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Sunday, December 14, 2014

Heaven And Hell: Hawaii’s Magnificent Volcano Hotspot

- by Sally Fensome

Ah Hawaii… (let’s cue the tranquil wave soundtrack for a moment) a place which has a place in all our hearts, which lives in our dreams and usually sits in the top 10 of places to see bucket list. Hawaii-- that great tropical paradise which seemingly bursts with wildlife from the lush forests that cascade down from rugged cliffs all the way to the turquoise shores, lined charmingly with picturesque huts, cafes, and fishing boats. Yes, Hawaii-- that captivating archipelago that was once under the reign of Kamehameha-- would be the next stunning destination where I’d take my kids and get in some down time as well as revel in cultural delights. But most of all, I would be watching fire meet sky, when the ashes of Hawaii’s luminescent volcanoes unleashed their fury into the night.

The Idyllic Choice

There are a myriad of reasons why I chose Hawaii for my next port of call. One, it’s warm. Two. It’s absolutely, mind-bogglingly beautiful. The other reasons gravitated around my kids. As an adventurer/travel writer/mother, I’ve always believed in getting my kids to see as much of the world as possible, opening up their minds and imaginations to the endless possibilities out there. Hawaii is a great choice because I could show them part of the United States that would be completely different to anything they experienced before, and I could also show them not only the distinct and eclectic cultural scene which makes Hawaii so remarkable, but help them to garner a true appreciation for one of the most fragile and important ecosystems in the world. I’m about fun, yet responsible travel – and we all delighted at the prospect of exploring its dreamlike shores in leisure, not to mention fit in some whale-watching (my youngest is a huge fan of marine life). The remaining reasons are probably most resonant in my mind: My love affair with volcanoes is the thing which brought me closer to this geological hotspot.

Hawaii’s Spectacular Volcanoes

Hawaii’s giants of fire and magma have a lot to reckon for; about 70 million years of tossing and churning from the angry earth have carved out a place in the Pacific like no other, giving life to more than 150 ecosystems and some of the rarest species and land formations on the planet. These breathing monsters, these omnipotent and sometimes unpredictable takers and givers of life, are truly stunning. The Hawaii Volcanoes National Park was my ultimate stop for witnessing the spectacle of these seemingly impossible structures, responsible for sculpting out Hawaii’s intricate geological shapes; Kīlauea and Mauna Loa continue to carve out the land with their busy activity. As an avid fan of volcanoes (I had watched the National Geographic specials with the beloved Kraffts) I was interested not only in the shape of the land, but the environments given to flourish within them and even pay a visit to the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

There is an incredible sense of anticipation in the region. I’ve lived in what I’d call vulnerable environments for a numbers of years-- the tornado-ridden Midwest, the flooding and hurricane-prone southern coasts and the heavy snowfalls of the Rockies which have shut down even the hardiest of places. But to be within the vicinity of such great bastions of power was something else altogether, and I felt myself in a kind of reverence to nature’s fire chambers. I could understand the sentiment behind the cultural followings of these beasts, once worshipped as gods – and I also felt almost a kind of gratitude and true appreciation for the beautiful wildlife which they created, or at least laid down the framework. My kids were particularly interested in the names of the gods like Pele, goddess of volcanic fire, and the festivals and celebrations associated with it (mythology has always been their passion). Like many natural wonders, the stories behind them would tell much more about the respective cultures which followed them, revealing a fascinating aspect of society, just as the incredible species which flourished within these environments have disclosed to us some of the earth’s deepest secrets and surprises.

I only had time for just a day’s worth in the national park, but it was more than fulfilling. It opened up my eyes to something which before only existed in my mind as a dream. But more than ever, my own pilgrimage of sorts to one of the most vital volcanic hotspots in the world has made it to the top of my bucket list-- not check marked, but underlined to do again.

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