Hawaii's big island


All is eerily quiet at Hawaiian Ocean View Estates.

Bristling piles of black, volcanic stone are the main feature of this massive, not-quite-realized development in the southwestern corner of Hawaii's actively volcanic Big Island, a quiet corner of the island state that actually begs not to be developed. Tenacious locals have successfully thwarted many proposed resorts here on the basis that they would interfere with their traditional way of life.

So in a state synonymous with large, luxury resorts the southern tip of the Big Island remains quiet and low key, a tiny nook of paradise that locals are determined to keep for themselves.

Quiet, that is, if one can overlook the constant, looming threat of Kilauea, the active volcano whose flanks have been oozing liquid fire since 1983. One would expect the inhabitants of Volcano Village, the tidy little settlement tucked into the misty foliage that services Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, to live in constant apprehension of their unpredictable neighbour.

But they are sitting pretty, upslope from the crater. Kilauea, despite the havoc she has wrought beneath her fiery flanks, could be considered a user friendly, laid back volcano. Visitors can drive right up to her rim, gaze across the vast expanse of her crater and even hike across what was, for parts of the 19th century, a boiling lake of lava. In the distance, a massive plume of steam rises from the depths of Halema'uma'u, what is essentially a crater within a crater, and considered to be the home of Madame Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of fire.

All is serene here now, the current action taking place at a new site called Pu'u O'o, the volcanic vent that is responsible for entombing the quiet, seaside town of Kalapana as well as burying miles of state highway. But as recently as 1959, after laying dormant for almost a century, Kilauea had a brief temper tantrum, spewing fountains of lava 1,900 feet into the air, shooting, at one point, enough liquid fire to bury a football field 15 feet deep in the stuff every minute!

For 36 days lava continued to burst forth from the bowels of the earth before she quieted into the crusty lake of stone that exists today. Steaming vents flank the hiking trail that traverses the crater reminding visitors that but a few hundred feet below the seemingly solid ground lies a molten lake of fire.

Such fiery displays are rare for now. The Pu'u O'o vent, a mere gash on the volcano's flank has been quietly oozing lava since 1983. The spectacle may be less dramatic, but the results are just as devastating. Completed in 1928, the Chain of Craters Road once formed a loop that descended about 3,700 feet to the sea and continued east to the small town of Kalapana and beyond to the island's lush and rainy Puna district. Today, it is rudely interrupted near the sea, entombed in a solid blanket of shiny black stone, a lava flow from the late '90s, nature's very effective version of a dead end. One can still reach the otherworldly remains of Kalapana, but they must take the long way round.

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