The photographer in me dreamed of red-hot lava flowing into the cool-blue waves of the pacific ocean in clouds of white steam for months before flying to the Big Island of Hawaii.
So on my first trip, I arrived hell-bent on capturing this scene.
I guess I didn’t look into it enough because–Surprise!!! The lava wasn’t flowing into the ocean and it hadn’t been for years.
This was definitely a major let down for me but guys, in a place as humbling as the home of Mt.Kilauea, disappointment is stifled at every vantage point, I promise! Check out my post One Day in Volcano to help plan your trip when the lava decides to lay low.
BUT SIX MONTHS LATER…
the stars aligned in a way that they never seem to do for me: My family began to plan a return trip to the island.
With only a couple of weeks left in our countdown, the lava started flowing
& with only a few days left in our countdown, the lava reached the ocean.
If you are lucky enough that this is your situation, the two things you HAVE TO DO are
- AS IMMEDIATELY AS POSSIBLE, BOOK A LAVA BOAT TOUR. (especially if you’re not up for the hike)
- DEDICATE AN EVENING/NIGHT FOR THE HIKE. (especially if you’re not up for the boat)
For the lava boat adventure, I recommend Lava Ocean Tours, Inc. I’ll admit a little bias in this recommendation because this is the only one I’ve ever taken; however the experience was incredible. When that lava starts pumping into the ocean, these boats fill up almost as suddenly. If you think this is something that you might want to do, you need to act quickly, and even more so if you think you want a spot on the sunrise/sunset tour. We booked ours for the tour after sunrise, simply due to availability but it did not disappoint.
I don’t want to drone on and on about information available on their site but what you should know about this boat tour is
- once you reach the lava ocean entry, you will see lava and you will see it WELL for a good period of time. If I recall correctly, we were out there for about 30-45 minutes. The captain took turns allowing both starboard & port extended views.
- this is an open ocean boat ride. If you get seasick, plan accordingly. The conditions were about as perfect as they get as far as open ocean conditions are concerned, but I was on the patch so I was totally fine anyway.
- i brought with me a very expensive camera, without water housing. this boat tour was so last minute that I did not have funds to buy protective camera gear. The waves and spray are not too bad towards the back of the boat, but generally speaking, you should be prepared to get wet. I ended up housing my camera in a gallon ziplock bag, under my rain coat. This sufficed, but again, I sat at the very back of the boat. Once you arrive at the ocean entry, your camera will be fine. But protect it on the ride!
This experience ultimately changed my life and the way I see the world. It may not have as profound effects on you, but I recommend it all the same. Prepare for the mind-blow.
As for the hike…it’s a long one in terms of the best views being at the very end. But if surface flow is present and accessible, there is no way you can skip this part of your trip and live with yourself afterwards.
**disclaimer** the volcanic activity is EVER CHANGING. these were the conditions and locations of activity during my trip and as such, may vary.
If you’re smart enough to incorporate this into your itinerary…you’re looking at 4 miles in and 4 miles out. You can begin your hike from the end of Chain of Craters Road in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park or you can begin in Kalpana. From the Kalapana side, you may rent a bike or make the trek on foot. We went by foot from the Kalapana side.
We hiked into the sunset and reached our destination with about 20 minutes left of light. This is definitely optimal viewing time but I have to urge you to move quickly if you choose this same time or later. Once you reach the lava, there is little to no regulation and out of concern for personal safety, you’d be doing yourself a favor to arrive with a little bit of daylight leftover for navigational purposes.
THIS WAS SO CRAZY UNBELIEVABLE GUYS! I’d done a lot of research prior to my trip to find out how close you could actually get to the lava but I never could’ve imagined the reality. Let me put it this way– If I’d wanted to take a lava bath, I could have. You could feel the heat radiating from 50 yards away! On site, looking down at your feet, you could literally see lava bubbling beneath the cracks of the previously cooled lava that made up the ground. I stood directly in front of the flow to photograph, making me one of very few people in the world who will ever stand on that piece of Earth that has since been swallowed up by Pele.
One thing to note is the sacredness of this experience to the Hawaiian people. When we got to the flow, there were some tourists throwing rocks into the lava and poking it with sticks to watch the sticks immediately catch fire. Just err on the side of respect when you’re on the island, in general. If you’re lucky enough that Pele wants to meet you, sit back in awe and take it all in..don’t be one of those people that plays a role in the future regulation of this spectacular experience.
The walk back is a long one, which I’ve done twice. The second time around we played music on little speakers and appreciated the full moon lighting our path the whole way back. But headlamps are definitely recommended. With little moonlight it will be super dark! The path itself; however, is literally a path. It’s not dangerous or treacherous…just long. Day or night, bring water and comfortable shoes! There are some porta-potties along the way but it seems like they stop when you need them the most…so be mindful of this as well.
As much a I loved the lava boat, I can say with certainty that experiencing the lava on foot was the most miraculous thing of my life. If you can, then you should.
*LAVA PHOTO GALLERY TO COME*