As the world’s largest active volcano, and one of the five volcanoes that make up the Big Island of Hawaii, Mauna Loa volcano is a monstrosity worthy of her own tour. This is not to say, of course, that Kilauea, Mauna Kea, Kohala and Hualalai should be ignored when exploring Hawaii’s volcanoes, but there is something truly awe-inspiring about standing on one of the most well studied and potentially dangerous volcanoes on Earth.
Is Mauna Loa Volcano Really the Biggest Volcano on Earth?
Technically, Mauna Loa’s younger sibling, Mauna Kea, is actually the tallest mountain on the planet, beating Mauna Loa’s height by about 120 feet. The reason Mauna Loa is considered to be the largest volcano, however, is the sheer volume of the lava which comprises the mountain; estimated at approximately 18,000 cubic miles, Mauna Loa actually starts its monolithic pile up about 26,000 feet below the sea floor. Furthermore, Mauna Loa has an area of about 2,035 square miles and comprises 50.5% of the island of Hawaii.
When will Mauna Loa erupt again?
Mauna Loa began erupting somewhere between 700,000 and 1,000,000 years ago and has been growing ever since. Since 1832, there have been 33 documented eruptions from Mauna Loa, with the most recent being in March of 1984. Despite the relatively quiet last couple of decades, scientists estimate that Mauna Loa has erupted approximately once every six years over the course of the last 3,000, and she has been intensely monitored by the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory since 1912. Most scientists speculate that we will all see her loose her fiery glory again in our lifetimes.
Hiking the Mauna Loa Volcano
As a mountain over 60 miles long, 30 miles wide and 13,680 feet above sea level, there is no shortage of options for places to take a good hike. Whether you want a laid back, 3-4 mile hike up the historic cattle drive route, known as Puu Oo Trail, or would rather challenge yourself to the hike up to Mokuaweoweo, Mauna Loa’s caldera summit, you’re sure to find plenty of excitement along the way. In fact, there are actually several endemic and endangered species which you may be able to spot while hiking up Mauna Loa’s northeastern, cloud forest flank. A few of these species include: akiapolaau, omao, iiwi and apapane.
Mauna Loa volcano is a central part of the Big Island’s ecosystem and geography, and no trip to the island would be complete without paying your respects.