A Look at Oahu's Inactive Volcanoes: the Waianae & Koolau Ranges
Volcanoes are an important part of Hawaiian culture. In Hawaiian mythology, the goddess of fire and volcanoes, Tutu Pele, is known as "she who shapes the earth." Tutu Pele shaped Oahu tens of thousands of years ago with the eruption of volcanoes that created a landscape of mountains, ridges, rocky beaches and free-flowing waterfalls.
Today, there are no active volcanoes in Oahu. Most of the action is over on the island of Hawaii. Volcanoes Mauna Loa, which last erupted in 1984, and Kilauea, which last erupted continuously from 1983 to 2018, prompt over a million tourists to visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park every year to get a glimpse of the active volcanoes.
Inactive volcanoes, on the other hand, have their advantages. Oahu has great hiking opportunities across its ancient volcano ranges. Here's a look at the island's ancient and extinct volcano ridges, Waianae and Koolau.
The Waianae Range is the smaller of the two, located toward the island's western side. Wind and rain eroded the ancient shield volcano, turning mountains of fire into lush rainforests, replete with wildflowers and native bird and plant species. The protected reserve of Mt. Ka‘ala is criss-crossed with arduous trails, making way for visitors to scale the highest point of Oahu. From the summit, experienced hikers can explore a mystical cloud forest and, on a clear day, a great view. The last eruption on the Waianae Range was 2.5 million years ago.
The 37-mile-long Ko'olau Range runs parallel to the Waianae Range on the eastern side of Oahu. The range also formed from massive volcano eruptions, with its original caldera located in present-day Kaneohe Bay.
The range's youngest extinct cinder cones are now famous landmarks, such as Diamond Head, Punchbowl and Tantalus. The last time any sites on Oahu saw any activity was estimated to have taken place some 70,000-100,000 years ago.
A hike up Diamond Head is a must if you're staying in Honolulu. Its hikeable trail, proximity, accessibility, and delightful view is totally worth it. Keep an eye out for humpback whales when you reach the top – they can be found migrating to the warm waters during the winter months.
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