By Robert W. Bone

Every now and then, someone who has visited Honolulu, Waikiki, and the rest of the Island of Oahu asks me what island they should take in the next time around in Hawaii.

It's a hard question to answer, of course. Each island has its set of charms. But if the person displays at least a slight bent toward the scientific, I always suggest the Big Island of Hawaii. It's probably the only consistently safe place in the world to see an erupting volcano.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a short drive from Hilo, the largest town on the Big Island. The park encompasses two live volcanoes: Mauna Loa, which stretches to 13,000 feet, and thus is somewhat harder to get a handle on, and Kilauea, which is a separate volcano on the lower flanks of Mauna Loa. For a long time it has been known as the "Drive-in Volcano."

Over the years, Kilauea has often displayed dramatic fountains of fire, a phenomenon which can occur at any time with little warning. But even when things are relatively quiet, there is always something to see, even if it is merely the flow of 2,000-degree lava entering the ocean amid clouds of steam.

Hawaiians believed that the volcano was the home of Pele, the goddess of fire, and you'll find lots of references to "Madam Pele" in Hawaii today. Every now and then she shakes things up again with modest earthquakes related to the movement of lava beneath the surface of the island. National Park Service workers then have to go out and repair cracks in the roads throughout the park.

The centerpiece of the park is Kilauea Crater a two-mile diameter pit, which in the past has held the main outbreaks of fire. The Crater Rim Drive provides several views where steam is coming from the floor even today. There's a rambling wooden hotel perched right on the edge of the crater, and the park headquarters is nearby. There rangers will explain where to go to see whatever volcanic action may be occurring at the time of your visit, along with the fascinating evidence of other eruptions that have occurred there throughout history.


Travel writer Robert W. Bone lived and worked in Hawaii for 38 years before recently moving to a new home near San Francisco. Now he revisits Hawaii as often as he can. Bone is the author of the Maverick Guide to Hawaii, which was revised annually for 25 years from 1976 to 2001. He also wrote three other travel books, and continues to write magazine and newspaper articles covering cruising and other world travel subjects. He maintains web sites at and

Note: The Park of  Fire is another in a new series of short pieces on Hawaii. Others:

#1 Downtown Honolulu

#3 Maui Captures the Sun

#4 Kauai, a Different Island

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