The biggest thing that made me want to go to Big Island was volcanoes. I have seen plenty of photos and video of volcanic activity but I have never seen it for real. I wanted to try and experience the awesome power welling up from the heart of the earth. Awesome is a word that gets pretty free use but I think when it comes to the violence that the layer of energy just below the crust of the earth can produce, awesome is a word that is entirely justified.
The south end of Big Island is the one that is most active volcanically. Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea are both sitting quietly at the moment but neither of them is considered done. Mauna Loa has erupted relatively recently. However, the one that is playing at the moment is Kilauea. It has been busy erupting for a long time now. We checked it out by helicopter – the most easygoing way to see things. We took in two locations of activity.
The first was an open route to the inside of the planet. It has been active for a long time and has a visitor center. Apparently, you used to be able to walk close to the edge of the hole as a tourist. A parking lot is still visible. However, a violent outburst a few years ago suggested that this location was no longer safe. Now the visitor’s center is as far as you can go. There is a circular hole in the larger crater in which the lava bubbles. The level rises and falls daily and often will come over the lip into the larger crater. While we were over it things were a bit below the lip but you could still see the heat just below the surface of the lava. Because the air cools the lava quickly, you rarely see the molten lava is it is usually under a crust. Still very hot, but not liquid.
We then headed off to another area of activity. Here there was a rip in the surface from which gases were billowing. As you looked through the various holes, you could see into the heart of things and the glow from the lava was impressive. The color was intense and you could sense the heat within. As the lava emerged from various fissures in the surface, it would cool to make a new crust. A metallic looking surface would appear. Occasionally, the lava would bubble forward and, oh so briefly, there would be a red glow on the surface. Then it would cool and add a bit more to the metallic surface.
Big Island was a constant stream of references to the incredible forces that had formed the island. The lava fields covered much of the island. Even on the beaches, you had to be cautious of the lava chunks on the sand. My delicate feet did not like the lava. However, nothing could match the raw power that was on display at the volcanoes. I was certainly not disappointed having focused so much on them in planning the trip. Nature is amazingly powerful.
We repeated another part of the trip from last year when we went out to Kilauea lighthouse. This is a peninsula which not only provides a good navigation reference but is also a great spot for watching some bird activities. The birds roost on the rock faces and head out to sea to fish. However, some are less inclined to do the hard work.
The frigate birds prefer to wait for the boobies to return from fishing and then harass them into dropping their catch and scooping it up themselves. Out by the lighthouse is a great place to watch this happening. The lighthouse itself is undergoing restoration at the moment and is covered in protective material. It doesn’t make a good photography target for the time being. Glad I saw it last year! however, the fencing around it apparently was popular with a young booby. Not sure why he would choose that when there is so much human free space around but there you go!
There were also some dolphins swimming around in the bay below us. They were a long way off and hard to spot but it was still exciting to spot them. I could really spend ages out on the headland. The wind blows you about but the birds are so close and the view is so good, it is hard to find a good reason to leave!
Early in our visit to Kauai, we paid a visit to the lighthouse and wildlife refuge at Kilauea Point. We were there to see the lighthouse and the surrounding coast but the wildlife element was an interesting addition. There were tons of birds in the area. Along the cliffs we saw a lot of Red Footed Boobies. These are a pretty decent sized bird that is akin to a small albatross. The boards also mentioned the presence of frigate-birds. These weren’t close in but appeared to be out towards the lighthouse.
Once we got out on the peninsula on which the lighthouse sits, we became a lot more familiar with the frigate-birds. It turns out that they are something I have seen on one of the TV nature programs that the BBC produces in great detail every five years or so. Frigate-birds are a prehistoric looking creature. Their wings make them look like a pterodactyl and their beaks have a most evil looking hook on the end.
The thing that the TV show explained and that we got to see in action is their preferred method of getting food. The boobies head off out to see to catch fish. They bring the fish back in a pouch in their throat and then use it to feed the chicks. The frigate-birds are not so interested in making much of an effort so they hang around and wait for the boobies to return. They then attack them trying to make them spit out their catch. Nice, huh?
Anyway, we got to see this at close range. The frigate-birds would pick a target and go for them, sometimes in pairs. The attack would continue for some time as the boobies tried desperately to get out of the way. If they got close enough to the shore, that seemed to be good enough and they could get back to their roost. Otherwise, the frigate-birds would be pretty tenacious. Quite something to witness at close quarters!