Saturday 6th July

Visit to Volcanoes National Park - Part 1

I have left this as a separate page since it was a rather special event. So special in fact, that I am already making plans to go back! As soon as I returned to Britain I went to our spanking new library and took out a book on Volcanoes - strangely enough by a scientist from the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. And don't forget, Cataclysmic Variables have a lot in common with volcanoes - they erupt unpredictably and are interesting to study! The whole day was one of being impressed on a truly mammoth scale. Our driver took us by the scenic route around the North coast and pointed out various points of interest such as majestic waterfalls and cliffs. Then, heading through Hilo the scenery became greener and greener as we approached the National Park.

Once there, our minibus took a long drive down Chain of Craters Road. Unfortunately since we had an appointment with Kilauea's lava fields we couldn't admire all the numerous craters such as Lua Manu, Puhimau and Ko'oko'olau that give the road its name. Eventually (for the road is several miles in length) we could see the turquoise Pacific before us, and the road bent to follow it. Off to the left were the ominous-looking, and still active, hills of Pulama Pali and Holei Pali. Eventually the road came to an abrupt halt. Well, it had to - the rest of it had been destroyed by recent lava flows that we were about to trek over.

The lava fields have rangers, who warn you most severely about the dangers of being out on the lava. The dangers are not, as you may think, anything to do with being roasted (the lava moves so slowly you can easily outwalk it, never mind outrun it. Its consistency here is like thick treacle) but come from the fact that this lava is basically black glass, and is extremely sharp. The lava fields are hot since not only is the whole area volcanic but the colour of the cooled lava ensures that the fierce tropical Sun's heat is not reflected away. And of course there is no shade. Everyone is asked to bring a supply of water and wear long trousers. Of course, in spite of all this, several people (including children) were out on the fields wearing sandals and shorts. One rather rotund gentleman appeared in danger of collapse. He had brought no water with him and so I gave him what was left of mine. There are yellow marker posts all along the route and it would be dangerous to go beyond them, since the lava in these areas might be thin and you could find yourself falling through the crust and having an unwelcome encounter with some very hot rock. The farther along we went, the hotter it became. Only a few metres away now, there was extruding lava and the heat coming off it as it cooled was rather like being in an oven. In fact the area was so hot that the shutter of my camera was warped, which accounts for the strange appearance of some of the pictures on this page. Nothing to do with my poor photographic skills! The whole area was starting to smell strongly of sulphur and we stood watching the lava slowly oozing along at (literally) snail's pace, hardening as it went, sometimes throwing off subsidiary flowlets. The lava produced has a characteristic appearance which is often known by its native name of Pahoehoe (pronounced Pahoyhoy, not pahoayhoay as I thought!) There were also some impressive gas clouds drifting our way from farther along towards the Pali. But it was time to go back! However, the excitement continued - in a rather unexpected fashion. One of the party who shall be nameless (let's just say he's proud to be a New Yorker) had put up a poster in his hotel room featuring the twin towers. This had been misinterpreted by somebody at the hotel who had called the police, who very efficiently tracked the poor man down here. So - was one of the cops about to say "Book him, Dano!" Sadly not. In any case, it is in fact against the state law to do so (Honest!) The problem was soon resolved and by now most people were in need of some sort of refreshment. So we piled back in the minibus and headed for lunch at the Volcano House Hotel. After having recharged our batteries we took a look around the souvenir shop attached to the hotel. The AAVSO party was so large we were divided into two, with one group hiking over the lava fields in the morning, then going on to the caldera in the afternoon, and vice versa. The caldera was worth waiting for.