The Big Island’s Big Volcano
Visiting Hawaii isn’t all about lying on golden sand and surfing clear blue water. A short 45 minute flight from Honolulu and you’ll touch down on Hawaii Island, also known as the Big Island. What awaits is a world of captivating natural beauty and mystical Hawaiian history.
As the name suggests, the Big Island is Hawaii’s biggest island, in fact it’s nearly twice the size of all of Hawaii’s other islands combined. It’s not usually the first stop on the tourist trail, but it stands out as home to the Kilauea volcano, one of the most active volcanoes on the planet. Despite the destruction the volcano has caused, there’s still an overwhelming respect and reverence towards mother nature’s omnipresent spirit.
I get the chance to experience the best of this beautiful spot on a day trip with Polynesian Adventure Tours. The tropical rainforest climate means there’s plenty of luscious greenery and immaculate gardens, fenced between picturesque black shored beaches and clear waters. Orchard farms and botanical gardens also flourish. Rainbow Falls, Hilo’s majestic waterfall, has a spectacular vantage point that looks straight over the powerful cascading falls.
Exploring the historic town of Hilo is a chance to see the Polynesian influence on the region. After lunch though, the tour takes us 50 kilometres southwest of Hilo to the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. A UNESCO World Biosphere and World Heritage site, it’s here where the true volcanic adventure takes place.
It’s a remarkably humbling experience to stand up top of a volcano – on the edge of a crater’s rim, overlooking a vastly deep and baron open space. The Kilauea Volcano, Big Island’s focal point, is surrounded by striking contrasts – tropical rainforests and an abundance of greenery, immediately next to a sea of volcanic rock and black shores. The Island’s history is seen with every step you take. Walking along miles of black rock, you can physically see where lava has rolled across the region, spewing against itself to create hardened walls – the end result being a beautifully frozen moment of mother nature’s ferocity.
The volcanic activity isn’t just noticeable on the surface of the island. A hike down to the 500 year old Thurston Lava Tube shows the result of molten lava flowing through the island’s core – a complex system of hollowed caves which you can walk through and explore.
Lava rock is all around you when you’re wandering through the Island, but as tempting as it is to take a uniquely beautiful piece of this rock home, it’s not advised. For two reasons. Firstly, being a World Heritage listed site, it’s essentially not allowed. Secondly, locals warn me that taking a piece of lava rock from the Islands brings a curse from the Island gods, with visitors who take the rock home suffering from great misfortune – so serious in fact, that each year, hundreds of pounds of lava rock are returned by post to the Island.
At the end of the day, as the sun sets the Island truly comes to life. Steam seeping from vents creates an eerie illusion across the Island, and the faint red glow of the volcano becomes noticeable against the dim sky. This isn’t an experience that will have adventurers hiking up to bubbling lava, but rather, a cultural and natural appreciation of one of Hawaii’s true gems. It’s a part of the North Pacific that is so incredibly unique from a rich culture and mesmerising history.
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