When my grandmother, who was born in 1911, was growing up here on the Big Island, the family would jump in the car every time they heard there was a new eruption and drive up to see it.
Once she was a kid and happened to be playing around with a pair of Japanese geta – you know, those wooden platform sandals – when they all hopped in the car and drove up to see a lava flow.
When they got there they had to hike over old lava to see the new flow, she in her geta. How uncomfortable. And hard! She was in her 80s when she told me this, and even all those decades later she still sounded slightly peeved that no one noticed and told her to change her shoes before they drove up to the volcano.
Whether you’re visiting for Merrie Monarch (or other reasons), or you live here on the Big Island, don’t take for granted that there is an erupting volcano on this island and that it’s fairly easy to view the spectacular lava flow.
It’s a great afternoon/evening adventure, and an incredible experience to witness this beautiful force of nature and also to see new land being formed as the lava heads for the sea.
To give you an idea of the beauty, this photo by Macario, which we recently gave away in our launch contest, was taken there. (He’s offering Big Island On The Cheap readers a 10 percent discount on this and other prints and greeting cards, by the way. Click on the photo, or on the ad below right.)
There is actually a road and parking lot near a viewing area, though it is a short hike over lava. And, of course, it’s free.
First, you’re going to want to change out of your geta. In fact, you should wear tennis shoes or hiking boots, and long pants, because you will have to hike over some rough lava and a fall can really tear up your skin. Be prepared for rain (there is no shelter at the viewing area).
Right now the viewing area is open from 5-10 pm daily, with the last car being allowed in at 8 p.m. This can and does change depending on conditions at the flow, so call before you drive all the way out there. The Kalapana lava viewing hotline is 961-8093.
We like to hike in while it’s still light (easier), then settle in for awhile and watch the amazing show as it gets dark. It’s awesome in the true sense of the word to see the fireworks against the night sky.
To get to the Kalapana lava viewing area, take Hwy. 11 south from Hilo, and turn left at Hwy. 130 at Keaau. Continue on Hwy. 130 past Pahoa (toward Kalapana) until the highway ends at the access road to the lava viewing area. Park along the two-mile access road and walk to the trailhead. Then it’s about a half-mile hike over old lava to the viewing site.
You should carry water and a flashlight for each person (it’s hard to walk over uneven, sharp lava in the dark; and the dark is when the viewing is so spectacular).Other Resources:
- More tips on safe lava viewing.
- The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory updates its report on what’s happening with the volcano every day.
- There’s a webcam at Puu Oo where the lava is flowing into the ocean.
- The USGS has videos of the actual volcano activity posted here.
About the Author
Leslie Lang is an award-winning writer whose work has been featured on the radio and in newpapers, magazines, books and literary journals. She grew up in California but returned to Hawaii as an adult to live and write on beautiful, long-time family land where her Hawaiian great-great-great grandfather once grew the Hawaiian staple food kalo and pounded poi for the family. Leslie is the only member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors to live on the flanks of the volcano Maunakea.