Hawaiian Islands

USA – Hawaiian Islands

The Hawaiian Islands lie in the North Pacific Ocean, some 2,500 miles (4,000 km) from the nearest continent. Created from volcanic eruptions on the ocean floor, the islands were gradually colonized by plants and animals brought by air and ocean currents, and by migratory birds. Over 90 percent of the islands’ native flora and fauna is found nowhere else.

From just a few pioneers, numerous species came into existence. A few hundred plants evolved into a thousand and 15 bird species became 70. Since AD 750, when Hawaii’s first human inhabitants – the Polynesians – arrived, non-native species have wrought havoc on these endemics, leading to countless extinctions and threatening the existence of many others. There are few better places to observe Hawaii’s fascinating geology and native flora and fauna than Haleakala National Park on Maui and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island (Hawaii).

Rising 10,023 feet (3,057 m) above sea level, Haleakala volcano (Hawaiian for “House of the sun”) is an immense crater at the top of a great mountain of lava. Although it is considered still active, Haleakala last erupted in 1790.

A road leads 40 miles (65 km) from the coast to the top of the volcano, a transition from lush coastal plains to bizarre landscape of cliffs, cinder cones, and lava flows. En route is the Hosmer Grove, a collection of exotic trees planted in 1910. Trails lead through the grove which is inhabited by colorful native birds such as the iiwi and the apapane.

Winding on toward the crater rim, the road reaches the trail head fro the Halemauu Trail – a two-day round trip into the crater. At Kalahaku Overlook, where the views are wonderful, you will see silverswords, which grow only on the volcanic slopes of Maui and Hawaii. This plant blooms once, after 5 to 20 years, then dies. It has barely survived the many years of habitat damage from human visitation and cattle ranching.

The road ends at the PUU Ulaula Overlook at the summit, from where you can often see the nearly islands of Molokai, Lanai, and Oahu.

The Big Island of Hawaii is crowned by two of the world’s most active volcanoes – Kilauea and Mauna Loa. Both are within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The park’s 344 square miles (890 km2) contain vast creaters, steaming fumaroles, sulfur-bleching calderas, and lava fields, including the occasional effusion of red-hot magma at the end of the Chain of Craters Road. Various trails lead to bizarre and ascinating landscapes created by millennia of powerful eruptions. Once of the park’s best walks is the Kilauea Iki Trail, a four-hour round trip that descends through rain forest and leads across a crater, past steaming lava flows.

The park’s most celebrated bird is the nene, a native goose. It barely escaped being wiped out by predators such as mongooses, and has been rescued by a breeding program. Groups of nene are often seen in the Kiauea area.