Hawai’i – ten thousand feet above the Pacific Ocean

June 9, 2013

Waipio Valley Big Island of Hawai'i USA

Photographer and Geoscientist Michael Szoenyi is fully devoted to nature and outdoor photography. The works are not created just passing by, but are the result of extensive preparation, photography know-how and the feeling for the right moment to pull the trigger. This is the recipe for his success of capturing the beauty and unique flavor of individual regions aesthetically and in technical perfection. Michael Szoenyi – to his impressive collection of pictures from Hawai’i:

“Hawai’i is a fascinating island chain in the middle of the pacific ocean, roughly 2’000 miles from any coast, and a dream for anyone into geology. The beachcombers and honeymooners can only be recommended to factor in enough additional time besides the beach to explore the main islands. The most important ones are Big Island, O’ahu, Maui and Kaua’i. Each island has its own, unique character, and it would be really a pity traveling this far without venturing into the heart of them.

In order to better understand the genesis of the Hawai’ian island chain, we need to undertake a journey in space and time, back 5’000 miles and 85 million years to the coast of Kamchatka. There, the oldest remaining seamounts are hidden beneath the sea surface. They are all ancient witnesses of volcanic activity and plate tectonics. This combination leads to constant change among the volcanic island chain in the middle of the Pacific and on the surface of our Earth. These processes can nowhere better be observed than on Big Island, the largest of the Hawai’ian island and home to some geologic world records. Big Island comprises the largest mountain structure on earth, Mauna Loa, with its peak at roughly 10’000 feet above sea level. However, it continues below the sea another 15’000 feet and is surpassing the total height of Mount Everest by far. In addition, you can find the world’s most active volcano on Big Island – Kilauea.

To discover the fascinating world of active volcanism, I have travelled twice to Hawai’i. Since 1983, Kilauea has been incessantly erupting lava on its Eastern Rift Zone – a record with over 30 years of activity now. Then, in 2008, another eruption suddenly opened up inside the Caldera of Halema’uma’u and proved existing theories of scientists wrong, who were convinced until then that a volcano cannot sustain two eruptions at the same time – for over 5 years now, Kilauea is the only one known that can!!

Skylight at dusk Kilauea volcano
The lava streams of the Eastern Rift Zone can cover several miles in a day, passing the old settlement of Kalapana, which was destroyed in the 1980ies. This Kalapana flow will reach the coast depending on the intensity of its activity. During this so-called Ocean Entry, steam and heat explosions create an incredible show when hot lava meets cool Pacific waters. It is an indescribable sensation for a human to be witness of the creation of new earth and the continuous growth of the island. I was lucky to cover such an event during an excursion as part of a National Geographic Film Crew, getting into an area otherwise closed to visitors. This was only possible after long convincing discussions, my qualification as a geoscientist and additional hard work, when my travel friend and I were carrying the heavy IMAX equipment of the crew. These emotional pictures of a smoke- and steam cloud during dusk, the view into a sky light (a hole in the hard ceiling of hardened lava offering a glimpse into the active lava flow) as well as the red arcs of glowing lava bombs in combination of lightning, created by static of the ash cloud, were produced under time pressure with just one camera and two lenses during the instructions of the film crew and their special desires for shooting on the location.
Kalapana Lava eruption at night with lightning

I returned to the Big Island in 2012 for several months to work as a Volunteer Park Ranger with the United States National Park Service – with two suitcases of photo equipment: 8-15mm Fisheye, 70-200 mm/2.8 plus 2x converter, a Canon 5D Mk III DSLR as well as a complete underwater DSLR equipment with flashes.
During the day, I worked in the Division of Interpretation at the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park Visitor Center, talked to visitors, explaining them the sights and the beauty of the park and why it needed protection and went on guided tours into the volcano. During my time off, I wandered off to the more remote areas of the park, hiked over sharp lava rock to the peak of Mauna Loa, went down over the Pali (steep cliff) to the Pacific Coast, went diving and waded through the rivers of inaccessible Waipi’o Valley, the oldest valley of the island.

Halema uma u Kratereruption Hawaii

 At night, the lava lake of Halema’uma’u glows in all imaginable shades of red, the intensity and size of the red cloud above the lake an expression of the mythical volcano goddess Pele, who made Halema’umau her final home.”

Halema uma u Crater Glow

More interesting travel notes by Michael are available on bewegtezeit.ch. He also blogged on blog.geoland.ch.

All photographs by Michael Szoenyi shown on alpineSTOCK.com are on sale with rights managed licenses.


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