Halemaumau Crater with lava lake, Kilauea

Glow of the lava lake in Halemaumau Crater
Glow of the lava lake in Halemaumau Crater. / National Park Service/Ed Shiinoki, / public domain
It is possible that Kilauea is the most active volcano in the world. The caldera at the summit of this volcano until recent times contained a deep pit – Halemaumau Crater – with a lava lake in it. Now, in May 2019, the lava lake has disappeared and the pit – Halemaumau crater – has partly collapsed.

Kilauea – one of the most active volcanoes in the world

Until recent times geologists thought that Kilauea (correct – Kīlauea) is a side crater of another volcano – the giant Mauna Loa whose caldera is some 33 km to the north-west.

Kilauea Caldera with Halemaumau Crater, 2016
Kilauea Caldera with Halemaumau Crater, 2016. / Tim Orr, USGS, / public domain

Now it has been proved that Kilauea is a separate volcano which has its own plumbing of magma extending more than 60 km deep.

Kilauea with its numerous vents and side craters has formed the south-eastern part of the Hawaii Island. It is some 1.2 km tall, with gentle slopes – a typical shield volcano. The landscape around the summit of the volcano is barren, even desert-like: the frequent lava flows and sulfurous smogs (called – vogs) have eliminated most of the vegetation.

The volcano has more than 10 craters which like a row of bullets from automatic weapon have pierced the island. The most famous and most interesting is the westernmost crater – Kilauea Caldera. This is a magnificent 4 by 3.2 km large crater with walls which are up to 120 m high.

In the western part of this caldera is located a deep pit – Halemaumau Crater or, a more correct form – Halema’uma’u Crater – “house of the ‘āma’u fern”.

Halemaumau Crater and its lava lake

Halemaumau crater until the eruptions of 2018 was some 770 by 900 m large. The depth of it is unknown – for the most part of the time since the discovery this pit has been filled with a lava lake. And lava lakes… well, these easily could be the deepest lakes in the world, extending below the crust of the Earth.

Lava lake in Halemaumau Crater, 2014
Lava lake in Halemaumau Crater, 2014. / U.S. Geological Survey, / public domain

There are very few volcanoes in the world which have permanent or near permanent lava lakes – some ten places around the world. The lava lake of Halemaumau Crater though is not exactly permanent… because now, in 2019 it’s gone.

At some periods of the time Kilauea volcano had one more lava lake some 18 km to the south-east, in another crater named Pu’u ‘Ō’ō. Here such lake existed, for example, in 1986 – 1997 and 2011 – 2018. Currently (in 2019) there is no lava lake in this crater either.


Of course, Hawaiians knew about the volcano since their arrival – but there are no written sources. It is known that in 1790 there was terrible, explosive eruption which killed people.

First known description by European is left by William Ellis, a missionary and geologist in 1823. It seems, already then there was a lava lake in the crater. Mark Twain observed the lava lake in 1866 and was enchanted by the incomparable beauty of this place.

In 1912 geologist Thomas Jaggar founded an observatory here. This area in 1916 became Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and step by step Kilauea turned into a scientific base for the exploration of geological processes as well as a top tourist destination as well.

There is much to explore and to see around Kilauea volcano. Since 1952 there have been at least 34 eruptions, each of them different.

Eruption of Kīlauea volcano, 1954
Eruption of Kīlauea volcano, 1954 / USGS, public domain

Eruption in 1983 – 2018

The latest eruption started in 1983 and with some periods of silence continued up to 2018.

The lava lake in the crater changed a lot numerous times during this time period. For example, in April 2015 lava spilled over the rim of the crater on the floor of caldera covering it with 9 m thick layer. By late 2016 it was one of the largest lava lakes in the world, some 250 m by 190 m large.

After repeated floods of lava in May 2018, everything changed to the opposite. The level of the lava lake dropped and it disappeared at least 340 meters down in the crater. This was accompanied by powerful explosions and local earthquakes, from the crater raised clouds of hot ash and toxic gases. Walls of the crater started to collapse and the lake is not visible anymore.

This coincided with another event: lava started to pour out from the ground some 40 km to the east, in Leilani Estates. This idyllic Hawaiian village and other villages and resorts in the area were attacked by lava, which soon reached the sea, changing the coastline and covering with lava some 35 km2. Most likely the disappearance of the lava lake in Halemaumau is linked to this flood of lava.

The area was closed for the visitors from May 10 to September 22. Now, in 2019 the eruption has stopped but the landslides around the crater continue – even the building of Jaggar Museum is endangered and abandoned. This was the largest eruption of Kilauea over the last 200 years.

Legends and ghost stories

Halemaumau Crater is a very important sacred site for Hawaiians and traditional offerings are made here up to this day.

According to the local beliefs, Halemaumau Crater is the abode of Pele – Hawaiian goddess of fire and volcanoes. This goddess created the Hawaiian Islands and after lengthy wanderings and numerous battles found peace in this crater. Hawaiians call this place also Ka Piko o ka Honua – the Navel of the World.

People tell also that Pele appears to some people before dangerous eruptions. She is either old women or young, beautiful lady in red robe (muumuu) and accompanied by a small, white dog. Of course, one should be polite and help the goddess.

Weird silhouette has been noticed in several images of the eruption of Kilauea in 2018 and earlier. Silhouette of a black woman with glowing eyes is seen in a photograph of a lava stream falling in the sea.

Halemaumau Crater from Jaggar Museum, 2018.
Halemaumau Crater from Jaggar Museum, 2018. / NPS Photo/Janice Wei, / public domain

One more belief of Kilauea: guests should not take anything from here – the stone from the summit of the volcano (or even anywhere on the island) will bring unhappiness at home. Many visitors have sent back to Hawaii such souvenirs after their families and houses have been hit by repeated calamities. Reading their letters is quite impressive.


  1. Chronology of Kīlauea’s summit eruption, 2008 – 2017, USGS website. Accessed on May 22, 2019
  2. Return Lava Rock to Hawaii!, Volcano Gallery. Accessed on May 22, 2019

Halemaumau Crater on the map

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Halemaumau Crater with lava lake, Kilauea 19.405816, -155.281161 Halemaumau Crater with lava lake, Kilauea
Location, GPS coordinates:19.4058 N 155.2812 W
Categories:Volcanoes, Lakes and streams
Values:Geology, Visual
Rating:4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)
Where is located?Oceania, United States, Hawaii, southeastern part of Hawaii Island, some 50 km from Hilo
Alternate names:Halemaʻumaʻu Crater
Height:1,222 m
UNESCO World Heritage status:Part of "Hawaii Volcanoes National Park", 1987, No.409

Video of Halemaumau Crater

USGS, June 2018

Landmarks of Hawaii

Lower part of Hiilawe Falls in Waipio Valley, Hawaii
Lower part of Hiilawe Falls in Waipio Valley / Paul Hirst, Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.5
The Hawaiian Islands belong to the most remote islands in the world. Hawaii are characterised by tropical climate, mountainous relief, volcanism and isolation. If compared to most islands in Pacific, several Hawaiian Islands have comparatively large landmass. All these factors have led to the development of numerous impressive and unique natural attractions and some impressive monuments of culture.


Mount Cleveland, Aleut Islands
Mount Cleveland / NOAA Photo Library, / CC BY 2.0

This category includes the most unusual and interesting volcanoes of the world.

Over the last 10,000 years in some 1,500 places around the Earth through the crust of the planet was emitted lava, ash, and gases from the mantle of Earth. Each of these places is an active volcano. Every year some 50 – 70 volcanoes are erupting, at any moment there are some 20 – 30 eruptions on-going.

Recommended books

Kilauea : The Newest Land on Earth

Dramatic photography and engaging text combine to capture the true beauty and spirit of Kilauea Volcano on the island of Hawai’i. Included is information on the volcano’s history, geology and tempestuous behavior.

The Last Volcano

Ranging from Yellowstone in Wyoming to Mount Pelee in the Caribbean, from Bogoslof and Pavlov in Alaska, to Sakurajima in Japan, and, finally, to the massive volcanoes of Kilauea and Mauna Loa in Hawaii―The Last Volcano reveals the incredible journey of a man on a mission to understand the awesome power of volcanic eruptions.


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