Watching lava boil into the ocean under the light of the full moon and stars at Waikupanaha, Big Island, on the edge of the Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park. Those tempted to get too close are warned that the steam clouds contain a fine dust as well as acids best avoided by those with respiratory conditions, as well as the very young and elderly.
Hawaii – Been There

Dancing for the volcano goddess

Photo by Bryan Lowry

Hawaii – Been There Dancing for the volcano goddess

Leaning over the crumbly edge of Mauna Ulu crater in Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, I can see some 150 meters down the craggy, sulfuric walls.

Bill Harby
Bill Harby Writer

Mauna Ulu is still steaming since the mini volcano’s 1969 birth when the rainforest erupted in a curtain of molten fountains. But I can’t quite see the bottom, where lava once boiled. I throw a rock into the pit and watch it bounce out of sight. The volcano could erupt again next week, or in 100 years. Or never. From here I see a twisted volcanic landscape in every direction. It looks like hardened, broken taffy surrounded by furry rainforest. And in the distance, five miles away, rises the steam plume of still-erupting Pu‘u ‘ō‘ō, going strong almost non-stop since 1983.

Just a 30-minute walk from the summit of Mauna Ulu (“Growing Mountain”) is Pu‘uhūluhūlu (“Shaggy Hill”), an ancient 50-meter cindercone now covered with trees and ferns. I love coming up here to experience the weird feeling of looking down into the crater and seeing the treetops below as native forest birds – species found nowhere else on the planet – flit from branch to branch. And guess what: Pu‘uhūluhūlu and Mauna Ulu aren’t even the most dramatic craters up here.

The park, a Unesco World Heritage Site and World Biosphere Reserve, is one of the most popular destinations in Hawaii. It sees more than a million visitors every year from around the state and around the world. They come to gape in awe at the volcanic eruption, the rainforests, deserts and seashores, to see endemic flora and fauna, and to learn from native Hawaiians practicing their culture, dancing hula in honor of Pele, the volcano goddess.

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A lava river flows through Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, made a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1987. There are five volcanoes on Hawai'i: Kohala, Mauna Kea, Hualalai, Mauna Loa, and Kilauea, with the last three still being active and the dormant Mauna Kea last erupting about 3,600 years ago. Kohala is now considered extinct as it has not erupted for around 60,000 years. Photo by Frans Lanting / Getty Images

Frans Lanting

Frans Lanting

Agency
Getty Images

A lava river flows through Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, made a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1987. There are five volcanoes on Hawai'i: Kohala, Mauna Kea, Hualalai, Mauna Loa, and Kilauea, with the last three still being active and the dormant Mauna Kea last erupting about 3,600 years ago. Kohala is now considered extinct as it has not erupted for around 60,000 years.

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