Andrea and I awoke to a slightly cloudy, hazy day on Day 3. High on my personal bucket list, and even higher on our trip “to do” list was to see the volcano. We had seen an old lava field the day before, but we knew that there was an official volcano park, with exhibits and active steam vents and lava fields, oh my! So off we went for the day. The main road that goes along the southern coast of the island passes right through the park — it’s the only road — so it is extremely easy to find. Once you get close, you can see that yes, this is still an active volcano — smoke and steam are constantly rising through micro steam vents. The ground smokes constantly around the upper caldera.
To the lay eye, lots of the crevices look like the volcano is extremely active, but of course it’s not. It’s just that the heat has to go somewhere (no lava at these spots), and it burns as it escapes, so there is steam and smoke.
The volcano consists of three layers really. Up top where the picture is taken from, a mid-level base” of the volcano that you can see below, and then a large “active” pit where the smoke is billowing up.
The mid-level floor is traversable by foot and you can hike quite close apparently to the edge of the lower pit. However, it is rated a difficult hike in terms of the uneven terrain of sharp lava rock plus pockets of sulfur gas. Not enough to kill you, probably, but also not recommended for those in less than average health or with respiratory problems. We passed on the hike, and observed from the upper caldera.
Steam vents and pockets dot the floor of the volcano.
But it’s hard to wrap your brain around the sheer size of the pit until you see little people way down there hiking along. The depth and scale were awe-inspiring.
A slightly different angle, looking down over the floor of the volcano, a little closer in.
Hey, look, Panda in a volcano!
Once you leave the main caldera area, you can drive down a long long long road to the sea to see where an old lava field hit. You’ll see on a map below that there are essentially three areas of lava, if you were looking at the island from the sea. On the right is the lava field we saw yesterday, which was about 10+ years old. Then on the left you would have this area below, about five years old but a previous one before that was covered up. In the middle (the steam plume you’ll see, and which you saw yesterday), is where the active lava continues to flow into the sea. Below is an archway carved out by the sea.
This was the shoreline looking east and north along the coast, which had 5 year old lava, then active lava, then 10 year old lava.
Andrea and I in front of the old lava. This flow was a lot more “raw” than we had seen the day before. Larger, rougher, more elemental.
The reverse angle from yesterday of the steam plume from active lava hitting the sea.
A cold lava field — time to go hiking! Very careful, slow hiking.
Yes, we kind of got that message.
The lava rock creates incredibly complex and cool patterns as it cools.
And again, as with yesterday, strange colouring as the rocks cooled at different rates.
They have what are called “lava benches” which are basically pockets of open space in the lava that can collapse. This was old lava, and a small pocket, so the danger was basically ripping your skin to shreds on the lava rock, but out at the shore, those benches could collapse and drop you 50 feet into the sea along with a couple of tons of rock. More dangerously, there are people who have hiked across the old lava until they get to the new lava, and keep on going until they are actually close to the active magma. I have friends who have photos of themselves 20 feet from an open vent hole, same park. They obviously have a different sense of risk than I, because every year there are people who end up having to be rescued out on the flows when (a) they are overcome by sulfuric gas; (b) they trip and fall and hurt themselves badly on the sharp lava and can’t get back; (c) lava shifts and holes open up, blocking their reverse escape route; or (d) a highly likely scenario that they don’t think about in advance — their shoes melt and they have nothing on their feet to walk with, and they can’t walk on lava rock in bare feet (or at least, not if they ever want to walk again in their current lifetime). Very few have died, but the locals think they’re all nuts.
This is where a road used to drive up to an old field, before a new lava flow covered it and the signage.
You can see the remains of the old road here.
Shots of where the lava came down the hill, and how some of the vegetation is fighting its way back.
I thought this was the coolest tree I had ever seen. The photos really don’t do it justice. Stark white against a black background, but the hazy day combined with drifting steam and smoke to give me big challenges for light balance on a basic point and shoot camera.
As I mentioned above, here is a map of the various lava flows.
More of the hill coming back.
Going back up the road, another shot of the caldera floor.
These roosters are all over the island, and they run / live free. Some people suggested there were “chicken protection laws” but the reality is that they are just really prevalent, often having escaped breeders and farms. It’s an island — they can’t leave easily and there aren’t that many local predators!
The picture below is kind of hard to see, again partly due to the haze but also in this case partly due to the distance, but this is the floor of the caldera, and running across the middle, angled up and to the left is a heat line showing a different temperature at some point.
One of the cool things about magma is that it is a bit like water in that it takes the path of least resistance (fyi, magma and lava are essentially the same thing, with magma being below the surface and lava being on the surface). However, unlike water, resistance thresholds have to be pretty high to resist magma, and when magma flows, it creates giant lava tubes (technically magma tubes) like the one below. Often these are just left filled in when the lava cools or the tunnel/tube collapses, but in this case, it just left a hollow tube which is now a tourist attraction.
Andrea and I went to another one while we were in Hilo…kind of a strange setup. The guy basically had moved there with his dad from Oregon and bought the tube entrance as a business. Yep, not the tube, just the entrance was what he bought. You pay him some money, and he takes you down a few rough steps to a trail that descends into a lava tube and runs about 200 feet underground. At that point, the cave starts to shrink down and while the tube goes on for several miles, snaking and interconnecting (there were other entrances and they were mapping it for spelunker types), you wouldn’t want to do it if you were even remotely claustrophobic. Apparently some of the “gaps” were basically not much thicker than your body before the tube would open up again into a larger cavern. Gives me the willies just thinking about it. The one below was nice and spacious, and not very long. The floors were really quite smooth.
Two pandas at the end of the tube (or at least the end of the public portion).
To wrap things up, I have links for two of our videos. The first is the lava field by the shore and the second is a grainy video of the inside of the lava tube. Enjoy!