HomeBlogs hawai'i Volcanoes National Park Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, on the "Big Island" of Hawai'i, offers
the visitor a look at two of the world's most active volcanoes: Kīlauea
and Mauna Loa.
More than 4,000 feet high and still growing,
Kīlauea abuts the southeastern slope of the older and much larger Mauna
Loa, or "long mountain." Mauna Loa towers some 13,679 feet above the
sea: Measured from its base 18,000 feet below sea level, it exceeds
Mount Everest in height. Mauna Loa's gently sloping bulk—some 19,000
cubic miles in volume—makes it the planet's most massive single
The park stretches from sea level to Mauna Loa's
summit. Beyond the end of the road lies Mauna Loa's wilderness area,
where backpackers encounter freezing nights and rough lava trails amid
volcanic wonders: barren lava twisted into nightmarish shapes, cinder
cones, gaping pits. Kīlauea, however, provides easy access to a greater
variety of scenery and cultural sites.
On the slopes of Kīlauea,
whose name means "spreading, much spewing," lush green rain forest
borders stark, recent lava flows. This natural laboratory of ecological
change displays all stages of forest regeneration—from early regrowth
of lichens and ferns to dense forest. The rain forest on the windward
side of Kīlauea's summit gives way to the stark, windswept Ka'ī Desert
on the hot, dry southwestern slope. At the shore, waves create lines of
jagged cliffs; periodic eruptions send fresh lava flows to meet the sea
amid colossal clouds of steam.
Geological dynamism forms the
park's primary natural theme, followed closely by evolutionary biology.
Thousands of unique species have evolved on the isolated Hawaiian
islands. Cultural sites abound as well, reminders of the Polynesian
pioneers who steered their great double-hulled canoes to Hawai'i
beginning some 1,500 years ago.
The United Nations has named the
park both an international biosphere reserve and a World Heritage site.
Many of the park's intriguing native plants and animals, however, are
in peril, defenseless against alien species including weedy invasive
plants and feral pigs.