Hawaii is the land of Pele, the volcano goddess. Known for her temper, she can erupt and destroy—but in doing so, she also creates. All the islands started from a surge of Pele’s temper, but only on the Big Island can you still see daily vestiges of it.
Inside Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is the Kilauea volcano, the most active volcano on earth, which, according to the National Park Service, produces 250,000 to 650,000 cubic yards of lava per day—enough to resurface a 20-mile-long two-lane road daily. Thanks to Kilauea, about 500 acres of new land have been created on the island of Hawaii since 1983. And no one knows whether the current eruption will last another century or stop tomorrow.
While it is beautiful—and the Kilauea Caldera glows every night as if alive — it is also terrifying. An eruption last year threatened the town of Pahoa, and in 1990, the town of Kalapana was completely destroyed. By the coast, just north of Hilo, are the remains of old roads whose white and yellow lines still peek out from under lava rock, and if you drive even farther north, you can see where homes once stood.
Park ranger Jessica Ferracane showed me the Caldera before taking me to the belly of the beast—the lava tubes.
The tubes, which look like long caves, are formed “a lot like a river that ices over in the winter,” Ferracane says. “As the lava pours down, the edges of the tube start to cool and harden; eventually you are left with these tubes.”
Inside the lava tubes … it’s like a bat cave with no bats (thank God).
Walking through the tubes is like walking on the inside of a volcano, and for a science geek (like me) it’s fascinating to see the inner workings of a landmass that many across the world refer to as “the gates of hell.”
Despite the ever-present threat, residents, aware of the danger but in love with the land, take it in stride.
“It’s part of life here,” Ferracane says, shrugging, “and we love it.”