I was freezing up there and possibly even having a bout of altitude sickness, exacerbated by the pain in my ears.
They had become blocked while I was on the very long flight to the Big Island of Hawaii. But the pain was worth enduring, as the dormant volcano Mauna (which means mountain, in Hawaiian) Kea is stunning. Its height is deceptive from afar – not looking imposing at all – so you are unprepared at how far down everything below is, from the summit. At 4,207m, it is not the highest in the world but if measured from its base, which is undersea, it is actually way higher than Mount Everest.
Mauna Loa, an active volcano next to it, is the largest volcano in the world, in terms of mass and volume.
The view of the setting sun, flanked by the many observatories and telescopes on the summit, was fantastic. It almost looked like another planet. The unique weather and position here make it ideal for setting up observatories. The authorities make sure there is minimal light disruption, so all lights on the island confirm to a certain spectrum. Also, there are no billboards on this island.
I continued my “courtship” of the Fire (and Lightning, Wind and Volcanoes) Goddess Pele by visiting an active shield volcano (one that continually erupts) on the island – Kilauea. In December 2014, the flow from June that year threatened to enter the town of Pahoa, and cut off the road leading to it. The information centre at Kilauea shows the geology of volcanoes and how they are linked to Hawaiian culture and to Pele.
If you visit at night, you can see the reddish raw eruptions from its shield. One more item ticked off my bucket list.
On the island of Maui, I checked out the last of my triumvirate of the volcanoes – sunrise at Haleakala, another shield volcano. I had been warned about the temperatures dipping below freezing and the wind factor, and advised to double up on coverings (shh … I sneaked out the duvet from my hotel room, as we left at 2.30am).
Thankfully, Pele must have warmed up the skies because it was only about 9°C up there. It was a hoot to watch people in skimpy shorts and mesh tops jumping up and down to keep warm.
The early morning rise and the wait as hundreds of people tried to squeeze into a very small space to get the best view was more than justified. A moonscape greeted us. The volcano and the crater are so massive, they cover almost half of Maui.
As the sun rose and the light beams streaked across the landscape, I could see weird vegetation like the silversword and birds like the beautiful Chukar partridge. If you see the very rare nene aka the Hawaiian goose (the official state bird), consider yourself lucky.
But then again, if you get to go up the summit of any volcano in Hawaii, you are already lucky!