5 Fun Hawaiian Volcano Adventures

Sure, you could tinker with toy volcano models. Or, you could head to Hawaii and see the real thing! See more volcano pictures.
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I recently gave my nephew one of those build-your-own-volcano kits. The box cover featured an illustration of a weird, science fiction-y landscape and a terrifically exploding volcano. In the box was a hollow, putty-colored plastic cone, some fast-drying plaster and tiny buckets of red, yellow and brown paint. You had to supply your own vinegar and baking soda for the eruption.

He and his Dad swabbed the plaster all over the cone, slapped some paint on it and poured the vinegar and baking soda inside. Then they stood back, tensed for what was sure to be a massive explosion. After a few seconds, a bit of white foam began leaking from the top. It dribbled down the sizes, fizzing weakly.

"Lame," said my nephew, trouncing off to race cars on his Wii.

He has a point. To really experience a volcano, you need the real deal and not some cheap craft model. In the United States, the Hawaiian Islands are definitely the place to go for volcano adventures. With several still-active volcanoes and a myriad of things to see and do on and around them, it can be hard to know where to start. To help you choose, we picked out five volcano adventures that are sure to light your lava. First up, Volcanoes National Park.

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Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
If you're lucky, you  might get to see flowing lava.
If you're lucky, you might get to see flowing lava.
iStockphoto/Thinkstock

When it comes to volcano adventures, there's no bigger thrill than actually seeing molten lava up close and personal. Weather and volcano conditions permitting, at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park you can come within spitting distance of lava. The park boundaries include two of the world's most active volcanoes: Kilauea and Mauna Loa.

Kilauea has been erupting continuously since 1983, and the eruptions aren't exactly predictable Old Faithful-like fits limited to the confines of the national park boundaries. In March 2012, a molten finger of lava rolled down from Kilauea and ravaged the last house in a subdivision that Kilauea has been systematically destroying for years [source: Sur].

Compared to Kilauea, Mauna Loa, the other volcano in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, is a gentle giant. Its last major eruption occurred almost 30 years ago, in 1984. Mauna Loa isn't exactly the picture of serenity, however. It is the single most massive mountain in the world -- more than 27,000 feet higher than Mount Everest when measured from the sea floor.

Any visit to Hawaii definitely merits a visit to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, but strolling right up to a thread of hot, molten lava may not be for everyone. For those who prefer their volcano vistas from far away, our next volcano adventure is the one for you.

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Volcano Helicopter Tours
Imagine catching this view from cockpit of a helicopter.
Imagine catching this view from cockpit of a helicopter.
iStockphoto/Thinkstock

It doesn't happen every day, but when molten lava enters the ocean, the resulting plume of steam and the bright orange blaze of plunging lava are amazing sights to behold. If you happen to be airborne on a helicopter tour when lava meets the sea, you will be treated to a sight that is sure to burn a lasting impression into your memory.

Helicopter tours are one of the coolest ways to experience Hawaii's volcanoes. You'll get a bird's eye view of any lava activity, as well as being treated to volcano history and folklore by the locals who pilot these flights. As a bonus, you'll also get to experience gorgeous waterfalls, green valleys and other gorgeous features of the Hawaiian Islands.

For volcano viewing, two of the most popular volcano helicopter tours are the 50-minute "Circle of Fire" tour offered by Bluehawaiian.com and the 45-minute "Volcano Safari Tour" offered by Safarihelicopters.com. Though neither can guarantee active lava sightings, both of these tours focus on the most active volcanic areas, mostly sites like the Pu'u O'o vent and other areas around Kilauea.

If your helicopter tour makes you even more eager to experience volcanoes from the sky, you might want to try a different type of volcano adventure.

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Zipline Tours

If the idea of sailing through the sky at 20 to 30 miles per hour gets you fired up, a zipline tour down Maui's Haleakala volcano might just make you erupt with excitement. Father and son Buck and Danny Boren of Skyline Eco-Adventures launched the Haleakala zipline, America's first zipline tour, in 2002. They both experienced a zipline in Costa Rica and fell in love with the adventure. "You fly down a cable that's thinner than your pinkie," said Danny Boren in a 2003 interview with the Honolulu Star Bulletin. "You're out in the open air. It's...a real rush!"

From the beginning, it was important to the Borens to use Skyline's tours to educate clients about Hawaii's ecology. Skyline Eco-Adventures pledges a percentage of its profits to environmental concerns, and in 2007, they pledged to become a carbon-neutral operation.

Skyline Eco-Adventures offers zipline tours at Ka'anapali and Haleakala in Maui and at Akaka Falls on the big island of Hawaii. Of the three, the Haleakala tour is the one that promises to send you soaring through the trees along the slopes of Haleakala, one of the world's largest volcanoes.

If plunging down a volcano on a thin wire offers a little more adventure than you can stand, there are plenty of other ways to experience volcanoes up close and personal.

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Hiking Trails and Bicycle Tours
Hiking on a volcano offers unique views.
Hiking on a volcano offers unique views.
Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Thinkstock

Cycling and hiking take on a whole new dimension when you get to experience them in the context of a Hawaiian volcano.

Hikers will want to check out Devastation Trail in Volcanoes National Park. This easy 0.5 mile hike takes you to the rim of Kilauea Iki Crater where you'll find skeletons of trees left behind after a devastating volcanic eruption. There are also tour companies that will take you on guided hikes to volcano hotspots like Kilauea. One such tour, the "Kilauea Volcano Discovery Hiking Adventure," is offered by Hawaiian Walkways. This 6-hour hike pairs sights of Kilauea's actively flowing lava with historical facts and fascinating Hawaiian folklore.

Until 2007, bicycle tours from the summit of Haleakala were one of East Maui's most popular attractions. However, a series of accidents proved the thrill-ride to be perhaps a little too thrilling. Today, downhill bicycle tours start partway down the volcano, just outside the boundaries of Haleakala National Park. Despite trimming the descent by a couple of kilometers, bicycle tours down Haleakala are as popular, and now safer, than ever.

If you're planning to take a bike tour down Haleakala, you might want to arrive early so that you have time to visit the summit before biking down. Sunrise at the summit is something you won't want to miss. Learn all about sunrises and stargazing on Haleakala next.

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Sunrises and Stargazing
Whether you're there for sunrise, sunset or stars, Haleakala's got it all.
Whether you're there for sunrise, sunset or stars, Haleakala's got it all.
iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Legend has it that to appease his mother, who felt the sun passed over Hawaii too quickly, the demigod Maui climbed Haleakala and ensnared the sun as it passed overhead. He held the sun until it agreed to pass more slowly over the islands. Thus Haleakala, meaning "rays of the sun," got its name.

Today, Haleakala more than lives up to its moniker. Most travel guides list the Haleakala summit as the place to enjoy a sunrise adventure in Hawaii. Haleakala National Park is open 24 hours per day to accommodate visitors anxious to see the fruits of Maui's labors.

According to the Haleakala National Park website, however, sunset might be an even better time to experience celestial phenomena from the volcano. Not only are Haleakala's sunsets as spectacular as its sunrises, once the sun goes down, stargazers will be dazzled by the sight of the Milky Way from the top of a volcano.

Whether you're huddling on top of Haleakala staring at fist-sized stars, biking down a volcano, ziplining through the trees, checking out a birds-eye view of Kilauea from a helicopter or getting up close and personal with molten lava at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, there are plenty of volcano adventures to be had all over the Hawaiian islands. Want more Hawaiian volcano hana ho'opīhoihoi (adventure)? We wrap up with related articles and more great links on the next page.

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Sources

  • Foster, Jeanette. "6 Best Hikes in Hawaii." Frommer's. (June 21, 2012) http://www.frommers.com/slideshow/index.cfm?group=270&p=1
  • Haleakala National Park News. "Activities and Directions." (June 21, 2012) http://www.nps.gov/hale/planyourvisit/upload/Park-Activities-2.pdf
  • Haleakala National Park. "Summit Area." (June 21, 2012) http://www.nps.gov/hale/planyourvisit/summit-area.htm
  • Sur, Peter. "Lava Claims Final Home." Hawaii Tribune Herald. March 4, 2012. (June 21, 2012) http://www.hawaiitribune-herald.com/sections/news/local-news/lava-claims-final-home.html
  • Tsutsumi, Cheryl Chee. "Zipline Tours Keep an Eye on the Aina." Honolulu Star-Bulletin. Oct. 5, 2003. (June 21, 2012) http://archives.starbulletin.com/2003/10/05/travel/tsutsumi.html
  • Urban, Kathryn Ladoulis and Stanley Solamillo. "Civilian Conservation Corps in Hawai'i: Oral Histories of the Haleakala Camp, Maui." July 20, 2011. (June 21, 2012) http://www.nps.gov/hale/historyculture/upload/CCC-Oral-Histories-of-Haleakala-Camp.pdf