Big Island
Home Up Maui

Hawaii Home Hawaii Photographs Who Went? Day One Oahu Day Two Big Island Day Three Maui
Day Four Maui Day Five Big Island Day Six Kauai Day Seven Kauai 2007 Hawaii Cruise Photographs

Big Island

Day Two - The Trip to the
Big Island Volcanoes

Story written by Rick Archer


Throughout this trip, I was fascinated by so many aspects of Hawaii. 

One question I was curious about was how the islands were discovered in the first place.  A quick glance at the map reveals a vast amount of water between Hawaii and the nearest land. 

Hawaii is right in the middle of NOWHERE!

So who discovered Hawaii?   And how on earth did they discover the islands in the first place?

Think about Columbus and how much fear was attached to his exploration.  Columbus traveled 4,900 miles using technology from 1492. 

Hawaii was discovered 1,000 years earlier using sailboats!

Around 300-500 AD, Polynesians from the South Pacific, probably the Marquesas Islands (900 miles northeast of Tahiti), found the Hawaiian Islands in double-hulled voyaging canoes

Who in their right mind ventures in ancient canoes 3,000 miles into the dangerous waters of the vast Pacific Ocean without a good reason?  One good storm and those guys were toast.   Why would these brave sailors venture 3,000 miles into the middle of nowhere?  And how did they find the islands?  Did they stumble upon the islands by luck?

Furthermore how many provisions can you carry on those canoes?   It took Columbus two months to cross the Atlantic.  These Polynesian sailors had no way of knowing when their journey would end.  Where would they get fresh water?

On the surface, their exploration seemed like a suicide mission.

One day when Marla and I were at Haleakula in Maui, I listened to a park ranger give a talk about the ancestors.  Afterwards I brought up the subject of how these people were able to locate what amounted to a needle in the Pacific haystack. 

The ranger smiled at me and nodded.  He said he had his own theory.  The Polynesians didn't just stumble on the Hawaii Islands. He believed that the Polynesians were alerted to the existence of the Hawaiian Islands by volcanic eruptions that lit up the night sky.  Light from eruptions could probably be spotted from hundreds of miles away.  They already knew something was out there and went to investigate.  The volcano - perhaps Mauna Loa or Haleakala - acted as a gigantic lighthouse to guide them in. 

I nodded.  This was the first explanation that made any sense.

Thanks to the bravery of the Marquesasian sailors, Hawaii was populated for the first time.  Alas, about 800 years later these people were attacked by Tahitians who came from the same area of the world - Tahiti and the Marquesas are about 900 miles apart. 
Tahitian explorers arrived in 1200AD.  Not only did they conquer the people living there, they enslaved them for good measure.  

Survival of the fittest.  One day the Hawaiian natives were living peacefully in Paradise, the next day they were slaves being offered up for human sacrifice. 

The Darwinian struggle for survival isn't always pretty, is it? 

When you visit Hawaii, you become keenly aware of volcanoes.  All of these islands owe their existence to volcanic activity.  Their ancient culture revolved around the volcano gods.  First and foremost of these gods was the Volcano Goddess Pele who lived inside the volcano Kilauea. 

Pele was not your typical goddess.  Fiery, jealous and voluptuous, Pele spent a great deal of her time taking on lovers. After they were spent, she disposed of them by covering them with balls of molten lava.  She turned them into stone, creating an entire landscape of former lovers frozen like trophies for the rest of time.

Pele had two great rivals. 
One lover who proved a match for Pele was Kamapua'a, a demi-god who hid the bristles that grew down his back by wearing a cape.  This pig god could also appear as a plant or as various types of fish.  He and Pele were at odds from the beginning; she covered the land with barren lava, he brought torrents of rain to extinguish her fires and called the wild boars to dig up the land, softening it so seeds could grow.

Pele's greatest rival was Poliahu, the goddess of snow-capped mountains. Poliahu was the Ice Queen, a beauty who, like Pele, seduced handsome mortal chiefs.

Pele's jealousy flamed after she had a fling with a fickle young Maui chief named 'Ai-wohi-ku-pua, as he was traveling to the Big Island to court a mortal female chiefain named Laie (surely there is a pun here just begging to be used).  Paddling along the Hana Coast, 'Ai-wohi-ku-pua saw Pele in human form as a beauty named Hina-i-ka-malama, riding the surf.  He paused for a brief affair.

Then he went on to the Big Island, where Poliahu seduced him. He convinced his personal goddess to release him from his promise to his first love, and went back to Kaua'i with the snow goddess.  Pele (disguised as Hina-i-ka-malama) chased after them, eventually winning back the fickle chief by seducing him on Mount Kamana-eye-wanna-Laie-a.

However Poliahu was so vindictive, she blasted the lovers with cold and heat until they separated. In the end, 'Ai-wohi-ku-pua was left with no lover at all.

As I read these tales, I was reminded of Zeus from Greek Mythology.  I always thought Zeus held the record for randy behavior, but these wild Hawaiian goddesses were pretty bawdy in their own right. 


If you prefer the scientific explanation for the formation of the Hawaiian Islands over Pele and the mythological explanations, you have to start with the Hot Spot Theory

First you have to understand there is an enormous Pacific Plate that is nearly the size of the Pacific Ocean.  This enormous rock plate constantly drifts towards the northwest.  In the very center of the Pacific Plate exists a fixed "Hot Spot" where magma (lava) from the earth's core is trying to release pressure through a volcanic opening on the surface.  Besides the Hawaiian Hot Spot, there are about 100 hot spots spread around Earth including an ominous one in Yellowstone Park (Old Faithful is a manifestation).

Once upon a time, Kauai, the oldest of the island chain, was directly over the Hot Spot.  Lava spewing through a volcano created Kauai.  However as the Pacific Plate slowly drifted to the northwest, Kauai was dragged away from the Hot Spot and ceased to grow. 

Today Kauai is the most rugged island for a good reason.  As the oldest island, Kauai has experienced 6 millions year of erosion.  Spectacular attractions on Kauai like the Napali Coastline, Waimea Canyon and the Kalalau Valley are marvelous testaments to nature's power.  Kauai is also the most heavily forested island because nature has had more time to break down the lava and create forests.

When I compared the natural beauty of Kauai to the Big Island, there was no contest.  Kauai had stunning beauty while the landscape of the Big Island was relatively ho-hum by comparison.  Who said some things don't get prettier with age?

Oh, by the way, did I mention the rate at which the Pacific Plate approaches Japan?   1 to 4 inches a year. 

Rome wasn't built in a day and apparently neither were the Hawaiian Islands.

After Kauai inched its way off the Hot Spot, two million years later the Hot Spot created Oahu.  

Then one and a half million years ago the Hot Spot created four sister islands - Maui, Lanai, Molokai, and a little known island known as Kaho'olawe

Slowly but surely these islands drifted away as well, creating the opportunity for the Big Island to be formed just a short half million years ago. 

At first Mauna Kea rested over the Hot Spot.  As the new island drifted, a new volcano named Mauna Loa became centered over the Hot Spot.  Currently it is Kilauea that is over the Hot Spot. 

Now you see why the Big Island is the biggest - it is the New Kid on the Block.  In addition, since Mauna Loa and Kīlauea are active volcanoes, the Big Island is growing as I write.  Between January 1983 and September 2007, 600 acres of land were added to the island by lava flows from Kīlauea volcano which extended the coastline outward.  

Believe it or not, the next great Hawaiian Island is already forming as we speak.  It even has a name!  Loihi is expected to break the water surface in just 60,000 years. 

I will keep you posted on any developments.  Marla is currently investigating cruise opportunities to Loihi.

The ancient Hawaiians suspected that the Islands became younger to the southeast. During their voyages, sea-faring Hawaiians noticed the differences in erosion, soil formation, and vegetation. They recognized that the islands to the northwest (Niihau and Kauai) were much older than those to the southeast (Maui and Hawaii).  

Unable to grasp any sensible reason for this development, the Hawaiians turned to our girlfriend Pele and blamed it all on her.  According to legend,
Pele, the fiery Goddess of Volcanoes, originally lived on Kauai.  When her older sister Namakaokahai, the Goddess of the Sea, attacked her, Pele fled to the Island of Oahu.  When she was forced by Namakaokahai to flee again, Pele moved southeast to Maui and finally to Hawaii, aka the Big Island. 

The mythical flight of Pele from Kauai to Hawaii, which alludes to the eternal struggle between the growth of volcanic islands from eruptions and their later erosion by ocean waves, is consistent with geologic evidence obtained centuries later that clearly shows the islands becoming younger from northwest to southeast. 

Currently Pele is said to
live in the Halemaumau Crater at the summit of Kilauea Volcano.  Pele this, Pele that.  Every myth starts with Pele.  Personally, I have my own theory why Pele is the favorite goddess.  The way I see it, she is the only goddess with a name people can spell or pronounce (see 'Namakaokahai'). 

As it stands, Pele has not moved in over a million years.  A little bored with her current digs over in Kilauea Volcano, rumor has it that she briefly took up soccer in Brazil.


Now that I have become an experienced traveler thanks to the much-appreciated efforts of my gifted wife Marla, I suppose I have also become something of a travel snob.

I admit I absolutely hate stupid tourists.  I can forgive people who are inexperienced, but at least make an effort to figure things out.  It is the people who don't pay attention that get under my skin.

They are usually pretty easy to spot - they wear the loudest outfits, they make the most noise, they love to brag about all the things they know, and they act as if the world revolves around them at all times.

After these obvious signs, the next characteristic to look for is a lack of patience and the inability to listen to instructions.

For some reason, these know-it-all types don't pay a bit of attention and their ignorance usually ends up slowing down the group as a result or inconveniencing other people in some way.   Since most group efforts depend on a uniform performance by all members, one obnoxious person can ruin the entire day.

I absolutely can't stand stupid tourists!

Hang on to this thought.  I will come back to it later.

Day Two of the SSQQ Cruise Trip brought our group to the Big Island.  Marla suggested we take an excursion to visit the area known as Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.  Fascinated by volcanoes, I was definitely in agreement.

Marla and I had signed up for a tour and got some maniac as our tour guide.  Calling himself 'Bird', short for 'Jailbird', our bus driver/tour guide claimed to be out on day parole from prison.  Bird picked us up in his van near the dock in Hilo.  He immediately told us we could not take his picture because it would violate his parole agreement.  When he wasn't looking, I took one anyway.  Society needs to be warned.

As an experienced traveler, I have to tell you that Bird had the most unusual shtick for a tour guide I have ever run across.  He had me alternating between convulsive laughter and a deep suspicion there might be an element of truth to his story.

I can be a bit of a nut myself.  When Bird told us he was taking writing lessons in prison, I suggested he write a plot for breaking out of jail using an ancient lava tube as an escape route.  Bird was so genuinely impressed by that idea, he thanked me profusely.  He said there was a lava tube near the prison that a short tunnel should be able to reach.  I was afraid to ask if he was thanking me for the wrong reasons.

We were headed near the Kilauea Volcano, which has been erupting on a daily basis since 1983.  I asked Mr. Jailbird why it was safe to visit a live volcano.  I mean, aren't volcanoes something to be feared?  Jailbird explained that the pressure at Kilauea is constantly being released, so there is no build-up of the kind of pressure that makes a volcano go kaboom like Dante's Peak.  Later on I took a photograph of a sign that helped explain what he was talking about.


To pass the time as we drove to the lava fields, Bird suggested we introduce one another.  Marla and I discovered the family sitting behind us lived about four blocks away from us here in the Houston Heights.  I have passed their house during 'Lights in the Heights' several times.  

In fact, the mother said her sister Stephanie Shapiro met her husband Chuck right here at the studio back in the Nineties and got married.  I knew exactly who she was talking about.
Chuck and Stephanie were a big part of the studio back in those days.  Small world, isn't it? 

And yes, please don't ask, I don't have a clue what their names are.  But I can point to their house.

Once we got to the lava fields, the road ended.  I have to tell you that I was stunned by the barren landscape.  As far as my eye could see, the land was covered by dried lava.   There were miles and miles of grey-black lava devastation. The landscape was both ugly and amazing.  I was totally stunned.  I felt like I was visiting a bomb blast area. 

There was a bumpy path of sorts carved out in the lava fields for our minibus to travel over.  I soon realized this area had once been very expensive real estate.  Now everywhere I looked there was devastation.

Although it is Kilauea that is currently moving towards the Hot Spot, Mauna Loa still has some fight in it.

The old veteran Mauna Loa sprang back into life in 1984.  Everything in the path of its lava flow was flattened - homes, roads, rain forests.  This was not a one-time event either.  Several towns have been destroyed by Mauna Loa lava flows: Kapoho (1960), Kalapana (1990), and Kaimū (1990). 

Over the past twenty years, total losses of property have exceeded $61 million, making this ongoing eruption the most costly in Hawaiian history.

Warning - Live Volcano in action!


The green areas are forests, the dark area is lava. 
Do you see how the beach curves?  The lava is extending the shore line.

Fortunately these eruptions are so tame there has been
virtually no loss of life. People just get out of the way.

Over the years, 182 homes were destroyed including
the entire high-end Kalapana Gardens Subdivision

 Indeed, small children are allowed to sit and watch as the lava approaches.

I am not positive, but I believe our hike took place in the former Kalapana Gardens.  For one thing, the Pacific Ocean was only about half a mile away.  I remember the highway abruptly ending (#130 in map above) so we had to drive on a terribly bumpy road for a couple hundred yards. Then the paved highway returned.  That description is consistent with the map above where the road heads into Kalapana.  When the paved road ended a second time, our bus continued another half mile heading west over a very rugged road.  From there we got out of the bus and started to walk.  Our hike took us even further west.

Since Jailbird broke every speed law imaginable, we were the first ones there.  I had been told we were going to see brand new lava emanating from the earth.  That thought had me seriously pumped.  Let's get it started!

Imagine how frustrated I was when they told me we had to wait until every single bus showed up.  Now that we were finally here, I wanted to see some actual lava.  Never the most patient of people, I was chomping at the bit to get the show on the road.

I took a couple pictures to deal with the boredom.  Someone actually lives in that trailer home.  His sign says "Royal Palms Drive.  Intruders Keep Out".  Oh boy, such an estate!  Can't wait to rob that place!

I was going nuts waiting for those other buses to arrive.  Finally I gave up, went back to my bus, sat down and started to play computer chess to pass the time.  It was the only way I could handle the wait.

It took over half an hour for the other buses to arrive.  When they did arrive, it took even longer to organize everyone.  There were well over 100 people.  I could see they were having some sort of meeting, but I was on the verge of winning my chess game and paid it no attention.

Finally Marla came and got me.  I finished my chess game and sprang back into action.  I counted 12 buses.  Each bus carried ten people.

Hmm.  12 buses carrying 10 people per bus.  Since our fee was $100, some quick math told me today's gate was a cool $12,000.  Here I thought I was the greatest huckster of all time.  Who else could get people to pay hard-earned money to learn "The Monster Mash"? 

But I had obviously met my match.  These people were paying $100 a pop to see the ugliest terrain on the planet.  Now that's impressive!  Someone was a marketing genius.  These lava tours were good business! 

They herded us up like cattle and demanded we walk single file.  Furthermore they insisted we not take any pictures.  No reasons were given.  I didn't care.  I took pictures whenever I wanted.

As we walked, I was fascinated to see plant life trying to re-establish itself in this barren wilderness.  It could not have been easy.  There could not have been much in the way of nutrients in that lava.  Nor was there any soil to absorb and retain rain water.  I imagine rainwater disappeared quickly into those cracks.

Furthermore the heat was brutal.  With all this heat, I was very impressed by these little sword ferns making a serious first step towards reforesting this area. 

Lava is made from basalt.  50% of basalt is silica, a glass-like substance.  In other words, the entire lava field was one giant mirror radiating sun light in every direction. 

Too bad I didn't know this fact ahead of time.  Despite wearing a hat and putting on lotion, my face and neck still became badly sunburned thanks to the constant reflections off the lava surface. 

As you can see, the destruction stretched for miles. This picture should give you an idea just how brutal the lava flow was.  Here you can see some of the forested area that was spared.  This was one of the few patches of greenery that the lava had missed.  

Mind you, there had been thick forests here as recently as 10 years ago.  Not any more.  The lava flow had flattened everything in sight.  The lava field went on and on as far as the eye could see.  I felt like we were walking on the moon.

As the hike moved into its second hour, the line stretched further apart as the slowest buffaloes brought up the rear.  As we continued to walk single file, we were flanked on either side by our guides.  They were determined to keep us in line.  The guides all had very serious expressions on their faces.  Furthermore they refused to be engaged in conversation.  I was very curious what this was all about. 

We must have walked three miles.  Our group was stretched a mile apart.  I could not even see our bus anymore.  I kept wondering when we would get to the lava flow.  To be honest, I had no idea what it was we were looking for.  I guessed it was some sort of lava pit we could stare down into.  I also kept wondering where the signs were.  There was absolutely no discernible trail.  We just followed the leader.

I noticed several guides had separated from the group and were walking around in different directions.  They seemed to be looking for something.  The other guides told to stop moving and wait for them.

I finally got a guide to talk to me.  Why were there no markers and no trail?  She said they had no idea where the lava was.  She said the lava appeared in different places every day.  She said they would walk around till they found what they were looking for.

I didn't expect that answer. Like I said, I assumed we were going to some sort of pre-determined lava pool.  Why not just mark where it is? Put a flag near it or an orange traffic cone.  How hard would that be?

I remember at the time feeling bored out of my wits.  I was just walking around la-di-da waiting for the daily eruption show.  What time does the volcano usually start its day? 

I have a question for you.  Study this picture and the one above for a moment.  Do you see anything different in this picture compared to one directly above?   I will make my point in a second.

I kept plodding around looking for something interesting to look at.  This lava field had begun to look all the same wherever I went.

Then about one hundred yards away I noticed a flurry of activity.  People began to gather in a spot.  Finally!

I immediately began to run over to the Hot Spot. Suddenly my guide screamed at me to stop. 

There was something in her voice that made me decide she must know something I didn't, so I stopped. 

The woman came over to me and pointed down at my feet.  I was standing just three feet from a lava flow that would have taken my entire foot off in seconds!   And I am not kidding either.

It turns out there are three shades of lava - dark grey, silver grey, and burning grey lava that mixes silver and red.  Dark grey is safe, but not the light silvery grey that I had almost stepped on.  This silver lava seemed to have cooled, but in reality it was nearly as hot as the red lava.

In the picture above, you can see the shiny silver lava.  That stuff would have taken my feet off in seconds!  Time for the Texas Hop Hop Hop.

And I had no idea of the danger I was walking into.  Badly shaken, I started tip-toeing my way around very carefully.  I did not take one step without first inspecting where I was headed for signs of danger.

I felt like I was caught in a minefield! 

Slowly I got a grip and studied the lava around me.  Now that I had been warned, I quickly learned the difference between the safe dark grey lava that was cool and the dangerous silver stuff that lurked everywhere.

Once I knew what to look for, first came relief, but then I began to feel angry.  Okay, yes, my guide had done her job and made sure I didn't do anything stupid.  Good for her. 

But why didn't anyone bother to explain the danger ahead of time?  Why all the secrecy?

I now understood the single file.  By flanking us on either side, the guides made sure we didn't accidentally wander into fresh lava.

But it would not have been difficult to simply tell people there were potential dangers in the area we were heading to and show photographs of what to look out for.  Just tell us, for crying out loud! 

If someone really did get hurt, these people had left themselves wide open for a negligence claim.

I have a favorite saying: Experience is a comb Life throws you after you have lost all your hair.

I could easily see people who had no idea of the danger coming to this location on their own only to lose a foot.  This lava was a real threat!

That's why I admire test pilots and pioneers.  They have the guts to be the first to try things out before anyone knows what the dangers are.  You can always spot the pioneers - they are the ones lying in the trail with arrows in their backs.

A good example of learning things the hard way is Madame Curie.  She is one of my all-time heroes.  Madame Curie did amazing work in the new field of radioactivity, winning two Nobel Prizes along the way.  However Madame Curie also made a deeply unpleasant discovery during her work with radioactivity - she died from radiation poisoning! 

Back when I was kid, I put my left eye out with a knife.  I was cutting on some rope in the wrong direction.  That's another good example of learning things the hard way.  I am permanently blind in my left eye.  This serves as a constant reminder to cut things correctly.

My brush with the camouflaged lava was a pretty close call.   I had come within three feet of becoming a one-legged dance instructor.   I was definitely shaken.  And I was angry too.  No wonder I was so angry!   I had no idea this trip was so dangerous... because I didn't pay attention.  But I wasn't even aware that it was my fault.

As we walked back to the bus, I complained to Marla about the stupidity of the guides not to warn us ahead of time about the silver lava.

Marla gave me a funny look.  "They warned us plenty." 

I looked at her.  "You're kidding.  When?"

"Once everyone arrived, they had a big meeting while you stayed on the bus playing computer chess.  I thought you were listening." 

My mouth dropped open in shock. 

Although I love to make fun of stupid tourists, let me assure you it wasn't nearly as much fun to discover this time the ignorant tourist was me.  

I didn't say much for the rest of the afternoon.  

I was ashamed of myself.

 Story Three:  Maui

Hawaii Home Hawaii Photographs Who Went? Day One Oahu Day Two Big Island Day Three Maui
Day Four Maui Day Five Big Island Day Six Kauai Day Seven Kauai 2007 Hawaii Cruise Photographs
SSQQ Front Page Parties/Calendar Jokes
SSQQ Information Schedule of Classes Writeups
SSQQ Archive Newsletter History of SSQQ