Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park has a special pull. At this park, you can explore Kīlauea, one of the world’s most active volcanoes. Numerous times while I was living on the Big Island, I took a two hour drive from Kona to this park to see the smoke rising and lava bubbling in the Halemaʻumaʻu crater, to hike through ancient forests, to see the beautifully desolate destruction of past lava flows, and to see the awe inspiring glow of a new lava flow.
Often, my trips in the park involved exploring the Chain of Craters Road. The first time I decided to take this route, it was a detour because the name of the road alone sounded like a call to adventure. It was worth the drive.
Over the course a few drives down this road, I’ve stopped at almost all of the craters, viewed ancient petroglyphs, and admired the views. One of my favorite moments is when you get to the bottom of the road and you see the power of the lava and the sea colliding. The waves here can be so forceful that they sound like thunder, and as the mighty sea pounds against the lava, it carves out cliffs and sea arches. And at times when the lava flows steadily into the ocean, it encroaches on the sea, and you can witness new land being created.
The Hawaiian creation myth that I find most fascinating is the story of Pele and Nāmaka. Pele is the volcano goddess and her older sister Nāmaka is the sea goddess. These two sisters don’t get along, and as Nāmaka continues to pursue Pele from place to place across the Pacific, the clashes between the lava and the sea form the Hawaiian Island chain. For now, the story ends on the Big Island at the Kīlauea volcano. Here, Pele finds a home were she can continue to spew her lava, while her sister Nāmaka continues to battle her with the forces of the sea.
The movements of Pele and Nāmaka’s fighting coincide with a scientific theory that the northwest movement of the Pacific Plate and a stationary hotspot created the collection of volcanic islands that form the Hawaiian Islands. As you travel southwest through the island chain, the islands are younger and less eroded. Most volcanoes that created the Hawaiian Islands are extinct, and it is only on Maui and the Big Island that you find dormant volcanoes. The Big Island is the furthest southeast, and it is the only island that houses active volcanoes.
The hotspot is currently fueling the ample volcanic activity at Kīlauea. It has also formed an underwater volcano called Lōʻihi off the southeastern coast of the Big Island. In thousands of years, Lōʻihi may emerge from the sea to become its own island, and it could potential fuse together with the five volcanoes that make up the Big Island to make the island even bigger.
All of the volcanic activity at Kīlauea means that when writing about this part of the island, you are at the whims of nature when trying to present timely information. Not long after I wrote and submitted an article on the Chain of Craters Road, the lava began to flow again, and an additional section was added to my original article. Sometime after that, but before the issue was printed, the lava crossed the Chain of Craters Road once again, and began to flow into the ocean. This was not included in the article.
As a travel writer, you always want to have the most up-to-date facts and the most timely information. With all of the work that goes into researching, fact-checking, and editing, it’s profound to think about the forces beyond your control that can override your desire to present the latest information. But not knowing everything that will happen is part of the draw of both traveling and writing. They present you with an opportunity to explore the unexpected, uncovering new and unforeseen insights along the way.
You can read my article here:
Big Island Traveler Fall 2016: “Fire Meets Sea”