AAA Editor Notes
Kīlauea Volcano may be reached by SR 11 within Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park and explored by car and on foot. Kīlauea is so broad and low-profile, unlike your typical cone-shaped volcano, that oftentimes you'll overhear bewildered visitors ask park rangers, “Where's the volcano?” The answer: “You're standing on it.” A shield volcano, 4,091-foot-high Kīlauea is crowned by a 400-foot-deep, 3-mile-wide depression known as a caldera. Within Kīlauea Caldera is the Halema‘uma‘u Crater, the volcano's main vent. March 19, 2008, marked the first explosive Halema‘uma‘u eruption since 1924. Today, the still-fuming crater contains a boiling lava pond that glows fiery red at night.
The current lava flows, which you'll see pictured on countless tourist brochures, began in 1983 and originate on the volcano's east rift zone at a separate vent named Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō. This cinder/spatter cone straddles the national park's remote eastern boundary; your best bet for viewing Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō up close is from a sightseeing helicopter flight. Over the past 30-plus years, lava has buried more than 180 buildings (including the entire town of Kalapana) under 30-plus feet of hardened magma and added more than 500 acres of new coastal land to Hawai‘i. Exactly when the current eruption will stop is anyone's guess.
A Kīlauea visit will no doubt inspire many of us to become know-it-all volcanologists for the day. If so, it's critical that you can tell the difference between the volcano's two types of lava. With its silvery, shiny crust, pāhoehoe looks smooth, billowy and ropy, like cake batter slowly poured into a pan, while ‘a‘ā is rough and jagged (the hardened stuff, guaranteed to shred your Nikes).
Looking back over Kīlauea's last century of volcanic activity, one spectacular event that must be cited is the 1959 Kīlauea Iki eruption. This was a whopper, with lava fountains shooting as high as 1,900 feet (nearly 450 feet higher than the Empire State Building). Today, you can hike the now-cooled Kīlauea Iki Crater from Crater Rim Drive .
Looking forward, there's a new Hawaiian island on the way. About 22 miles south of Kīlauea, and roughly 3,000 feet below sea level, the erupting, submarine Lō‘ihi volcano is expected to see the light of day in about 50,000 years. Make your reservations now for the inevitable Lō‘ihi Resort, Spa and Golf Club.
Note: Access to the volcano may be restricted at times due to volcanic activity, and roads are subject to closure due to high fire danger or air-quality concerns.