HAWAI’I: More Fascinating Than I Expected

September 28, 2021

Crater in Kilauea Caldera, Volcanoes National Park, Hawai'iCrater from a helicopter, Big Island (Hawai'i)

For many years I had written off Hawai’i as a truly provocative destination, thinking it was all about palm trees, beaches, water sports, and hula girls. WRONG! Not only is traditional Hawaiian culture alive and well and more integrated into general life in the Islands than most Native or indigenous cultures in the US, but geologically, Hawai’i is filled with fascinating formations, especially in the lava fields of Hawaiian Volcanoes National Park, on the Big Island of Hawai’i.

Hiking path across Kilauea Caldera, Volcanoes National Park, Hawai'i

There I found rock formations unlikeI had ever seen before, either in other lava fields, such as Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho, or Malpais in New Mexico. In Hawai’i I found many more examples of pahoehoe, or smooth, lava, which took on a variety of suggestive shapes. I also found interesting varieties of tafoni, fragments of dead coral interspersed with lava on a beach, and fascinating stretches of a low cliff wall that followed a narrow road up the east side of the mountain on Maui, on the way to Nakalele Point and its famous blowhole.

In addition, the rainforest that I hiked through in Volcanoes National Park was amazing: filled with gorgeous flowers, what most impressed me were the tree-size ferns, which seemed to be a throwback to the Carboniferous Period of the Paleozoic Era, from about 359 mya (million years ago) to 300 mya (see the amazing images by searching for Carboniferous on Google). The tree-ferns were perfect subjects for my fisheye lens—as was an old banyan tree I found in a park in Hilo.First grown through a crack in the lava of the Kilauea Caldera."Grandmother Banyan Tree," Hilo, Hawai'i

The isiand of Maui is a combination of two volcanoes that joined together. The Western one is the smaller. Maui’s main city, Kahalui (with its international airport), is right in the middle where the two mountains join.

Passing through Kahalui from the larger part of the island, I drove up to Nakalele Point on a narrow winding rode along the eastern edge of the western volcano, till I arrived at its extreme northeastern tip. There I was delighted to find acres and acres of tafoni rocks, in addition to the famous blow hole, which shot up every few minutes with the tide. Below are four photos of Nakalele point. The first two feature the blowhole, but more interesting to me was the extensive field of tafoni rocks. The first one is my “butterfly” tafoni, and the second is a general view, which I call Battlefield, since it reminds me of a field strewn with the dead.

"Battlefield" Tafoni-strewn field at Nakalele Point, MauiThese final photos are from La Perouse Bay on the southwestern tip of Maui. The trail follows the edge of a forest with scattered remains of low block lava walls dating back centuries, while twisted tree skeletons lay across the path.

The surf was high, and daredevils were out windsurfing in wet suits. The beaches were beds of lava fragments, interspersed with pieces of coral. The last one on this page one spoke ominously of the worldwide death of coral reefs.


Joel Simpson

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