Travel: A flow of spirits

When Pele pits her wits against Na Maka o Kaha'i, the result can be cataclysmic. Paris Franz follows the Destruction Trail to the red-hot core of Hawaii's Mount Kilauea

THE SMELL of sulphur is not unpleasant to a sinner, at least according to Mark Twain, and he may well be right. It is best sampled on a full stomach, however, which could explain why there is a cafeteria at the top of Mount Kilauea. The visitor's centre at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is perched on the lip of the caldera of the world's most active volcano, complete with rocks, vents and sulphur clouds, and the sight does wonders for the appetite.

The cafeteria was crowded but the three of us managed to get a table by the window with its panoramic view of the caldera, 10 miles in circumference. Against a background of lively chatter and the dramatic music accompanying a video showing a stately flow of lava, we ordered coffee and began our research.

You don't have to be in the islands long to know that Hawaii is volcanoes. Situated above a hot spot in the earth's crust, the Aloha State owes its existence to the tumultuous forces of nature deep down in the Earth, each island being the product of fiery eruptions over the millennia. As the Pacific Plate moves ever so slowly north-westwards, new islands are formed. The Big Island, geology in action, is over the hot spot now, and it's getting bigger all the time, with the flows of lava adding acres of land to the coast each year. The leaflets picked up in the lobby were full of such information. One advised us that eruptions occur every 11 months, on average; that one flow destroyed houses but changed direction to avoid an ancient temple, or heiau; that violent explosions are rare. That last one was nice to know.

It seems that scientists have combed every square inch of Kilauea. But science isn't all, it turns out, because another leaflet revealed that Mount Kilauea is also the home of Madame Pele. The melter of rocks, the burner of lands and maker of mountains, Pele is to be respected. She lives in Hatemaumau Crater, within the caldera, and she can apparently be a most capricious host. It is said that should you meet her, in whatever form she takes - beautiful young woman, ugly old hag - it's wise to be kind.

This reminded me of a man I had met in Honolulu. He'd told me that a vulcanologist friend of his had a picture of a flaming crater, and there in the middle was a young woman with streaming black hair and an imperious chin. You had to see it in the right light, he said.

Whatever the merits of the vulcanologist's photograph, it's a fact that the local post office regularly receives chunks of rock from previous visitors who are convinced that such souvenirs have brought them bad luck. And offerings are still left on the mountainside. Gin, usually. Well, it can't hurt.

Pele's certainly been busy lately. The current flow was a big one, by all accounts, and worth a look, so we headed back to the car for a drive down the Chain of Craters Road. Passing the Thurston Lava Tube and Devastation Trail, we followed the road to the end, which came suddenly, 25 miles later. A lava flow had cut the road and it was clear we would have to walk from here.

It was a two-mile hike to where the lava entered the sea, but there was no chance of getting lost. A massive plume of steam rose into the air ahead of us, and that was where everyone was headed. We followed carefully. The lava underfoot hardened into whorls and spirals as it cooled, sparkling silver and gold in the afternoon sun. Here and there tufts of stubborn green pushed their way through the cracks, while a withered guard of tree trunks stood entombed in black rock.

There, amid such stark and dramatic scenery, it was easy to imagine the battle that took place between Kamehameha the Great, the first man to unite the islands, and Keoua, a rival chieftain. The bulk of Keoua's forces were overwhelmed by a volcanic eruption, or so the story goes. It was clear whose side Pele was on.

The closer we got to the ocean, the more the wind picked up, the spray falling like rain, the surf pounding hard against the wall of lava below us. This is the eternal battle between Pele and Na Maka o Kaha'i, goddess of the sea. The legend says that Na Maka o Kaha'i has pursued Pele from island to island, and it doesn't look as if she's satisfied yet.

Recklessly, I clambered down on to a ledge. A black cliff rose up behind me, the billowing steam blotting out the sky. Then the wind changed and the steam parted to reveal a river of molten lava, all orange and red, pouring into the sea. A wrenching, cracking sound came from close by, as a big chunk of lava cracked under the strain, falling into the Pacific with a mighty splash.

Score one for Na Maka o Kaha'i. Don't discount Pele, though. She has dug deep and built high on the Big Island, and she's also looking to the future. While the Big Island is still getting bigger, some 20 miles to the south east the Loihi Seamount gets closer to the surface with each eruption. Pele will always have somewhere to go.

Windswept and damp, we headed back to the car and the bright lights of Kailua, with traffic building up as we went. There was some anxiety about driving on the other side of the road, but we got back safe and sound. Who knows, maybe Madame Pele was looking after us.

Hawaii Facts

Getting there: There are no direct flights from the UK to anywhere in the state of Hawaii. It is difficult to reach Hilo on the island of Hawaii with a single change of plane; you will normally have to travel via Los Angeles or San Francisco, and Honolulu. Discount agents such as Quest Worldwide (0181-546 6000) sell tickets for travel on United in June for pounds 671 including tax.

More information: Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau, 2270 Kalakaua Avenue, Suite 801, Honolulu, Hawaii US 96815 (001 808 923 1811)

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace was caught by a camera van driving 32mph over the speed limit

TV
Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Outlaw Pete is based on an eight-minute ballad from Springsteen’s 2009 Working on a Dream album

books
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012

film
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

    ... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
    Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

    Europe's biggest steampunk convention

    Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

    The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor