Touring an active volcano isn’t something that people can claim to do every day. The Island of Hawaii, appropriately called “the Big Island,” has been boasting exotic lava spurts from Kilauea Volcano since the 1983 eruption began. It’s the first time the island has had continuous lava lake activity for centuries.
As with most things in Hawaii, there are many options for an eager tourist to catch a glimpse of the bright orange lava lake and its rivers to the sea. Combine your personal volcano tour with some of your favorite hobbies to maximize your enjoyment.
Lava By Land
Volcanoes National Park is a National Park boasting more than 330,000 acres with the most active volcano in the world. Many will catch a tour bus from Hilo or Kona and spend the day being taken to the most prominent spots in the park. But, you can experience the park on your own with more than 150 miles of hiking trails.
The Thurston Lava tubes is one hot spot for everyone to see. Most people don’t think about the flow of the lava as it moves across the already cooled land. It rolls on itself, creating pockets of caves and literally tubes. You can park your car and hike a few minutes down to the tubes, where you will find yourself in the dreary damp darkness to the end. No, you won’t experience hot molten lava in this tube – it would be bad if you did. But, this is certainly an experience in understanding what you might be walking over when you are hiking or biking other areas of the park.
Hiking Volcanoes National Park is not exactly like hiking through the Hawaiian rainforest. This is all new land made by the goddess Pele and much of it looks like another planet. The ground is black lava with limited vegetation in the area. It is surreal to walk the park. Keep in mind to stay on the trails.
It may all look like one cooled off black abyss, but remember that lava tube? There are pockets where just inches under the surface, lava is flowing and those who don’t heed the warnings of trails can find themselves in very dangerous territory, falling through the top crust into 2000 degree temperatures. That’s a bit hotter than the hot tub.
Another land stop favorite is the sulfur banks. You’ll realize this is an active volcano tour by the pungent smell. Soon after, you’ll be engulfed in the gases rising from the sulfur banks. It’s a cool spot, but don’t spend much time here, especially if you have lung issues or allergies. It’s enough for a sudden asthma attack onset.
Feel free to check out some Hawaiian helicopter tours and make your reservations.
Lave By Air
Of course, you can see the crater by land, with several lookouts around Kilauea crater. But, this is one thing that can probably only best be seen from above, to fully grasp its magnitude. There are several helicopter tours that will do this, usually during the day. But, a night view is certainly more spectacular when lava is spurting up hundreds of feet in the air.
Not only will a helicopter tour be able to show the magnitude of the crater, but it will allow you to see more of the historic flows throughout the park in a shorter period of time. Anyone who has ever gone on a by-land Volcano Tour knows that you really can’t see it all in one day.
So, if time is limited or you are just visiting the island for the day, going by air will give you the full expanse of the park. Charge the camera batteries and strap them to you, since these tours are usually open door tours and the air pockets can sometimes create some unexpected turbulence. You don’t want that GoPro falling to its melting death.
Lava By The Sea
See lava travel some 40 miles from its source to the sea. The site of the island literally growing in front of you is something not even locals get tired of seeing. There are some very unique fishing and boat charters that allow you to get pretty close to the boiling water, with a front row view to see lava flow over the edge of the island. This isn’t an every day occurrence, as the flows do change. But, when it’s happening, it’s worth the effort to get on a boat and take it in from the ocean.
Understand the marine topography here to understand why it’s so cool. Mauna Kea, the dormant volcano on the other side of the island, is taller than Mount Everest, when measuring from the sea floor to the top. This means the island sits in one heck of a deep part of the ocean, called the Aleutian Trench. The water just off the Southern shore is naturally pretty deep, with deep sea fishing charters able to haul in some pretty hefty fish just 30-40 yards from the shore. So, not only can you fish for the day, but you can sashimi up the catch as evening rolls and watch the natural fireworks show like you’re watching your neighbor across the street. It’s that close. Except you have sashimi by the sea and they don’t. You win!
Spoil Sport Disclaimers
Safety is always a consideration when dealing with molten lava. So here is our three rules to live by when searching for the perfect photo opt with lava:
If your shoes’ soles are melting, go back where you came from, quickly. You’re probably somewhere you shouldn’t be and yes, you are about to be pants of fire.
Unless you are trying to lose the kids, keep the family together. Even the best outdoorsmen get turned around in the vast lava fields and can be lost for days.
Leave the lava and all rocks where you find them. Maybe you don’t believe in the fire goddess Pele, but the rangers’ office actually has hundreds of pounds of lava rocks mailed back each year because of bad luck.