Of the lava openings on these islands, the extinct one of Haleakala, as stated, with its twenty-seven miles circumference, is far the most stupendous. It is easy of access, the mountain sides leading to it presenting a gentle slope; while the walls of the crater, in places perpendicular, in others are so sloping that man and horse can descend them. The pit varies from 1500 to 2000 feet in depth, its bottom being very irregular from the old lava flows and the many cinder cones, these still looking as fresh as though their fires had just gone out. Some of these cones are over 500 feet high. There is a tradition among the natives that the vast lava streams which in the past flowed from the crater to the sea continued to do so in the period of their remote ancestors. They still, indeed, appear as if recent, though there are to-day no signs of volcanic activity anywhere on this island.
In fact, the only volcano now active in the Hawaiian Islands is Mauna Loa, in the southern section of the Island of Hawaii. A striking feature of this is that it has two distinct and widely disconnected craters, one on its summit, the other on its flank, at a much lower level. The latter is the vast crater of Kilauea, the largest active crater known on the face of the globe.
We cannot offer a better description of the aspect of this lava abyss than to give Miss Bird’s eloquent description of her adventurous descent into it:
“The abyss, which really is at a height of four thousand feet on the flank of Mauna Loa, has the appearance of a pit on a rolling plain. But such a pit! It is quite nine miles in circumference, and at its lowest area—which not long ago fell about three hundred feet, just as the ice on a pond falls when the water below is withdrawn—covers six square miles. The depth of the crater varies from eight hundred to one thousand feet, according as the molten sea below is at flood or ebb. Signs of volcanic activity are present more or less throughout its whole depth and for some distance along its margin, in the form of steam-cracks, jets of sulphurous vapor, blowing cones, accumulating deposits of acicular crystals of sulphur, etc., and the pit itself is constantly rent and shaken by earthquakes. Great eruptions occur with circumstances of indescribable terror and dignity; but Kilauea does not limit its activity to these outbursts, but has exhibited its marvellous phenomena through all known time in a lake or lakes on the southern part of the crater three miles from this side.
“This lake—the Hale-mau-mau, or ‘House of everlasting Fire’, of the Hawaiian mythology, the abode of the dreaded goddess Pele—is approachable with safety, except during an eruption. The spectacle, however, varies almost daily; and at times the level of the lava in the pit within a pit is so low, and the suffocating gases are evolved in such enormous quantities, that travellers are unable to see anything.