About the Site
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (3)  



Kilauea Volcano

Kilauea Iki

Mauna Loa

Chain of Craters

Kalapana Coast

Volcanic Features


Plants and Animals

Volcano House


Volcanic Features

As befits a national park on an island created by volcanism, evidences of volcanic activity are everywhere. Most obvious are the extensive deposits of lava from the many eruptions. There are two basic types of lava which can be found in the park, known as pahoehoe and a'a. Pahoehoe lava, which appears very smooth or sometimes "ropy", is formed by very fluid, fast-flowing lava before it cools. A'a lava, on the other hand, is quite rough or chunky and is formed by viscous, slowly flowing lava.

One such deposit, seen below lying across an old section of the Chain of Craters Road, illustrates the two types of lava which exist in the park.

One additional bit of evidence of the fact that Kilauea and Mauna Loa are still very much active is the Sulfur Banks which are located not far from Volcano House. Here, volcanic gas composed of carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and hydrogen sulfide derived from magma within the mountain seeps to the surface.

The 1959 eruption of Kilauea Iki, described in greater detail above, has also left testaments to the power of the volcano. Below is the "devastated area" near the crater which is now covered by extensive deposits of pumice. More pictures of this unusual area can be seen below.

Extensive deposits of cinder and lava can be found in the area of Mauna Ulu near the Chain of Craters road.


One of the great attractions of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is its extensive trail system. These trails are varied in terms of difficulty as well as the terrain they traverse, but they provide access to volcanic activity as well as wildlife and lush vegetation.

In the western section of the park is the Kau Desert Trail. This 3.5 mile trail runs through desert vegetation and extensive deposits of lava from eruptions. This area of the park is much drier than the eastern section because of the "rain shadow" effects of the volcano; a much smaller amount of rain falls in this area. The rain which does fall is "acid rain" because of the effects of the volcanic fumes to the east.

The Devastation Trail is a short (1/2 mile), paved nature trail through the area which was devastated by the Kilauea Iki eruption in 1959. The trail provides ample evidence for the tremendous power of volcanism, with extensive deposits of pumice and few living things.

In the picture below a section of the trail can be seen with the mighty Mauna Loa in the background.

This area was previously a forest which was devastated by cinders falling from the 1959 Kilauea Iki eruption. The area was covered with deposits of thick, hot pumice. Another section of the area around the Devastation Trail can be seen below.

The "skeletons" or snags of the ohi'a trees which once grew here can still be observed. However, in some areas near the periphery of the area life has made inroads. All of the plants which exist now have grown since the 1959 eruption.

Pumice, which dominates this area, is the product of gas and molten glass which was chilled so rapidly that bubbles didn't have time to coalesce and burst. In many areas near the Kilauea Iki Crater plants have invaded the deposits of pumice extensively in the almost forty years since the eruption.

Another interesting trail leads to the Thurston Lava Tubes. Lava tubes are formed when the surface of a lava flow cools while the lava inside remains in a molten state, flowing downhill until the eruption ceases, leaving a hollow tube behind.

The Lava Tubes Trail runs though the lush Fern Jungle and into the cave itself. This tube was discovered in 1913 by newspaper publisher and conservationist Lorris Thurston. Thurston himself used to lead tours thorough the cave he had discovered. A section of the trail running through the jungle just before it enters the tube is shown below.

Plants and Animals

In addition to the many volcanic features of the park the lush and unusual vegetation is interesting as well. Many of the plants and animals in the park and on the islands exist only here because of Hawaii's isolation. Hawaii is one of the most isolated places on earth, more than 2400 miles away from the closest continent.

The vegetation in the eastern section of the park is particularly noteworthy. This is the wettest section of the park, where moisture-laden trade winds dump rain on the east side of the mountain.

The forested areas of the park contain a number of different types of ferns, including the giant tree ferns which are pictured here. These ferns--hapu'u--may reach 40 feet in height and have fronds up to 25 feet in length.

Another fern shot is shown below.

Smaller ferns can also be found peeking up from cracks and crevices in the extensive volcanic deposits.

Among the native flowering plants found in the park, 98% grow only in the sate of Hawaii.

The most common flowers are the red blossoms which are found on the ohia lehua tree. This tree is the most common in the park. This tree is the first to appear on new lava flows and is also found in abundance in the moist rain forests. The mature tree may range in height from 10 to 20 or 30 feet in drier area to 60 or 80 feet in the rain forests. Its hard wood was used by native Hawaiians to make spears, tools, and other objects.

It's quite remarkable to see the small bits of vegetative life which take hold in the vastness of the fields of lava. After lava cools, the first plants to colonize the ground are lichens, mosses, and ferns, a few of which can be seen in the process of colonization below. These plants may appear within a few months after the lava cools.

Lava contains most of the nutrients necessary to support life. All plant life needs is abundant rainfall and cracks for seeds or spores to lodge in and begin to grow. A'a lava provides more cracks and is thus colonized faster.

The ferns and vines are set off against the glistening surface of the pahoehoe lava.

One animal which is connected to Hawaii and the national park is the state's native bird, the néné, or Hawaiian goose. Several of these birds can be seen standing along the Chain of Craters Road, below.

Many of the plants and animals in Hawaii evolved from a few originals which somehow found there way to the isolated islands. The néné is probably descended from some wayward Canada geese which found there way to the island. Living primarily on sparsely populated land often covered by flows of lava, rather than in watery areas, the néné has largely lost its webbed feet, as can be seen below.

These birds were once very abundant, numbering in the tens of thousands. As with noteworthy animals in many national parks the néné was once near extinction. However, by the 1940's the birds were extinct on Maui and there were only about 30 birds on the Big Island.

As can be seen in the photograph below many of these birds are tagged and followed in an effort to help them survive. The breeding and release programs are responsible for the recovery and the current existence of the Hawaiian goose. Approximately 100 of the birds now live in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The biggest current threat to their survival are automobiles, as a number of birds are run over each year. This accounts for the frequent "Néné Crossing" signs which can be seen along the roads of the park.

Volcano House

The hotel along the rim of the Kilauea Caldera is one of the famous lodges of the national park system. It provides a panoramic view of both the Kilauea caldera and Mauna Loa.

In 1865 the hotel was little more than an unfurnished 14 by 20 foot grass hut. In 1866 Julius Richardson built a replacement, a frame building constructed of bamboo and thatch with a furnished parlor and two separate sleeping rooms, which was much appreciated by hard visitors who made the arduous journey to the volcano. A larger hotel was built in 1891. The hotel went through economic ups and downs, but was particularly successful when Kilauea was active.

After a fire consumed the existing hotel, the current Volcano House was built in 1941 on the original location of the Hawaii Volcano Observatory, now currently located across the rim from the hotel.

Volcano House has hosted visitors from all over the world, numbering among its guests Mark Twain, Louis Pasteur, and Queen Lileokalani among its famous visitors.


Information about Haleakal National Park has been drawn from personal experience, maps, interpretive material, brochures, and other data available in the park itself, and a number of other sources, including:

- First Page for Hawaii Volcanoes National Park -

  • All photographs ©Patrick Holleran, Shannon Digital Imaging, 1994-2013

  • Commercial use of the images contained in this document without express written consent is strictly prohibited.

  • Comments and other remarks can be sent via e-mail to parkvision@shannontech.com