Some of the youngest rock in the world bubbles up as magma from the Pacific Ocean and becomes solid at the shores of the islands of Hawaii.
If you were to measure Mauna Kea from the sea floor to its peak, it would be one of the tallest mountains in the world. While it isn’t “higher” than Mount Everest, it’s still a great place to put a telescope, because being in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, there are few polluting cities for thousands of miles. So the viewer is afforded a magnificent view of the celestial landscape.
During the summer months you can drive to the volcanic cinder cone at the top of Mauna Kea to catch the sunrise and sunsets above the clouds.
On the west side of Hawai’i, the biggest island of the local archipelago that gives its name to the state, there lies the most volcanically active part of the island. Lava has flowed here for the past century, pouring over roads to reach the ocean. Recent flows are frozen in roiling waves that look like braided rope layered on top of still earlier flows.
If you’re up for a 4 mile hike over the older “pahoehoe” rock, you can get to the outlet to the ocean. Sulfurous steam sleeps through cracks in the rock from 10 yards/meters below your feet as you make the hike. The lava retains colors caused by varying rates of cooling and crystallizing.
At the shore, waves of cascading lava hit waves of the ocean washing in, causing huge plumes of steam. You can only near it from a distant promontory with an overlook, as humans are persuaded not to follow their curiosity nearer.
Because of these caked layering flows, the hills around the islands rise up sharply, lending to some great waterfall views if you skirt along the edges of the coast and hike through a bit of jungle to get there.
Islands in the Pacific tend so form diverse micro-climates. One half of an island will be dry and desert-like while the opposite is rain-forest. This is due to the way in which pressure changes in air flows over curved objects, a concept discovered by Daniel Bernoulli. (For instance this is also why airflow over the San Francisco peninsula causes condensation and fog on the west side of the peninsula while the east side tends to have clear climate after the air expands again coming down the slopes and expanding on the downhill side.) So Hawaii has very lush jungles with diverse species of flower.
Oahu, the island where most trans-Pacific flights arrive has the largest density of amenities. If you plan to snorkel and lay out on the beach, this is your place. Not far from downtown Honolulu you can swim in the remnants of a volcanic cinder cone in warm waters that are easy to see through with snorkel and mask.
There is magnificent hiking up on the spine-like hills at the center of the island. If you venture to the far side, there is a replica of a Japanese temple that is featured on the 10 yen coin which was constructed by the local Buddhist community.
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