On Maui, or any island in the Hawaiian chain for that matter, there is one thing they have plenty of. It’s lava. Lava is the basis for the Hawaiian Island chain’s existence. Its abundant vegetation and its jagged coast are also part of the lava’s 1.3 million-year transformation, too.
The Hawaiian Islands are situated near the middle of the “Pacific Tectonic Plate” on top of a “hot spot.” This Pacific Plate is almost always moving northwestward at a rate of several centimeters per year, about the same rate as your fingernails grow. This constant northwestward movement of the Pacific Plate over a local volcanic “hot spot,” or plume, has produced a series of islands, one after another, in assembly line fashion. The result is a chain of volcanic islands (Hawaiian archipelago) that consists of eight major islands and 124 islets stretching from the Big Island of Hawai’i along a northwest line for 1,500 miles toward Japan and the Aleutian Islands of Alaska. In total, the islands spread across an area of 6,459 square miles.
The Hawaiian Islands are loaded with rich history and geology, and you can’t visit this island without seeing lava. It’s everywhere. The natives have been building with it, growing crops on it, and making it into jewelry for centuries.
Some of Maui’s best examples are seen at the southernmost point of the island, only about 9 or 10 miles south of Kihei. Follow the road past Makena until it ends and you will be surrounded by lava. The first formations you see are only a little over 220 years old. As you follow trails further south, it changes in density, shape, and color. Each different flow seen as you travel south is about 200 years older than the one before it. The locals say Mt Haleakala is due for another caldera flow and it is thought that it will be in the Makena area to the north of the last one.
On my last day on the island our group took a trip down this windy and narrow road. There are some great spots to snorkel here too. Just after you pass the last resort, you begin to see lava rock walls and buildings. There are people living off the grid out here, so you can see pipes running alongside the road on top of the sharp-edged lava. Just before sunset, families of black goats venture down off the mountain to reach the water. They blend into the blackish-brown lava rock so well that we almost missed them.
At the end of this road, there is a parking lot where you can start your hike, go for a swim, snorkel, or just hang out. The sand on these beaches is usually black and tons of coral washes up here, bringing bits of white into the mix.
Of course, hiking to the top of Haleakala is probably the best way to experience this island’s geology. There are miles and miles of trails and guided hikes. To venture out on your own, make sure to pick up the park’s trail guide. If you want to get a glimpse from the top of Haleakala, you can drive there. 27 hairpin turns and 11,000 feet from the start of the ascent and you’re there. If you make this trip, make sure to stop at the visitor’s center for a look at the rare plants known as silversword and the Nene Geese of Hawaii.
Another great way to see the lava formation is by boat. The best spots I’ve seen are southeast of La Perouse Bay along the Kanio Coast. The dramatic formations seen there are like nothing I have seen anywhere else. Lava is such a hard material that many of the formations seen here have for millions of years looked just the way we see them today. The Kanio Coast boasts dozens of lava arches, and tubes or “blow holes” that when compressed with air shoot ocean spray as far as 50 feet. This unique boating experience usually offers snorkel enthusiasts options to snorkel here. Check out my previous Mauilicious episodes for more about these snorkel spots on Maui.
Travel around the island on the Hana Highway and you should see exceptional views of the lava pools; some are frequently used as swimming holes. While there are plenty of examples of buildings and bridges made with lava on this drive, you can get a closer look at some of the old churches made with coral and lava blocks as you travel past Hana to the other side of the island. This day trip also shows you just how different this island’s weather and climate can be.
Although Maui is not an active volcanic island, the Big Island is. If you want to get close to hot lava, you will have to head there. You can hike to the crater and flow area on the Big Island too, just make sure you are wearing the right gear and being safe. Lava can kill you.
There is more of Maui I want to share with you, but this concludes the Mauilicious Vacation 5-part series. To read previous episodes of this series, please visit these links: