According to legend, Pele – the Hawaiian goddess of fire, lightning, dance, and volcanoes – lives in the Halemaʻumaʻu crater of Kīlauea, located in Hawaii’s Volcanoes National Park. Kilauea means “spewing” or “much spreading” in Hawaiian, an apt name given that it is one of the most active volcanoes on the planet. Unfortunately there were no active lava flows during the time I was visiting the park, though at night we could see the glowing steam rising above the lava lake that is Pele’s legendary lair (Halemaʻumaʻu crater).

Halema'uma'u Lava Lake, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

"Pele's Lair' ~ Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
The Tech: Canon 5D2, 100-400, tripod
Exposure: iso 400, f/8, 1.3 sec

Occasionally during stronger volcanic activity the lava escapes the lava lake (and other areas) and slowly oozes its way down to the ocean. Along the way the crust hardens, creating an insulating barrier that keeps the lava inside hot and flowing. When the source “dries up” what remains is an empty tunnel called a lava tube. There is one particularly big one at Volcanoes National Park, the Thurston Lava tube. What I found most fascinating about this lava tube compared to others I’d seen in northern California were the strange ‘beards’ that were hanging from the cracks in the ceiling. These beards are actually aerial roots of the ‘Ohia, a common tree in the park with red feathery blossoms. The ‘Ohia is particularly well adapted to the rough lava landscape of the island and is often one of the first plants to settle on new lava flows (after about 100 years). The aerial roots help to collect moisture from the air.

Thurston Lava Tube, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

"Pele's Beard" ~ Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
The Tech: Canon 5D2, 24-105mm, tripod, light
Exposure: iso 800, f/16, 31 sec

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park gets over a million visitors each year (1.6 million in 2006), so you can imagine that it can get pretty crowded. Fortunately there are opportunities to escape the busloads of tourists, and I took the opportunity to do just. I had my parents drop me off at the Puna Coast trailhead and I headed out towards the coast through six and a half miles of desolate lavascape. After about 3 miles it became a truly surreal experience. In the heat of the afternoon the black and silvery landscape shimmered with heatwaves for miles in every direction, and far in the distance I could just barely make out my destination: a lonely grove of Coconut Trees. Or was it a mirage?

Pahoehoe Lava, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

"Lava Egg" ~ Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
The Tech: Canon 5D2, 24-105mm, polarizer, tripod
Exposure: iso 100, f/16, 1/20th

Solidified lava takes all sorts of interesting forms depending on the geochemical properties and temperature of the flow. Most of the flow the trail took me through was Pahoehoe, which has a smooth, undulating, and ropy surface. Some of the flows along the trail were particularly fascinating and had a glassy surface to them with a light red staining (my guess is the red is due to a higher concentration of iron oxides).

At long last I made it to my destination, where I promptly dropped my pack under a Coconut Tree and cracked open my Coconut Porter. What an excellent way to relax! To my surprise there were in fact three other people at the beach – turtle researchers who were keeping track of the critically endangered Hawksbill Turtle which comes to nest on this part of the coast. After enjoying the sunset from a beautiful patch of Pahoehoe lava I joined the turtle researchers for part of their first turtle watch. Of course, no turtles showed up, but that’s not too surprising since they only averaged about one per week!

click for larger view!

Pahoehoe Lava, Puna Coast, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

"Pele's Paradise" ~ Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
The Tech: Canon 5D2, Nikon 14-24, tripod
Exposure: iso 200, f/16, 13 and 8 sec
Processing: I used two exposures at different focus settings and shutter speeds which I blended by hand for controlling the depth of field and dynamic range.

This is part 2 of 3 from my posts about Hawaii. Read part 1 here: Walking on Stars, and stayed tuned for part 3!

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4 Comments to “Pele’s Playground : Hawaii Volcanoes Nat. Park”

  1. Many thanks for that info. I have always wanted to take picture to an active volcano. It could be a good place.
    Excellent pictures, very good imagination for using the light in that kind of grass in the second picture.

  2. Drew Hopper says:

    Sensational work as always man, keep rocking 🙂

  3. Alister Benn says:

    What a stunning selection of images. The abstracts are excellent…

  4. […] last part in a 3-part series of images from my trip to Hawaii. You can see the previous two here: Walking on Stars (Maui), and Pele’s Playground (Hawaii Volcanoes […]