Volcanoes. That’s what we’re talking about when it comes to being geeky in Hawaii. Sure there’s plenty of other things to do and see – gorgeous nature, a historical culture – but let’s be real: volcanoes are just cool.

When our family took a vacation to Hawaii, we got the chance to experience a lot of things: Rosalind and I went down in a submarine 150 feet under water (And yes, they said “Dive, dive dive!”), We all went to a traditional luau and got to try poi (which is, well, they say it grows on you), but the best part was when Gardella and I walked along an active volcano – Mount Kilauea!

Mount Kilauea. Thanks on Flickr.

Mount Kilauea.
Thanks exfordy on Flickr.

The Hawaiian islands were formed by volcanic eruptions, and they are still forming. Although most volcanoes are caused by either divergent or convergent tectonic plates, the Hawaiian islands exist on a hot spot, far from tectonic boundaries. Geophysicist J. Tuzo Wilson proposed the now widely accepted theory of hot spots – that thermally active mantle plumes exist under the Earth’s surface and sustain long-lasting volcanic activity.

Lava flows. Thanks on Flickr.

Lava flows.
Thanks <SLiM> on Flickr.

It was noticed by the ancient Hawaiians that the islands to the northwest were created much earlier than those to the southwest. The differences were explained by the mythology of Pele, the goddess of fire, escaping her sister’s wrath. However, scientists now know that the hot spot moves relative to the Pacific Ocean.

Where geophysicist are unsure is whether the motion of the hot spot is because it itself is moving or if it can be explained by the motion of the Pacific tectonic plate. Over 85 million years, the hot spot has created 129 volcanos, most of which are extinct. The four active and two dormant volcanoes can be found in the Aloha State.

Ocean entry point. Thanks on Flickr.

Ocean entry point.
Thanks Makuahine Pa’i Ki’i on Flickr.

You can visit two of the active volcanoes on the big island of Hawaii, Kilauea and Mauno Loa, when you check out Volcano National Park. When planning your visit, be sure to stop at the visitor’s center to learn about the current lava flow, since it’s always changing.

Peak of Mauna Loa. Thanks on Flickr.

Peak of Mauna Loa.
Thanks LaurenBacon on Flickr.


Seeing a real live volcano was the coolest thing I’ve ever done. We walked on land that didn’t exist the day before, saw flowing lava beginning to dry and harden, and watched a banana peel thrown into the lava spontaneous combust. I suggest you visit if ever given the opportunity.


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