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Lake Waiau - The only glacial lake in the mid-Pacific

Lake WaiauAside from being the youngest island in Hawaii, the Big Island boasts of a myriad of attractions including the only glacial lake in the mid-Pacific: Lake Waiau.  The lake is located inside a cinder cone, just below the summit of Mauna Kea. At 13,020 feet above sea level, it is one of the highest lakes in the world and the seventh in the United States.

On the average, the lake measures about 100 m across.  The size varies as the water level rises and falls. At high water levels a small outlet stream appears at the northwest end, but it is absorbed into the ground after a short distance.

Contrary to its name which means "swirling water" in Hawaiian, Lake Waiau is usually placid and freezes in winter.  Aquatic insects such as midges and beetles can be found breeding in the water.

The lake is considered a sacred site were rituals are performed occasionally. According to Hawaiian mythology, Lake Waiau was bottomless and was the portal for spirits to travel to and from the spirit world. In ancient time, a chief would throw the umbilical cord of their first son, as soon as it fell off the infant, into the lake. It was to reserve the place for the child's afterlife as a chief.

The hike going to the lake is a simple one mile trail at high altitude with no shade. Not only is there a lack of oxygen, making movement slow and breathing difficult, the higher altitude also means there is a greatly increased possibility of sunburn. Sunscreen, a wide brim hat and boots are a must. The summit often has snow during the winter so dress accordingly. Make sure to bring and drink lots of water, as dehydration is a risk at high altitude. Be reminded that since the lake is considered a sacred site, visitors should not disturb, bathe in or drink its water.

Lake Waiau Photo Gallery

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