Seven of the main volcanoes that make up the Hawaiian Islands are the youngest in a chain of 129 volcanoes, stretching 3,600 miles across the Pacific. Millions of years ago, Hawaii rose from the sea, created by volcanoes. The largest, Mauna Loa on the Big Island, rises 56,000 feet above its ocean base. Walk on a volcano, and you truly feel the immense wonder of nature.
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Mauna Loa, Island of Hawaii
The largest active volcano on earth, its name means “long mountain.” The sheer weight of the massive mountain has depressed the ocean’s crust by more than 26,000 feet. 25% of the surface is covered by lava that’s less than 750 years old—the Big Island is still being formed. When it erupts, huge rivers flow from the crater and sometimes come near the charming town of Hilo.
Kilauea, Island of Hawaii
This is the youngest of Hawaii’s volcanoes. Often called “the world’s only drive-in volcano,” Kilauea once produced 250,000 – 650,000 cubic yards of lava each day; that’s enough to resurface a 20-mile-long, two-lane road daily. Almost 1,000 acres have been created on the Big Island since 1983, and in part that’s due to the prolific nature of Kilauea. (Kilauea means “spewing” in the Hawaiian language.) A visit to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a splendid opportunity to see an active volcano!
Mauna Kea, Island of Hawaii
Mauna Kea, at 33,000 feet from its base to its summit, is the tallest sea mountain in the world. (And taller than Mt. Everest, by far.) This volcano was last active 4,600 years ago. Mauna Kea’s high and dry altitude is ideal for stargazing. There are 13 independent astronomical observatories here that are multi-national. You are welcome to climb the summit, but the telescopes are closed to visitors. Tip: Watch the sun set on the summit, and head back to the visitor center to see the stars.
Hualalai, Island of Hawaii
If you’ve ever been enraptured by a steaming cup of Kona coffee, you’ve experienced the beauty of the black gold that comes from this volcano’s slopes. (Hualalai is active, but hasn’t erupted since 1801.) Climb the slopes for amazing views of the Kona coast, cloud forests, craters, fissures, and lava tubes. Most of this volcano, especially the upper slope, is privately owned. Unless you have an owner’s permission, stick to the lower slopes—there are plenty of otherworldly sites there.
Kohala, Island of Hawaii
This is how old Kohala is: It experienced, and recorded in its layers, the last reversal of the earth’s magnetic field, 780,000 years ago. At 1,000,000 million years old, it’s the oldest volcano on the island of Hawaii, and the last time it erupted was 120,000 years ago. Kohala makes up the gorgeous Waipi-o Valley, with its lush, green rolling hills and deep cliffs.
Maui’s largest volcano, it has an altitude of 10,000 ft. The name, when translated, means, “The House of Sun.” People love to drive or hike to the top to watch a sunrise or sunset and to sit beneath a canopy of brilliant stars. The slopes of this volcano have an astounding assortment of communities. There are small farms you can tour for local lavender, coffee, pineapple, and flowers. Don’t be surprised to see cowboys ride by—this is prime ranch land.
Leahi (Diamond Head), Oahu
Pick up a postcard of Honolulu, and you’re likely to see the silhouette of Diamond Head, a 750-foot crater that’s one of Hawaii’s most familiar landmarks. Leahi, a Hawaiian word meaning, “tuna brow,” was named Diamond Head by British sailors who thought its many calcite crystals were diamonds. Formed more than 100,000 years ago, the crater is a terrific place for panoramic views. As a bonus, there are excellent cafes at Leahi’s base.