Hawaiian legends say that the volcano goddess Pele was driven from her home by her angry older sister, Na-maka-o-kaha’i because Pele had seduced her husband. Every time Pele would thrust her digging stick into the earth to dig a pit for a new home, Na-maka-o-kaha’i, goddess of water and the sea, would flood the pits. Pele eventually landed on the Big Island, where she made Mauna Loa her new home. Literally meaning “Long Mountain” in the Hawaiian language, Mauna Loa was so tall that even Pele’s sister could not send the ocean’s waves high enough on Mauna Loa to drown Pele’s fires. So Pele established her home on its slopes.
Rising to more than 4 km above sea level, Mauna Loa is the largest volcano in the world. The enormous volcano covers half of the island, and is among the Earth’s most active volcanoes, having erupted 33 times since its first well-documented historical eruption in 1843. Mauna Loa’s recent eruption was in 1984 and is certain to erupt again.
Mauna Loa’s name is suitable, for the sub-aerial part of mountain extends for about 120 km from the southern tip of the island to the summit crater, and then northeast to the coastline near Hilo. The summit crater is named Moku’aweoweo. “Moku” refers to a coastal land section, and “aweoweo” is a type of red Hawaiian fish. The literal translation is “fish section.” Many believe that the “red of the fish” is symbolic of the red lava. Kilauea, an active volcano sitting on the mountain’s southeast flank, has an extensive history of eruptions, including the eruption in 1983 which blanketed 30,000 acres of land with lava, and created 180 acres of new land offshore. $62 million dollars in property damage was assessed from the eruption, and the lava from the eruption continues to flow today.
Mauna Loa’s elevation and location made it an important spot for atmospheric and other scientific observations. The Mauna Loa Solar Observatory has long been prominent in observations of the Sun. The NOAA Mauna Loa Observatory, located close by, monitors the global atmosphere.
Mauna Loa and Kilauea are both accessible through the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The park houses extensive information about volcanoes in Hawaii, and many other Hawaiiana.
There have been many stories about Pele and her home on Mauna Loa. One story says that Pele had a white dog that she’d send to alert the people when an eruption was underway. There have been several sightings of a white dog wandering the slopes of Mauna Loa. The observatory staff members first noticed a white dog in 1959. Attempts to befriend or capture the mysterious dog failed no matter how persistent they were. In December later that year, Kilauea, one of the two active craters, erupted and the dog disappeared. The dog would reappear and disappear occasionally after the eruption until 1966 when it stopped. Since then, no one has seen the mysterious white dog.