The Geology of Hawaii

Hawaii

The Royal Hawaiian Waikiki Beach
Waimea Bay

When you visit Hawaii it doesn’t take very long to realize you have come to a place like no other on earth. Isolated from continental land by at least 2,400 miles of ocean. It is blessed with year round average temperatures in the eighties and abundant rainfall. Its history is both ancient as well as recent. First populated by the Polynesians over fifteen-hundred years ago it was not discovered by the European explorers until January, 1778, when the English explorer Captain Cook set foot ashore. The native Hawaiians speak a language unique to them and proof of this is everywhere from highway signs to greetings from the locals. Because of Hawaii’s isolation the flora and fauna are a blend of unique as well as introduced species from all around the world. Modern Hawaii has also the most ethnically diverse population found anywhere with seven races each representing over five percent of the population. This includes the Polynesians, Asians with Japanese being the largest segment, whites, Filipino, Blacks, Hispanics with twenty-one percent of the population being of mixed race decent. Even the geology and origins of this island chain are unique. Welcome to paradise…

The shore at Lanai Lookout, Oahu

Hawaii – a Geological Wonderland

Most of the earth’s islands are found at tectonic plate boundaries either from spreading centers (like Iceland) or from what are called subduction zones where one tectonic plate slides under another (like the Aleutian Islands). Hawaii is geologically unique because it is caused by a ‘hot spot.’

Illustration from the Jaggar Museum, Hawaii

 

There are a few ‘hot spots’ on earth and the one under Hawaii is right in the middle of the Pacific Plate, one of the earth’s largest crustal plates. A geologic ‘hot spot’ is an area under a crustal plate where volcanism occurs. It is easy to geologically explain volcanism at plate spreading centers and subduction zones but not as easy to explain a ‘hot spot’ where molten magma breaks through the crustal plate. (Some theories describe this as a particularly hot part of the molten magma).

Another hot spot under the American plate is Yellowstone National Park with its geysers and other thermal features. The Hawaii hot spot is under the seafloor producing undersea volcanoes. Some of these volcanoes build up to the surface of the ocean and become islands. Over millions of years the plate moves across the ‘hot spot’ and the original volcanoes become extinct and new volcanoes begin to form in the area of the ‘hot spot.’

Understanding all of this explains why in the Hawaiian islands, the more southeast you go, the more active the volcanoes are. This shows that the plate is moving northwestThe island farthest south is the big island of Hawaii with no fewer than five volcanoes with some active most of the time. The farther north you go, the islands are older and the more time erosion has washed away the land. Niʻihau is the largest and last lightly inhabited island before the ten islands and atolls in the uninhabited Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

He iconic profile of Diamond Head east of Waikīkī Beach on the island of Oahu is the crater of a long extinct volcano.

Hawaii – The Big Island

Volcanoes of the island of Hawaii, Illustration from USGS exhibit

Kīlauea

The three largest volcanoes on the big island are Kilauea, Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea. Volcano National Park encompasses Kilauea with a number of different volcanic features.

Picture caption: Halema’uma’u, a pit crater, inside Kilauea Caldera started erupting in 2008 creating an almost constant plume of steam and volcanic gases (sulphur dioxide).

Halema’uma’u crater

On a recent visit to the big island we went up to Kīlauea. The caldera was shrouded in rain and fog so we didn’t have an opportunity to see much but we did get to Halema’uma’u. We spent time at the USGS museum and also hiked thru the Thurston Lava Tube.

Thurston Lava Tube

Thurston Lava Tube is part of a trail in the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Visitors enter through a ‘skylight’ (collapsed roof of a lava tube), walk a ways through the tube and exit via another ‘skylight.

Lava & sea at the edge of creation

Lava tubes develop as the lava flows and hardens on the outside. The inside continues to flow and may drain out of the ‘lava tube’ entirely. Some of these lava tubes are small but some are very large (as much as 20 feet in diameter). Many of the lava tubes have a flat bottom as the lava hardens when it slows down and look like subway tunnels. When the top of a lava tube breaks through it is called a ‘skylight.’

Midnight off the southeast coast of Hawaii

Due east of Kilauea, lava from Pu’u O’o volcano travels downhill for miles in lava tubes to reach the ocean where it spills out along the shoreline creating large clouds of steam and volcanic gas. Our cruise ship crossed around the southern coast at night and around midnight moved to within one mile of the lava flows as they poured into the ocean. Viewing the display at night from the sea is an awesome event. There are also trails that allow hikers to get down near the area where the lava spills into the sea but we’ve been told that the hike down and back can take most of the day.

In addition to the volcanoes on the island of Hawaii there is a new eruption just south of the island called Loihi. This volcano has been erupting from the sea floor and currently its peak is at a depth of 3,000 feet. At its present rate of growth it will probably break the surface of the Pacific after another 10,000 years.

Maui

Looking down from 10,000 feet up on Haleakala

 Haleakalā Volcano

The summit of Haleakala
Haleakala

Haleakala is home to the highest peak on Maui, at 10,023 feet. It also holds the world record for climbing to the highest elevation in the shortest distance- a mere 38 miles from sea level to the top! Because Maui is north of Hawaii the volcanic activity is dying down. It is believed that the last major eruption was in the seventeenth century with only a few smaller events in the twentieth century. The USGS lists the eruption risk now as normal. A Normal status is used to designate typical volcanic activity in a non-eruptive phase.

We visited the top of Haleakalā a couple of years ago and it is almost like traveling to another planet: bare peaks and slopes covered in a spectrum of colored rock, dirt and sand. Clouds hung near the slopes with vistas across the crater* that stretch on forever and views back across the island are breathtaking. The drive to the top of the volcano is an adventure in itself as the road snakes back and forth up the slope with temperatures dropping as you ascend and winds blowing as you reach the summit.

O‘ahu

The profile of Diamond Head on O‘ahu is the western rim of an extinct volcano and is perhaps one of the most recognized volcanic mountains on earth. In addition to Diamond Head there are a few additional extinct vulcanoes on the island including Hanauma Bay, Koko Head, Punchbowl Crater, Mount Tantalus and Aliapa’ak.

Diamond Head

Throughout the Hawaiian islands the high and jagged peaks catch the tropical trade-winds causing huge amounts of rainfall. This micro-climate results in a lush landscape crossed with rushing streams and dotted with beautiful waterfalls. The islands are noted for their vertical cliffs, isolated valleys, incredible beaches and acres of farm land. This tropical climate and rich soil yields plentiful cash crops that include pineapples, macadamia nuts, coffee and cacao nibs used for making chocolate. Welcome to paradise…

 

Advertisements

Shave Ice In Hawaii

Snow cones go way back. We have memories of walking the boardwalk in Ocean City, MD with a snow cone in hand. Even before that we used to mix up concoctions with freshly fallen snow. More recently our children, and now our grandchildren, also love this icy creation. In Hawaii it has become an institution called shave ice and the original was brought to Hawaii by Japanese migrants. Shave ice is literally that, ice shaved from a block of ice.

The undisputed king of Hawaiian shave ice has been around since 1951: Matsumoto Shave Ice located on the Oahu North Shore at 66-111 Kamehameha Highway, Haleiwa (808) 637-4827. They are so popular that on a good day the line goes out the door and around the courtyard. Matsumoto offers a couple dozen flavors and tradition dictates that you select three for your shave ice. As extras they offer mochi (Japanese rice cake), condensed milk, azuki beans (Japanese red beans cooked with sugar and water) and, of course, ice cream.

While shave ice is probably not worth the trip all the way from Honolulu (45 minutes each way), a visit to Haleiwa and the North Shore is worth it. The town has great shopping with art galleries, jewelry stores and numerous eating options including a wide variety of food trucks. The main road runs along beautiful beaches including Waimea Bay, Sunset Beach and the Banzai Pipeline so it’s easy to spend an entire day in the area. In addition, Waimea Falls Park offers a nature trail through lush botanical gardens leading to the great waterfall.

When we spent the day in Lahaina over on Maui we also treated ourselves to shave ice at Ululani’s Hawaiian Shave Ice. Their main location is in a courtyard on the north end of Front Street in an area full of shops and galleries. In addition, they have five other shops and stands on the island featuring their Maui inspired flavors which, in our opinion, are even better then Matsumoto.

When we spent the day in Lahaina over on Maui we also treated ourselves to shave ice at Ululani’s Hawaiian Shave Ice. They’re located in a courtyard on the north end of Front Street. We liked theirs even better than Matsumoto and they are also located in a great area for gallery shopping.

Art Festival at Bondi Beach

Bondi Beach, Sculptures By The Sea

On a recent trip to Australia we spent a day at Bondi Beach outside of Sydney. It turns out that besides being a nearby beach resort and a great surfing venue, Bondi is famous for the largest free sculpture exhibitions in the world. A sculpture event known as Sculptures By The Sea is featured each year in October-November.

 

Bondi Beach, in addition to surfing, is famous for the Bondi to Bronte Coastal Walk. The walk is an iconic 3-km. paved trail along the coast between two well-known Sydney beaches. The walk offers sweeping ocean vistas of the coastline and sea from a paved trail beautifully fit into the cliffs between the two beaches. From mid October into early November the walk becomes an outdoor sculpture exhibit featuring works of art from all over Australia and beyond.

Anyone visiting Sydney, especially during this time should really try to fit in a visit to Bondi Beach. The town is easy to reach via a Sydney T4 train from central station to Bondi Junction where you switch to a Beach bus. We would recommend getting an Opal card to make the best use of the area transportation (See our post on the Opal Card).

The beach itself is a sweeping two kilometers of crescent sand and the bars and eating venues along the beach street have a resort boardwalk vibe. The real draw though is the surf and in the world of surfers the waves at Bondi are legendary. Even without the art it is one of Sydney’s “must see” destinations and don’t forget to pick up a “Surf Bondi” Tee shirt before you leave.

Visit Us On Facebook

Australia’s Blue Mountains

A Sydney Day Trip to the Blue Mountains

Katoomba Station

On our last visit to Sydney, Australia we set aside a Sunday for a rail trip to the Blue Mountains. From the Sydney Central Station to Katoomba Station is about a two hour trip and if you go and return on a Sunday the trip is a super bargain with the Opal card (see Getting Around Sydney). From Central you can Board an air-conditioned double decker Mountains train. The express trains to the Mountains will most likely stop at Strathfield, Parramatta, Penrith, Emu Plains, and then all stations up the Blue Mountains. We were staying at a hotel near Sydney’s Chinatown (the Meriton Serviced Apartments on Campbell Street) which wasn’t far from the Central Station so we walked and caught an early train. The trains were modern, clean and comfortable. One caution, this trip on Sunday is very popular and if you get the train at the Central Station getting a seat probably isn’t difficult, but after a few stops people were sitting in the isles. On our return we boarded at a station farther south and headed back to Sydney from there to avoid the crowds and to be sure we got a seat.

The Three Sisters

The town of Katoomba is the center of the Blue Mountains with a number of attractions nearby. Once in the Blue Mountains we booked the Blue Mountains Explorer Bus near Katoomba Station. The day pass was about US$30and begins at the Carrington Hotel, Katoomba Street. There are 29 stops which include Katoomba Falls, Echo Point, Three Sisters and Leura Cascades. There is a cable car ride (extra charge) and a complex at Scenic World with a café and a restaurant. There is also the Trolley Tours running a similar route as The Explorer Bus for about the same fare. Between hopping on and off, hiking a number of trails and enjoying lunch we spent about nine hours in the area.

Our trip was in late October of 2015 and the weather was perfect. The area is beautiful with dozens of good trails and scenic overlooks. We followed a couple of well-maintained trails along streams and were fascinated with the thickets of Australian tree ferns (something we planted in our yard at home). We also started to notice the birds in the trees and saw dozens of big white cockatoos. I picked up a feather for our curio case.

Upon returning to Sydney Central Station we walked back the few blocks to our hotel, freshened up and took a rapid rail to Darling Harbour. We had dinner at Baia The Italian sitting by the water watching the sun set. All and all it was a very good day. We’re thinking on our next visit we will spend a couple nights in the Blue Mountains.

 

 

More things to do in the Blue Mountains link.

 

Getting Around in Sydney

Sydney Opera House at Dusk

If you are planning a trip Down Under with some time in Sydney, you need to build your plans around their great public transportation. Like most large cities, buses are plentiful but Sydney also boasts a rapid transit rail system called “Light Rail” that connects most major parts of the metropolitan area. The cars are modern, clean and comfortable.

We stayed near China Town and there was a surface street stop just a block from our hotel. From there we could get to Darling Harbour, Bondi Junction and Circular Quay all in about a half hour. In addition, the massive Sydney harbor is crisscrossed with dozens of ferries which all seem to converge on Circular Quay next to the famous Sydney Opera House. Even if you don’t have a destination, taking a ferry is a great way to see the sights around the harbor. Ferries from the Quay take you out to Watson’s Bay (be sure and have fish ‘n chips at Doyle’s on the Beach), Manley Beach (a popular ocean front beach town noted for good surfing) and across to Luna Park, a classic amusement park.

Watson’s Bay
Bondi Beach
Sydney Harbour Bridge

If all this wasn’t enough, there is also a fare system based on a transit card called the Opal Card. You buy the card with your choice of an amount loaded (you can also reload) and than tap on and tap off on all of the above systems as well as the regional rail lines. But here’s the best part. As you use the card there is a maximum daily fare of A$15 (A$7.50 for children) with Sundays capped at A$2.50. We took a train to the Blue Mountains (over an hour and a half from Sydney), spent the day and returned, then went to Darling Harbour for dinner and back to the hotel all for A$2.50 each. There is also a weekly cap of A$60 with the card as well and, after eight paid journeys with Opal, you can travel for the rest of the week for half-price fare.  Always be sure to tap on as staff wanders through the cars from time to time checking.

Blue Mountains

Sydney is a very walkable city. The focus of the downtown area (CBD) is the Circular Quay and The Rocks. Facing the water at the Quay, the Opera House is to your right with a number of restaurants and shops nearby and the ferries straight ahead . Off to the left is The Rocks, the location of the original English settlement at the harbor with a number of shops, restaurants, galleries and museums. Some of the museums offer free or reduced entry admissions so be sure to check this out if you plan to visit.

A short walk From The Rocks is the approach to the Sydney Harbour Bridge, which is worth the climb up to its walkway for the view. If you are really adventurous and aren’t afraid of heights you can book a climbing tour up the support cables to the top. A dozen blocks west and south is the Kings Street Wharf and Darling Harbour area with a great waterside walk lined with restaurants and tourist attractions including a wildlife center extension of the Sydney zoo and the aquarium.

Photos top to bottom: Opal card, Watson’s Bay, Bondi Beach, Sydney Harbour Bridge, Three Sisters in the Blue Mountains.

CLICK TO SEARCH SITE     BACK TO TOP