Maui, Hawaii

Blog: A taste of what you may find on Maui

Active Volcano Tour on Big Island

I know, this is a Maui blog, but sometimes people ask – where do you go on vacation? This weekend I took my kids to Big Island (the Island of Hawai’i) to see its active volcano Kilauea from a helicopter! What an adventure!

Hawaii’s volcanic history

The Hawaiian Islands have been created by the movement of the Pacific (tectonic) plate over a hot spot in the crust where lava erupted and formed volcanoes/islands. Of the inhabited islands, Ni’ihau is the oldest volcano remnant, then followed by Kauai, Oahu and Maui Nui (Molokai, Lanai, Maui and Kaho’olawe). Big Island is comprised of five volcanoes – Mauna Kea is the tallest (13,796 feet) and is considered dormant. It is home to the world’s largest observatory. Mauna Loa (13,678 feet) is still considered active, with its most recent eruption in 1984, streaming towards (but not reaching) Hilo. Check out this schematic which explains it well.

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Creation of the Hawaiian Islands
The active volcano

Kilauea is Big Island’s newest (above ground) volcano. It holds the distinction of being the world’s most active volcano, with non-stop activity for the past 33 years. That’s right – there has been something going on here for the past 33 years. Sometimes active lava flow, sometimes just rumblings. For the past year it has had an active lava flow, ‘gently’ making its way down and reaching the ocean.

We booked the Circle of Fire helicopter tour with Blue Hawaiian. Seeing the volcano from the air was amazing. We started by checking out Rainbow Falls (in Hilo), then flew up along the most recent lava flow from Mauna Loa (from 1984) to Kilauea crater where we saw plenty of steam and some red hot lava!

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Birdseye view of Kilauea crater (with a flash of orange lava)

Then off to the Pu’u O’o vent where we saw more lava and from where currently lava is flowing (under a black crust) to the ocean, creating new land as it goes.

 

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Lava meets the sea where the steam rises) – you can see newly formed landmass in the ocean

Blue Hawaiian’s staff in Hilo was very professional, the helicopter clean and in good condition. I would very much recommend them. In fact, this is my second Blue Hawaiian tour – check my blog about my West Maui Mountains and Molokai helicopter tour with them.

A few thoughts…

In the past few years Big Island has torn up several hurricanes, drenching the Puna district, but tearing the hurricanes apart and shifting them away from Maui (we are so thankful). I somehow envisioned these mountains to be visually more impressive, maybe more mountainous. But it turns out, just like Haleakala, Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea have gentle slopes which makes their size very deceiving (especially Mauna Loa). They are shield volcanoes, their shape has to do with the composition of the lava that flows out (see here for a better explanation).

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approaching Big Island by airplane from Maui – those mountains don’t look that impressive…
Recommendations

Initially we were only going to fly to Big Island for the day. However, someone reminded me that Hilo is on Big Island’s rainy side… what if the helicopter ride was cancelled due to weather? Yes, they will reschedule, but when flying over only for the day, you don’t have much flexibility. We opted to spend the night in Hilo which allowed us to explore the National Park on our second Big Island day. Turns out our flight day was perfect with blue skies. Day two was rainy.

Here is a short (blurry) video clip of the activity at the crater taken from the Jaggar museum outlook.

Admission to Hawaii’s national parks is $20/car with re-admission for one week. We chose to buy the 3 park annual pass for $25 which allows us to check out all three of Hawaii’s national parks (including Haleakala here on Maui).