Local Island Experts
How the volcanic activity will effect Big Island Activities and Big Island Tours?

How the volcanic activity will effect Big Island Activities and Big Island Tours?

Hawaii's Largest Selection of Activities

Visitors to the Big Island are always concerned about how the volcanic activity will effect their Big Island Activities and Big Island Tours. Although it is impossible to predict nature, we are providing you here with a chronicle of past volcanic events in hopes that this will give you an over view of one of the most continuous dramatic geologic events in recent years.

People are so intrigued by the volcanoes on the Big Island. Volcanic activity is the one event that continues to dominate the history of the Big Island. Over the centuries volcanic activity has been an ever present component of life on the Big Island. As with our last major eruption of 2018 and previous ones dating back in recent memory to the 1980's visitors have often queried Tom Barefoot's Tours about how long the eruptions will last and how these current eruptions will effect the Big Island activities and Big Island tours that they are planning to sign up for or have signed up for. Obviously there is no adequate answer to these questions. The volcanoes will do what they will do. We can only witness. That being said however, there is some truth to the fact that we can observe the past to predict the future. With that in mind we have attempted in the following article to chronicle the past known eruptions on the Big Island so you can gauge the length of these eruptions and follow their course. Nothing is for certain in life but based upon all the inquiries we have had from visitors regarding the last eruption on the Big Island we thought we would at least present for you here a chronicle of sorts of the previous volcanic events in recent memory.

We all know that Hawai’i is unique. Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park and its archaeology are unique -- different from any other place in the United States. Few places in the world have a dynamic landscape like HVNP. Tom Barefoot’s Tours on land and in the air have always tried to highlight -- and protect -- that uniqueness which includes the summits and slopes of two of the world’s most active volcanoes: Kilauea and Mauna Loa.

The historical record of Kilauea’s eruptions began in 1790. Afterwards Kilauea was almost continuously active in different ways with varying rates of eruption. Kilauea has been in almost constant eruption since 1983, about a decade after we started offering tours of Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. The last eruption of Mauna Loa occurred in 1984. Eruptions at the Kilauea volcano have occurred from both the summit caldera (crater) and from vents along the East Rift Zone. Rift zones occur where the volcano is “rifting” or splitting apart.

Kilauea showed only a gentle effusion from a lava lake at the summit until 1924, when once again it erupted explosively. The period 1924 to 1955 saw mostly short-duration summit eruptions. From 1955 to 2018 Kilauea mostly had East Rift Zone activity interspersed with small summit eruptions. Kilauea's Eruption rate diminished steadily over the first half of the historic period but has been increasing again since 1924.

Kilauea is quite complex. Technically it’s a broad shield volcano (a broad domed volcano with gently sloping sides) built against the southeastern slope of Mauna Loa. Prior to the recent eruption, Kilauea had a caldera that was roughly 2.5 by 1.8 miles wide and walls as high as 360 feet.  

Another feature of the volcano, Halema’uma’u Crater, was located within Kilauea’s much larger summit caldera. Roughly circular, the Halemaʻumaʻu Crater was over 2500 feet x 3000 feet prior to collapse that roughly doubled its size after May 3, 2018. Periodically during the past century, Halema’uma’u has been the principal site of activity at Kilauea's summit, erupting in each of 9 years in 1924-54 and then again in the years between 1961-67. In between times, the East Rift zone experienced eruptions and again in the early 1970s.

Before Kilauea’s recent eruption, crater vents and areas of the lava flows were difficult to view from the ground since in most cases they were located inland from roadways. Our recommendation was to view the entirety of the huge Lava Rift Zone from either fixed wing aircraft or helicopters, both available through Tom Barefoot’s Tours. Although helicopters can hover, the landscape of volcano areas make hovering unnecessary and give fixed wing aircraft a cost advantage for volcano viewing. In response to inquiries about viewing Kilauea’s volcanic activity from the ground, Tom Barefoot’s Tours has confirmed that many areas in Volcanoes National Park remain off-limits if not closed and probably will not be completely reopened to the public in the foreseeable future.

Most of the eruptions of Kilauea and other Hawaiian volcanoes have been gentler than those of most other volcanoes around the world. Consequently the edges of their active vents frequently have been accessible. Some of our most exciting Big Island hikes were in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. The trail routes past steaming vents and molten lava through the fantastic terrain’s geology and flora.

These hiking adventures will return to reveal the unique archaeological resources of Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park. Hawaiians settled in the Puna and Kaʻu region by the early 15th century. The Park’s landscape includes remnants of what once where thriving communities, including carvings embedded in cooled lave (petroglyphs) representing their families, traditions and beliefs. In response to hiker’s inquiries about alternatives to hiking Kilauea, we have enthusiastically recommended the summit of Mauna Kea that offers an unrivaled hiking adventure.

For Tom Barefoot’s Tours it has been a privilege to respectfully provide tours of Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park and its historical, cultural, geological and ecological treasures. The first Westerners to visit Kilauea’s boiling lake of lava were missionaries in 1823. William Ellis and Asa Thurston visited Kīlauea's boiling lake of lava in 1823. Soon afterwards Pele's fiery lake was described in magazines of the day. Adventuresome travelers came to see it firsthand. Mark Twain, on seeing Kilauea in 1866, enthusiastically wrote, "Here was room for the imagination to work!"

At the beginning of the 20th century, Lorrin Thurston, conservationist and publisher of the Honolulu Pacific Commercial Advertiser, discovered a giant lava tube that had formed when a river of hot lava cooled, crusted over and the lava drained out, leaving a cave-like shell. Later named the Thurston Lava Tube, it became one of the major attractions on the Crater Rim Drive for visitors and our tours.

In 1906 Thurston started a 10-year-long campaign to make the volcanic area into a public park. Joined in 1912 by Dr. Thomas A. Jaggar, who came to the islands to establish the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, the two conservationists succeeded in creating a national park, signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson on August 1, 1916. President Woodrow Wilson signed the country's 13th national park into existence. It had taken 10 years, but the perseverance of Thurston and Jaggar paid off.

At first, however, the park consisted of only the summits of Kilauea and Mauna Loa on Hawaiʻi and Haleakala on Maui. Eventually Kilauea Caldera was added to the Park, followed by the forests of Mauna Loa, the Ka'u Desert (the site of ancient warrior footprints set in ash), the rain forest of Olaʻa, and the Kalapana archaeological area of the Puna/Kaʻu Historic District. In 1961, Haleakala was made a separate national park. Today Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park protects 520 square miles of the island's volcanic wonders and, in the aftermath of Kilauea’s eruption, remains a refuge for surviving native plants and animals.

For many years Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park has provided some of the most popular Tom Barefoot’s Tours. We applauded when, in 1980, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural organization (UNESCO) named Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park an International Biosphere Reserve because of its outstanding scenic and scientific values. In addition to promoting the Park’s unique volcanic sites, over the years Tom Barefoot’s Tours has emphasized the Park’s ecosystem, cultural and historic sites. In 1987 Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO to protect its outstanding natural, historical, and cultural values.

Related Islands

Big Island Activities and Big Island Tours are found everywhere on the Big Island.  The Big Island of Hawaii is the largest and newest island in the island chain.

More Info / Buy Now

View Comments

User Comments are a new feature: Be the first to submit a Comment!