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
Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
musicReview: Wembley Stadium ***
Arts and Entertainment
‘Dawn of Planet of the Apes’ also looks set for success in the Chinese market

film
News
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight

tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
A waxwork of Jane Austen has been unveiled at The Jane Austen Centre in Bath

books
Arts and Entertainment
Britney Spears has been caught singing without Auto-Tune

music
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
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.

    Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

    How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

    A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
    The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

    The evolution of Andy Serkis

    First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

    Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
    Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

    Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

    Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
    Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

    Blackest is the new black

    Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
    Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

    Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

    From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
    Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
    Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

    Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

    The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
    Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

    Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

    The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

    Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

    Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

    Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

    The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
    The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

    The Open 2014

    Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?