Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park
"I am speechless"
This is it, my primary reason for coming to Hawai'i (apart from seeing exotic plants and animals). The Kilauea Caldera. It's mindboggling see, and impossible to photograph. You just don't feel the immensity of the Earth and its power unless you're standing there.
This photo is just of the Halema'uma'u Crater, a much smaller crater within the Kilauea Caldera. Halema'uma'u is about 280 feet (85 m) deep and 3,000 feet (915 m) across. Compare this to the size of the Kilauea Calder: 2.5 MILES across.
Halema'uma'u is the "official" home of Pele, goddess of fire, volcanoes and general mayhem. However, Pele has been hanging out at Pu'u O'o lately, which I will describe in another chapter. Looking down into Pele's "home" and knowing that the crater can (and will) erupt again is frightening. And humbling. For most of the 19th century, and again in the late 1960's and early 1970's, this crater was a boiling lava lake. Imagine that: a lake of lava. Nice. It last erupted in 1982 quite suddenly, when lava exploded out from a fissure and produced a curtain of fire 15-30 feet (5-10 m) high. Fancy that, a curtain of lava fountains. Are you scared yet?
At Kilauea, you can take excellent hikes through and around the Caldera and various craters. If you're hike-phobic, there is also the 11-mile Crater Rim drive that takes in the major views. I recommend the hiking, for up close-and-personal encounters with 400-year old rainforest, desert landscapes, 30 year old lava plains, giant "bottomless" chasms, steam vents (to get well-and-truly moistened), and lung-burnout from the sulfur dioxide (gasp, cough).
"Don't pick a Lehua blossom..."
What's a trip to a volcano without a little romance!
According to Hawaiian legend, Ohi'a and Lehua were a young couple in love. Unfortunately, goddess of fire Pele (well- known for her hot temper) saw Ohi'a one day and fell in love and wanted him as her husband. One day as Ohi'a was out cutting kukui bark to make a surfboard, Pele appeared before him and declared her intentions. Diplomatically, Ohi'a turned her down and professed his eternal love for Lehua.
Naturally, Pele was not impressed and changed him into a gnarled and not-very- attractive tree. When the other gods saw what had happened, they tried to reverse the spell but failed. The best they could do was turn Lehua into a beautiful red flower on the same tree, so the lovers would be reunited.
The ohi'a-lehua tree is the first to grow on old lava flows. To this day, it is said that if you pick a Lehua blossom, the ohi'a tree will produce rain. The rain is said to be the tears from heaven for separated lovers everywhere.