Hawaii vs Iceland: Which Islands Have The Most Awe-Inspiring Active Volcanoes?

Here’s an interesting article on volcanos in Hawaii vs. Iceland by Aaron Spray for The Travel.

Kailani Tours Hawaii will be starting up two new Volcano Tours in the fall.

Both islands are known for their active volcanoes and for those fascinated by them, it’s a tough choice deciding which are the best.

Iceland and the Hawaiian Islands couldn’t be more of a contrast. While the Hawaiian Islands are tropical, Iceland is sub-Arctic. While the native people of the Hawaiian Islands are Polynesians, the people of Iceland are descendants of Norwegian Vikings. But one thing they do have in common is that they are home to some of the world’s most active and spectacular volcanos. Both places are located above active hot spots. There are many tours to various volcanoes but for both island groups, but it’s also very easy to just rent a car and explore by yourself in both destinations. Remember that Hawaii is generally much more expensive than the mainland United States and Iceland is also infamously expensive.

Iceland And Its Volcanoes

Iceland is home to many impressive volcanoes and many of them are active. This is because Iceland is located above the Mid-Atlantic Ridge with its divergent tectonic plates – together with being situated over a hot spot. In the last 11 or 12 thousand years around 30 volcanoes have erupted.

  • Highest Volcano: 6,923 feet – Hvannadalshnúkur
  • Fun Fact: Iceland’s Eldgja Is Responsible For The Largest Lave Eruption In Human History

While Hawaii is the land of tropics and fiery volcanoes, Iceland is the true land of ice and fire (but sadly lacks ice zombies, dragons, knights, and wildlings although fortunately lacks disappointing endings). The landscape has been molded by these firey conduits of the depths. The Icelandic volcanoes are crowned on the island by glaciers and snow. Iceland is considered a true volcanologist’s paradise.

Like Hawaii, Iceland is a geologically young land, and many of its volcanoes are active today.

Some of Iceland’s active volcanoes include:

  • Hekla
  • Eldgjá
  • Herðubreið
  • Eldfell
  • Laki
  • Eyjafjallajökull 
  • Grímsvötn

In 1783-1784 Laki erupted and triggered a major famine on the isolated island resulting in the famine killing around a quarter of the population of Iceland. Life in Iceland has always been difficult and vulnerable before truly modern times.

Iceland is more than just volcanoes, it is a wonderland that includes many active geysers.

  • Fun Fact: One Icelandic Geyser Is Called “Geysir” – From Where The English Word Comes

Out of Iceland’s hundreds of volcanic systems around the island, around 30 remain active today.

In the last few years, Iceland has seen a number of damaging eruptions. One of these was the 2010 Eyjafjallajökull eruption. This was the first time the volcano had erupted in almost 200 years. It forced more than 600 people to flee their homes and the plumes of volcanic ash spewed into the atmosphere disrupted air travel across Europe.

  • Visa Requirements: Iceland Is Visa Free

Iceland is very easy to travel and nearly everyone there speaks English. Many of the tours are self-driving tours. If you want to see a different view of the volcanoes, consider taking a scenic flight or climbing the volcanoes with a mountaineering guide.

Hawaii And Its Volcanoes

Like other volcanic hot spots, without volcanoes, Hawaii wouldn’t exist. All of the islands of the archipelago exist because of this hotspot of magma deep under the ocean floor. This Hawaiian hot spot is stationary but the crust is not and so over time the earth’s crust rolls over it. There is a long line of extinct volcanoes that have long weathered down back into the sea after having passed over the hot spot. The Midway Atoll is an example of this. In fact, the Hawaiian Ridge-Emperor Seamounts chain extends a whopping 3,700 miles and nearly reaches Alaska.

  • Highest Volcano: 13,796 feet – Mauna Kea

Today the most active landmass of Hawaii’s eight principal islands is on the Big Island.

Big Island’s Active Volcanoes:

  • Mauna Loa
  • Kilauea
  • Hualalai 
  • Loihi (A Little Offshore)

Mauna Loa

Mauna Loa is an active shield volcano and has been erupting for some 700,000 years and it emerged from the sea around 400,000 years ago. Its slopes arise gradually and it reaches some 13,100 feet above sea level. Only the submerged volcano Tamu Massif is believed to be larger than this beast of Hawaii. Mauna Loa’s eruptions tend to be non-explosive and the last eruption was back in 1984. It is expected to remain active for another 500,000 to 1 million years before it gradually moved past the hotspot and then will become extinct.

  • Visa Requirements: Part Of The USA, International Travelers Will Need A US Visa Or Have AN ESTA Visa Waiver
  • Mauna Loa: The Second Largest Active Volcano In The World

Kīlauea Volcano

In May 2018, Kilauea erupted for months and grabbed national headlines. Sometimes the sprouts of lava would spew more than a hundred feet into the sky. The lava then formed molten rivers and flowed down the mountain destroying any property in its path. That year it was considered the USA’s most dangerous volcano and this eruption created a new black sand beach. These constant eruptions enable the Hawaiian islands to exist, grow and resist being worn down back into the sea.

In short, if you are interested in volcanoes, then you should visit both islands. These are stunning islands filled with active volcanoes but they are both very different from each other. In one place you are in a tropical paradise with volcanic landscapes, while in Iceland you are in a wilderness wonderland of ice and fire. Iceland also has more active volcanoes (not to mention that in the winter you can see the Northern Lights there).