Visitors to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park right now are being treated to a rare event. Kilauea Volcano is erupting in two places simultaneously! Up in the summit caldera, in Halema’uma’u Crater, a vent exploded open last March that has continued to thrill visitors with its billowing steam cloud and night-time glow. If this were the only volcano you were ever going to see, this would plenty spectacular. Current eruption activity updates are available from the National Park at 808.985.6000.
But hold on! The real action is down at the coast where lava from the East Rift Zone has broken out of lava tubes, flows across the open ground and into the sea. From the air, one can see the spectacular glow of a small lava lake in Pu’u O’o crater and from several breakouts along the 2007 Thanksgiving Eve Breakout tube system above the pali and near the top of Royal Gardens subdivision. Lava is currently flowing down the pali and entering the ocean at the Waikupanaha ocean entry where there are spectacular littoral explosions. Although this activity is usually quite vigorous, including a 10-15-m-high lava fountains, it can be sporadic on a day-to day basis.
Over the years, lava has mostly entered the ocean within the National Park boundaries. Park policy has been to allow tourists to approach flowing lava as closely as the visitor himself deemed safe. Surprisingly, a relatively small percentage of visitors were killed or maimed in this process and unparallel access to one of the great wonders of the world, the spectacle of the Earth remaking herself through volcanic eruption, was available on a very intimate basis to anyone who came to Hawaii.
Every six or so years, for a period of several months, eruption flows go outside the park boundaries, as it is doing now. The County of Hawaii, whose Civil Defense Department is responsible for visitor safety in these cases, is not so liberal in granting access to the lava flow. The county maintains a viewing area several hundred meters back from the actual flow and ocean entry areas and visitors are not allowed any closer.
As of this writing, to see the lava flow one must find the County of Hawaii volcano viewing area. From the Hawaii Belt Road at Kea’au, proceed south on Highway 130 through Pahoa and toward the now-buried town of Kalapana. At the 20 mile marker the road splits; the right branch (helpfully marked “end of road”) leads to a dirt-and-lava road a couple miles long at the end of which is the parking area for the County of Hawaii volcano viewing area. One really cannot miss the way during daylight hours, as the enormous explosion plume is clearly visible from miles away. The viewing area is open from 2 in the afternoon until 10 at night; no cars are allowed in after 8 p.m. Lava viewing and road information is available from the County of Hawaii at 808.961.8093. A carnival atmosphere hovers over the parking lot, where several vendors hawk jewelry, t-shirts, drinks and snacks…port-a-potties are also available. The trail leading to the viewing area is largely flat but traverses a broken lava field. It is well marked with reflectors and reflective paint strips along the surface and is just a 15 to 20 minute stroll.
Produced by Donnie MacGowan. Written, filmed and narrated by Donnie MacGowan. Original soundtrack written, performed and recorded by, uh, you guessed it, Donnie MacGowan.