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Explore the Kilauea Volcano of Hawaii
by Roy Witman © 2008

Volcano eruptions are becoming increasingly rare. That's because very few active volcanoes still exist. In fact, according to the Global Volcanism Program, only 50 to 70 volcanoes erupt worldwide every year. That means being able to witness an active volcano - especially one that frequently erupts - can be a once- in-a-lifetime experience. For those lucky enough to visit the Big Island of Hawaii, you may become one of the privileged few who get to view this amazing site.

On the Big Island, inside Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, you'll find Kilauea, proclaimed to be the most active volcano in the world. Although documented through chants and songs in ancient Hawaiian history, the first record of Kilauea is that of missionary Rev. William Ellis who saw the summit in 1823. At almost 4,200 feet above sea level, Kilauea has erupted over 60 times in its recorded history with its most recent eruption to date on July 21, 2007.

While most people are conditioned to think of volcanic eruptions as a violent, erratic explosion that projects gallons of liquid lava wildly into the air, this is rarely the case. While nonetheless intriguing, eruptions at Kilauea are more of a slow spewing of thick, red-hot lava that mixes and melds with dried, black lava rock as it persistently carves out a new path.

According to the National Park Service, “Activity on Kilauea continues as magma vigorously pushes to the surface, forming a river of lava.” This sight can be seen firsthand during numerous tours available each day at the park.

The Crater Rim Drive is a one- to three-hour tour taken by car with intermittent short walks throughout. Stretching 11 miles, you'll travel a well-marked route with scenic stops along the way. If you have more time, you may want to take the four- to five-hour tour and explore the coastal areas. This 20-mile route descends 3,700 feet. For those who prefer to walk, an abundance of trails lend themselves to day hikes and wilderness hikes where visitors can often view active lava flows.

Cruise ships sailing between the Hawaiian Islands, including those from Norwegian Cruise Lines, make a point to conduct night tours, so passengers can get front-row seats for the spectacular show. The brilliant colors of orange, red and yellow churn as billowing smoke rises each time lava pours into the ocean below. Much more visible at night, Kilauea is quite a spectacle and always a highlight of any cruise.

Whether you choose to tour Hawaii's most active volcano by land, sea or both, you're sure to find it a thrilling experience you won't soon forget. Considering most people won't have the opportunity to visit a live volcano, you can consider yourself an honored guest of the Islands who has witnessed a positively astonishing act of nature.

Read more about Hawaiian Cruises.