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Often thought of as a place of luxury and tranquility with its white sand beaches, clear blue seas and postcard-perfect palms, Hawaii is also famed for its dark side, with protruding mountains spewing hot lava over the surrounding land and bellowing smoke and ash high up into the atmosphere. The Hawaiian islands were born from volcanic activity, and there’s plenty of it still happening in the Aloha State.


Hawaii boasts not one but three active volcanoes, with two above ground and open for the public to explore. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of these Hawaiian volcanoes is that they combine the elements of fire and water, with lava frequently spilling into the ocean. It’s reported that an impressive 10,000 visitors descend upon the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park each day to catch a glimpse of this natural phenomenon.


Mauna Loa is the world’s largest volcano, rising up 4,169 meters above sea level. Although a trek up to the summit and back will take experienced hikers a good four days and add an extra 40 miles on to the internal mileage clock, the views are simply unbeatable – nothing but vast open space and centuries-old lava trails. Of course, making the arduous trek isn’t the only way to view the volcano. The sheer size of Mauna Loa means it’s accessible from everywhere, even the ocean! The volcano stretches right down to the Big Island’s coastline, in an ideal spot for wowing travelers sailing past on cruise lines.


Hawaii’s other above ground active volcano is Kilauea, and although it’s not quite as big as its northeastern neighbor at only 1,427 meters high, the frequent activity here makes it one of the Big Island’s most popular tourist attractions. One of the most active volcanoes in the world, Kilauea has been erupting continuously since 1983. Although land, highways and other structures have fallen victim to the hot lava flows, the volcano is generally considered safe for visitors. Many tour companies offer guided trips, but there’s more than one way to experience this volcano. The Volcano Art Center in Kilauea town is well-worth a visit, and divers from across the globe come to check out the underwater lava tubes formed from the almost constant activity.


A popular way to experience the best of the Big Island is to book a trip on a cruise that travels a rather alternative itinerary, taking curious visitors up close to the action. Boat tours travel around the Big Island’s coastline giving spectacular views of the summits up above, as well as of the areas where the lava spills into the Pacific. Seeing fire and water combine in this manner is a once in a lifetime experience that’s not to be missed. These tours are ideal for those on a Hawaiian cruise who want to see everything the Big Island has to offer in just a short amount of time.


There’s much more to Hawaii than hula, leis and surfing. This dark and potentially dangerous backdrop provides a wonderful contrast to an otherwise bright and sunny beachside vacation destination. The Hawaiian volcanoes are a must-see phenomenon for any traveler with a love of nature, science, scenery or unique experiences. Each eruption is the creation of a new island – how could you pass up that opportunity?