a gecko on crack, just a few meters from the roadway. In one scene you can actually see car traffic on the highway right behind him. Viewer outrage was so vehement at this obvious, and odious, fraud that the episode is no longer available on DVD.

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 that poured over the side of the open fissure at Southwest Rift, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

NOTE: Currently The Southwest Rift is inaccessible, as a portion of Chain of Craters Road has been closed due to the current eruption in Halema’uma’u Crater.

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.
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.

Aerial view of the Southwest Rift and Halema'uma'u, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Aelbert Aehegma