Hawaii’s laid-back vibes and palm-fringed beaches contrast sharply with its violent creation millions of years ago. Today, both Hawaii (also known as the Big Island) and Maui still have active volcanoes, and, on the Big Island, a slow-moving ooze of lava from the Kilauea volcano continues to shape and change the volcanic island.
It’s easy to see reminders of volcanoes in Hawaii (on all of the islands) if you know where to look. Here are five special spots where you can stand in awe of the power of Pele, the Fire Goddess.
Kauai’s Napali Coast
An undulating wall of green, rising as high as 4,000 feet above the sea and stretching for 22 miles, Kauai’s Na Pali Coast is one of the state’s most iconic features. Its green valleys and cloud-rimmed pali (cliffs) have helped set the scene for mythical jungle landscapes in iconic movies, but what formed these spectacular features? You guessed it! The Napali Coast is a remnant of the long-extinct giant shield volcano that formed the island five million years ago. Five distinct valleys have been eroded into its surface by eons of waves. The pali have been shaped by wind and rain, and plants blanket them with life. Explore the scenic coastline by sailboat or raft with popular outfitters like Captain Andy’s.
The Ko’olau Range on Oahu
Like the inland Napali, the verdant Ko’olau Mountain Range looms behind Honolulu and stretches along Oahu’s windward (eastern) coast. Rainbows arc over tight undulations that stream with waterfalls in heavy rains, but this impressive feature isn’t a mountain range at all. Eight miles of peaks between Waimanalo and Kaneohe are actually the remnants of a massive supervolcano, the eastern half of which crashed into the sea during a landslide some 500,000 years ago. The paved pathways of the Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail offers one of the best vantages to soak it in.
Molokini off Maui
This crescent-shaped islet located two-and-a-half miles off Maui’s southern coast is protected as a state marine life and bird conservation district. One half of an ancient lava vent that formed 230,000 years ago still peeks above the waves, cupping clear waters that are ripe for snorkeling and home to some 250 species of fish and over 30 species of coral. To get there, hop aboard a snorkeling or diving tour.
Hawaii Island’s Mauna Kea
Blasting 13,678 feet above the seafloor, this is one of the most magnificent volcanoes in Hawaii . . . and the tallest. It’s so tall that its summit is sometimes blanketed in snow while sun-worshipers lie on the beaches miles below. Thirteen of the world’s best telescopes take advantage of the remarkably clear skies above the cloud layer at the summit, and you should, too. Most visitors drive up to Mauna Kea’s visitor information station at night to take in distant galaxies, planets and star clusters during nightly star parties at 9,200 feet. For a truly unique experience, beat the crowds and join Hawaii Forest & Trail’s sunrise tour, which heads all the way to the limited-access summit at dawn. From this vantage, you can greet the day atop one of the most sacred spots in the Hawaiian Islands.
Kilauea Volcano on Hawaii Island
Another of the noteworthy volcanoes in Hawaii, Kilauea, is one of the world’s most active—it has been erupting continuously for 33 years! Fortunately for residents and visitors, its modern eruptions are not violent. They take the form of bubbling lava lakes and slow-moving lava flows. To see the ongoing eruption firsthand, head to the Jaggar Museum overlook in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, where you’ll spot the plume billowing from its glowing Halemaumau Crater lava lake. Then, drive the Chain of Craters Road. This national park road has been inundated by lava on several occasions since 1986, and lava has blanketed over nine miles of roadway. At its terminus by the sea, it’s easy to see where recent flows have hissed against the water. The volcanic island continues to grow this way. Five hundred new acres of land have been added to the Big Island since 1983!