After this great crash the lava seems from time to time to have boiled up from beneath through cracks, and now lies in great rolls upon the surface, or in the deeper cracks. It is related that later the lake or caldron at the farther end of the crater boiled over, and sent down streams of lava which meandered over the black plain; that, continuing to boil over at intervals, this lake increased the height of its own banks, for the lava cools very rapidly; and thus was built up a high hill, which we ascended after crossing the lava plains, in order to look down, in fear and wonder, upon the awful sight below. What we saw there on the 3d of March, 1873, was two huge pits, caldrons, or lakes, filled with a red, molten, fiery, sulphurous, raging, roaring, restless mass of matter, to watch whose unceasing tumult was one of the most fascinating experiences of my life.
The two lakes were then separated by a narrow and low-lying ledge or peninsula of lava, which I was told they frequently overflow, and sometimes entirely melt down. Standing upon the northern bank we could see both lakes, and we estimated their shortest diameter to be about 500 feet, and the longest about one-eighth of a mile. Within this pit the surface of the molten lava was about eighty feet below us. It has been known to sink down 400 feet; last December it was overflowing the high banks and sending streams of lava into the great plain by which we approached it; and since I saw it, it has risen to within a few feet of the top of the bank, and has forced a way out at one side, where, in September, 1873, it was flowing out slowly on to the great lava plain which forms the bottom of the main crater.
What, therefore, Madame Pele will show you hereafter is uncertain. What we saw was this: two large lakes or caldrons, each nearly circular, with the lower shelf or bank, red-hot, from which the molten lava was repelled toward the centre without cessation. The surface of these lakes was of a lustrous and beautiful gray, and this, which was a cooling and tolerably solid scum, was broken by jagged circles of fire, which appeared of a vivid rose-color in contrast with the gray. These circles, starting at the red-hot bank or shore, moved more or less rapidly toward the centre, where, at intervals of perhaps a minute, the whole mass of lava suddenly but slowly bulged up, burst the thin crust, and flung aloft a huge, fiery wave, which sometimes shot as high as thirty feet in the air. Then ensued a turmoil, accompanied with hissing, and occasionally with a dull roar as the gases sought to escape, and spray was flung in every direction; and presently the agitation subsided, to begin again in the same place, or perhaps in another.
Meantime the fiery rings moved forward perpetually toward the centre, a new one re-appearing at the shore before the old was ingulfed; and not unfrequently the mass of lava was so fiercely driven by some force from the bank near which we stood, that it was ten or fifteen feet higher near the centre than at the circumference. Thus somewhat of the depth was revealed to us, and there seemed something peculiarly awful to me in the fierce glowing red heat of the shores themselves, which never cooled with exposure to the air and light.
Thus acted the first of the two lakes. But when, favored by a strong breeze, we ventured farther, to the side of the furthermost one, a still more terrible spectacle greeted us. The mass in this lake was in yet more violent agitation; but it spent its fury upon the precipitous southern bank, against which it dashed with a vehemence equal to a heavy surf breaking against cliffs. It had undermined this lava cliff, and for a space of perhaps one hundred and fifty feet the lava beat and surged into glaring, red-hot, cavernous depths, and was repelled with a dull, heavy roar, not exactly like the boom of breakers, because the lava is so much heavier than water, but with a voice of its own, less resonant, and, as we who listened thought, full of even more deadly fury.
It seems a little absurd to couple the word "terrible" with any action of mere inanimate matter, from which, after all, we stood in no very evident peril. Yet "terrible" is the only word for it. Grand it was not, because in all its action and voice it seemed infernal. Though its movement is slow and deliberate, it would scarcely occur to you to call either the constant impulse from one side toward the other, or the vehement and vast bulging of the lava wave as it explodes its thin crust or dashes a fiery mass against the cliff, majestic, for devilish seems a better word.
Meantime, though we were favored with a cool and strong breeze, bearing the sulphurous stench of the burning lake away from us, the heat of the lava on which we stood, at least eighty feet above the pit, was so great as to be almost unendurable. We stood first upon one foot, and then on the other, because the soles of our feet seemed to be scorching through thick shoes. A lady sitting down upon a bundle of shawls had to rise because the wraps began to scorch; our faces seemed on fire from the reflection of the heat below; the guide's tin water-canteen, lying near my feet, became presently so hot that it burned my fingers when I took it up; and at intervals there came up from behind us a draught of air so hot, and so laden with sulphur that, even with the strong wind carrying it rapidly away, it was scarcely endurable. It was while we were coughing and spluttering at one of these hot blasts, which came from the numerous fissures in the lava which we had passed over, that a lady of our party remarked that she had read an excellent description of this place in the New Testament; and so far as I observed, no one disagreed with her.
After the lakes came the cones. When the surface of this lava is so rapidly cooling that the action below is too weak to break it, the gases forcing their way out break small vents, through which lava is then ejected. This, cooling rapidly as it comes to the outer air, forms by its accretions a conical pipe of greater or less circumference, and sometimes growing twenty or thirty feet high, open at the top, and often with openings also blown out at the sides. There are several of these cones on the summit bank of the lake, all ruined, as it seemed to me, by some too violent explosion, which had blown off most of the top, and in one case the whole of it, leaving then only a wide hole.
Into these holes we looked, and saw a very wonderful and terrible sight. Below us was a stream of lava, rolling and surging and beating against huge, precipitous, red-hot cliffs; and, higher up, suspended from other, also red or white hot overhanging cliffs, depended huge stalactites, like masses of fiercely glowing fern leaves waving about in the subterraneous wind; and here we saw how thin was in some such places the crust over which we walked, and how near the melting-point must be its under surface. For, as far as we could judge, these little craters or cones rested upon a crust not thicker than twelve or fourteen inches, and one fierce blast from below seemed sufficient to melt away the whole place. Fortunately one can not stay very long near these openings, for they exhale a very poisonous breath; and so we were drawn back to the more fascinating but less perilous spectacle of the lakes; and then back over the rough lava, our minds filled with memories of a spectacle which is certainly one of the most remarkable our planet affords.
When you have seen the fiery lakes you will recognize a crater at sight, and every part of Hawaii and of the other islands will have a new interest for you; for all are full of craters, and from Kilauea to the sea you may trace several lines of craters, all extinct, but all at some time belching forth those interminable lava streams over which you ride by the way of the Puna coast for nearly seventy miles back to Hilo.
I advise you to take this way back. Almost the whole of it is a land of desolation. A narrow trail across unceasing beds of lava, a trail which in spots was actually hammered down to make it smooth enough for horses' feet, and outside of whose limits in most places your horse will refuse to go, because he knows it is too rough for beast or man: this is your road. Most of the lava is probably very ancient, though some is quite recent; and ferns and guava bushes and other scanty herbage grow through it.
In some of the cavernous holes, which denote probably ancient cones or huge lava bubbles, you will see a cocoa-nut-tree or a pandanus trying to subsist; and by-and-by, after a descent to the sea-shore, you are rewarded with the pleasant sight of groves of cocoa-nuts and umbrageous arbors of pandanus, and occasionally with a patch of green.
Almost the whole of the Puna coast is waterless. From the Volcano House you take with you not only food for the journey back to Hilo, but water in bottles; and your thirsty animals get none until you reach the end of your first day's journey, at Kaimu. Here, also, you can send a more than half-naked native into the trees for cocoa-nuts, and drink your fill of their refreshing milk, while your jaded horses swallow bucketfuls of rain-water.
It will surprise you to find people living among the lava, making potato-patches in it, planting coffee and some fruit-trees in it, fencing in their small holdings, even, with lava blocks. Very little soil is needed to give vegetation a chance in a rainy reason, and the decomposed lava makes a rich earth. But except the cocoa-nut which grows on the beach, and seems to draw its sustenance from the waves, and the sweet-potato, which does very well among the lava, nothing seems really to thrive.
It will add much to the pleasure of your journey to Kilauea if you carry with you, to read upon the spot and along the road, Brigham's valuable Memoir on the Hawaiian Volcanoes. With this in hand, you will comprehend the nature, and know also the very recent date of some important changes, caused by earthquakes and lava flows, on the Puna coast. Near and at Kaimu, for instance, there has been an apparent subsidence of the land, which is supposed in reality, however, I believe, to have been caused rather by the breaking off of a vast lava ledge or overhang, on which, covered as it was with earth and trees, a considerable population had long lived. In front of the native house in which you will sleep, at Kaimu, part of a large grove of cocoa-nut-trees was thus submerged, and you may see the dead stumps still sticking up out of the surf.
Kaimu is twenty-five miles from the Volcano House. The native house at which you will pass the night is clean, and you may there enjoy the novelty of sleeping on Hawaiian mats, and under the native cover of tapa. You must bring with you tea or coffee, sugar, and bread, and such other food as is necessary to your comfort. Sweet-potatoes and bananas, and chickens caught after you arrive, with abundant cocoa-nuts, are the supplies of the place. The water is not good, and you will probably drink only cocoa-nut milk, until, fifteen miles farther on, at Captain Eldart's, you find a pleasant and comfortable resting-place for the second night, with a famous natural warm bath, very slightly mineral. Thence a ride of twenty-three miles brings you back to Hilo, all of it over lava, most of it through a sterile country, but with one small burst of a real paradise of tropical luxuriance, a mile of tall forest and jungle, which looks more like Brazil than Hawaii.
One advantage of returning by way of the Puna coast, rather than by the direct route from Kilauea, is that you have clear, bright weather all the way. The configuration of the coast makes Puna sunny while Hilo is rainy.
If you desire a longer ride than that by the Puna coast, you can cross the island, from the Volcano House, by way of Waiahino and Kapapala to Kauwaloa on the western coast, whence a schooner will bear you back to Honolulu. A brief study of the map of Hawaii in this volume will show the different routes suggested in this chapter.
Moreover, when you are at Kilauea, you have done something toward the ascent of Mauna Loa; and guides, provisions, and animals for that enterprise can be obtained at the Volcano House, as well as such ample details of the route that I will not here attempt any directions. It is not an easy ride; and you must carry with you warm clothing. A gentleman who slept at the summit in September, 1873, told me the ice made over two inches thick during the night.
If Mauna Loa is active, a traveler on the Islands ought by all means to see it; for Dr. Coan assures me that it is then one of the most terrific and grand sights imaginable. I did not visit it, as it was not active while I was on the Islands, though its fires were alive. The crater is a pit about three miles in circumference, with precipitous banks about two thousand feet deep. At the bottom is the burning lake, which has a curious habit of throwing up a jet, more or less constant, of fiery lava, to the height, this last summer, of four or five hundred feet from the surface of the lake. It is a fine sight, but, of course, somewhat distant. I am told that this jet has at times reached nearly to the summit level of the crater; and it must then have been a glorious spectacle.
Near Hilo are some pretty water-falls and several sugar plantations, to which you can profitably give a couple of days, and on another you should visit Cocoa-nut Island, and—as interesting a spot as almost any on the Islands—a little lagoon on the main-land near by, in which you may see the coral growing, and pick it up in lovely specimens with the stones upon which it has built in these shallow and protected waters. Moreover, the surf-beaten rocks near by yield cowries and other shells in some abundance; and I do not know anywhere of a pleasanter picnic day than that you can spend there.
Finally, Hilo is one of the very few places on these islands where you can see a truly royal sport—the surf-board. It requires a rough day and a heavy surf, but with a good day it is one of the finest sights in the world.
The surf-board is a tough plank about two feet wide and from six to twenty feet long, usually made of the bread-fruit-tree. Armed with these, a party of tall, muscular natives swim out to the first line of breakers, and, watching their chance to duck under this, make their way finally, by the help of the under-tow, into the smooth water far off: beyond all the surf. Here they bob up and down on the swell like so many ducks, watching their opportunity. What they seek is a very high swell, before which they place themselves, lying or kneeling on the surf-board. The great wave dashes onward, but as its bottom strikes the ground, the top, unretarded in its speed and force, breaks into a huge comber, and directly before this the surf-board swimmer is propelled with a speed which we timed and found to exceed forty miles per hour. In fact, he goes like lightning, always just ahead of the breaker, and apparently downhill, propelled by the vehement impulse of the roaring wave behind him, yet seeming to have a speed and motion of his own.
It is a very surprising sight to see three or four men thus dashed for nearly a mile toward the shore at the speed of an express train, every moment about to be overwhelmed by a roaring breaker, whose white crest was reared high above and just behind them, but always escaping this ingulfment, and propelled before it. They look, kneeling or lying on their long surf-boards, more like some curious and swift-swimming fish—like dolphins racing, as it seemed to me—than like men. Once in a while, by some mischance the cause of which I could not understand, the swimmer was overwhelmed; the great comber overtook him; he was flung over and over like a piece of wreck, but instantly dived, and re-appeared beyond and outside of the wave, ready to take advantage of the next. A successful shot launched them quite high and dry on the beach far beyond where we stood to watch. Occasionally a man would stand erect upon his surf-board, balancing himself in the boiling surf without apparent difficulty.
The surf-board play is one of the ancient sports of Hawaii. I am told that few of the younger generation are capable of it, and that it is thought to require great nerve and coolness even among these admirable swimmers, and to be not without danger.
In your journeys to the different islands you need to take with you, as part of your baggage, saddle and bridle, and all the furniture of a horse. You can hire or buy a horse anywhere very cheaply; but saddles are often unattainable, and always difficult to either borrow or hire. "You might as well travel here without your boots as without your saddle," said a friend to me; and I found it literally true, not only for strangers, but for residents as well. Thus you may notice that the little steamer's hold, as she leaves Honolulu, contains but few trunks; but is crowded with a considerable collection of saddles and saddle-bags, the latter the most convenient receptacles for your change of clothing.
Riding on Hawaii is often tiresome, even to one accustomed to the saddle, by reason of the slow pace at which you are compelled to move. Wherever you stop, for lunch or for the night, if there are native people near, you will be greatly refreshed by the application of what they call "lomi-lomi." Almost everywhere you will find some one skillful in this peculiar and, to tired muscles, delightful and refreshing treatment.
To be lomi-lomied, you lie down upon a mat, loosening your clothing, or undressing for the night if you prefer. The less clothing you have on the more perfectly the operation can be performed. To you thereupon comes a stout native, with soft, fleshy hands but a strong grip, and, beginning with your head and working down slowly over the whole body, seizes and squeezes with a quite peculiar art every tired muscle, working and kneading with indefatigable patience, until in half an hour, whereas you were sore and weary and worn-out, you find yourself fresh, all soreness and weariness absolutely and entirely removed, and mind and body soothed to a healthful and refreshing sleep.
The lomi-lomi is used not only by the natives, but among almost all the foreign residents; and not merely to procure relief from weariness consequent on overexertion, but to cure headache, to relieve the aching of neuralgic or rheumatic pains, and, by the luxurious, as one of the pleasures of life. I have known it to relieve violent headache in a very short time. The old chiefs used to keep skillful lomi-lomi men and women in their retinues; and the late king, who was for some years too stout to take exercise, and was yet a gross feeder, had himself lomi-lomied after every meal, as a means of helping his digestion.
It is a device for relieving pain or weariness which seems to have no injurious reaction and no drawback but one—it is said to fatten the subjects of it.
Back to: The Sandwich Islands
Notes About Book:
Source: Nordhoff, Charles. Northern California, Oregon, and the Sandwich Islands. Harper and Brothers, Publishers, 1875.
Online Publication: This book has been scanned, ocr'd and thoroughly vented for errors.
This book includes some historical materials that may imply negative stereotypes reflecting the culture or language of a particular period or place. These items are presented as part of the historical record and should not be interpreted to mean that the WebMasters in any way endorse the stereotypes implied.