A tale of two lava lakes, of a landscape altered in way so dramatic it is hard to comprehend.
We think of solid rock being the ultimate in permanency, something about the world that should never change, at least in the span of a few months. Geologic change takes thousands of years, not less than one, it just seems wrong when this rule is violated.
Places we once stood, or parked a car, a hiking trail across a plain of solid rock… All gone in a dramatic upheaval. A parking lot the lies upon a block of rock the size of a supertanker, sitting hundreds of feet below where I once parked the car. Change is the reality of an active volcano.
I have seen change on this scale once before when Mt. St. Helens removed a mountain top that stood upon the horizon of childhood memory. Here at Kilauea the change was a bit slower, but no less dramatic.
I look across that caldera and note the places that are the same, the places that are gone. I may understand what has happened and how, but still some parts of my mind insist that this just cannot be true… Solid rock should not disappear or crumble like a cookie.
The return of lava to the crater seems like a return of normalcy. There was lava here for years, there should be lava here. Perhaps the lava will cover over that yawning pit that should not be. Fill the yawning chasm that affronts my senses so.
Perhaps, if the crater continues to fill, flooded to the rim with new lava, a new caldera floor will form, the cycle complete. Perhaps it may be possible to once again walk across the floor of Kilauea Caldera.
While much of the attention is on the lava flows and burning homes in lower Puna, there have been dramatic events at the summit of Kīlauea. The pit crater of Halemaʻumʻau that has been the subject of untold thousands of tourist photos has become almost unrecognizable.
Halemaʻumʻau is a pit crater created by the ever changing eruptions of Kīlauea. Half a mile across, this crater sits within the much larger Kīlauea caldera at the summit of the volcano. A nearly circular pit that lies at the center, home to many eruptions across the centuries. This often fiery pit is reputed to be the home of Pele, the goddess of fire and creation in Hawaiian mythology.
I do like exploring volcanoes. As I live on an active volcano, with three other active volcanoes visible on the horizon, this sort of exploration is something I am regularly able to indulge myself with. The fifth nearby active volcano can not be seen from home, it takes a two hour drive to reach, a worthwhile trip as it is the one that is currently erupting. Since I have so many volcanoes in my life why would I want to visit another one? Because I love volcanoes!
Masaya is an active volcano just south of the capital of Nicaragua. It is part of a chain of volcanoes that dominates the landscape of the country. It is also easy to reach, part of a national park just a few miles off a major highway. You can drive right to the crater rim and look down into the pit.
While Masaya is not currently hosting any major activity it is home to an ephemeral lava lake and emits a steady plume of volcanic gasses. In many ways it is similar to visiting the Halemaʻumaʻu crater at Kilauea, a large pit with a plume of gasses. Like Halemaʻumaʻu, these craters are part of a larger volcanic edifice. There are three pit craters including San Fernando, Santiago, Nindiri and San Pedro that occupy the top of a complex of cones at the center of the caldera. The Masaya caldera is about seven miles wide with a large lake at the southeastern end. The last major eruption and lava flow was in 1670, with current activity confined to outgassing and the occasional ash plume.
When Dennis let me know he was heading south for ʻAuʻau Crater and that I was invited I didn’t even think about it… I’m in! When do we go?
The furthest south I had been diving along the coast is the Red Hill area. The dive sites there are good, some of the best I had seen. The snorkeling at Kealakekua, even further south, is spectacular. I had read descriptions of the diving at ʻAuʻau, and had really wanted to see for myself.
It is a long drive past Kealakekua Bay to the ʻAuʻau Point area. As such we left Honokohau much earlier than usual, ready for a long day of diving. ʻAuʻau crater itself is visible on the shore, a classic littoral cone formed where lava met water and created an edifice much like a cinder cone from the resulting hydrothermal explosions. The cliffs are pocked with sea caves, many small, and some huge, large enough for us to drive the boat into on a calmer day.
The first hint about the site was the amazing glimpses of the terrain you could see from the surface as we crossed the area looking for the mooring. Boulders and coral 30 feet below us one moment, then nothing but deep blue the next. This site has a wall! Not just a little twenty foot wall as you see along the Kohala Coast. A sheer wall that we could not see the bottom of while we hovered at 100 feet. The wall just drops into the depths, inviting you ever further down into oblivion. On 32% EAN nitrox we dared not venture any deeper. This thing is at least 200 feet high, probably much more.
The wall is a mix of volcanic rubble, in places you can see layers, but mostly it is remnants of thousands of years of lava flows hitting the sea and creating sand and fragments of rock. On the ledges and in the little cavities life flourishes. Urchins and sea stars roam, but there is relatively little coral. This unstable surface is a poor place for the hard corals to colonize. One exception is wire coral, meter long specimens protrude here and there.
For our second dive the choice was The Hive. Arriving at the site revealed a small sea arch adjacent to the mooring large enough to drive the boat through. We did not know what to expect at the site. Thus the dive plan was to make a sweep out the edge of the reef and then back towards shore to check out the sea arch for possible caves. The sweep was pretty routine, a steep coral covered slope, nothing to hint at why there was a dive mooring here. Coming back to the arch revealed what was special about this spot! A set of great caves hide right under the arch at 25-30 ft depth. There were lobsters, innumerable flat rock-crabs, and several species of nudibranch to be found.
As I thought about leaving the caves after a first sweep I looked at my gauge… Still a thousand PSI in the tank! I turned around and headed back into the cave to find still more.
Entering the cave I immediately noted a Spanish dancer I had swum right past earlier. Looking through the large boulders at the entrance I found a few blue dragon nudibranch, always a pleasant find. Dennis was trying to get my attention from a few feet away. I insisted that he look to see what I had found, a blue dragon. When I looked to see what he was pointing at it was another blue dragon. They were everywhere, I lost count, it was just a matter of finding one better situated for photography.
We surfaced, a set of very happy divers, conversation buzzing as we compared notes. Diving has an interesting complication… Communication is limited underwater, you have to wait until you surface to ask questions and compare notes. We identify critters, sometimes grabbing the ragged and well used books Dennis keeps aboard to identify some rarity. We find out what others saw and what we missed. Through the conversation the dive is extended as we relive it one more time.
These are some of the most fantastic dive sites on the island. Not easy to get to but worth it. There are very few boats that run this far south, most vacation divers are happy with the dive sites near Honokohau and the boats need not venture very far from harbor. Jack’s Dive Locker runs a long range dive if there is sufficient interest. The Kona Agressor live-aboard is the only boat that regularly calls at these sites. The very occasional private boat like us is the only other practical way to get to these fantastic dive sites.