Hawaii July 20, 2016
Most People Don’t Know About This Jaw Dropping Lake Hiding In Hawaii
Located more than 13,000 feet above sea level, near the summit of Hawaii Island’s Mauna Kea, is one of only a few lakes found throughout an island state known for its incredible beaches. If you were anywhere else in the country, this beautiful spot wouldn’t be considered a lake at all, but instead a mere pond. This is Lake Waiau, and it is an absolutely dreamy, heart-shaped body of water unlike anything else in the world.
Lake Waiau is arguably one of the country’s highest lakes - and also one of the smallest, measuring in at just more than 328 meters in diameter. Oh, and it is the only glacially-formed lake in the mid-pacific.
The lake’s surface area changes in size depending on the season, and approximate rainfall: during its peak in the spring months, the lake can reach maximum depths of six to eight feet, and shrinks to one third its size by the end of summer, measuring in at less than three feet deep.
But the lake used to be much larger; As of September 2013, the lake measured in at less than 2 percent of its original size. No one is exactly sure what caused this massive shrinkage, but it is assumed to be related to drought-like conditions at Mauna Kea from 2010 to 2013, because in 2014, after a particularly rainy winter, the lake was back to approximately 75 percent of its regular size.
Located within the Pu’u Waiau cinder cone, the lake is only fed precipitation - which occurs primarily during the winter months - and has a catchment area of more than 130,000 meters.
And while it may not seem as though this small lake has any significance, it is quite the anomaly. You see, nowhere else in the summit area of Mauna Kea is the ground able to retain water. The exact nature of the impenetrable ground layer beneath the lake is still unknown, though it is assumed that fine-grained, densely-compressed ash, a small permafrost layer, or basalt rock, may be behind the strange lake.
Though the lake is usually quite placid, the name translates to “swirling waters” in Hawaiian. Hawaiiian mythology cites three snow dieties - Poli’ahu, Lilinoe, and Waiau - who are associated with Mauna Kea. Rumor has it that the lake was named after the goddess with the same name, who used to bathe in the lake.
The Mauna Kea summit, including Lake Waiau, was once considered to be sacred land, and only priests and chieftains were allowed to access it. After the formation of the Kingdom of Hawaii, members of the royal family occasionally visited the site, and in 1881, Queen Emma visited the lake and took a bath - the last royal Hawaiian to ever visit Lake Waiau.
To reach this sacred lake, visitors will have to take a short, one-mile walk, found near Mauna Kea’s astronomy domes. Don’t underestimate this hike, though - because of the high altitude, a lack of oxygen can make movement slow and breathing difficult. The trail also provides no respite from the burning sun, and sunburn is a major threat. We suggest you stop at the Mauna Kea Visitors Center at 9,000 feet above sea level for at least 30 minutes in an attempt to avoid altitude sickness.
Hawaii may only have a handful of lakes, but at least our beaches are top-notch.