There are many wondrous, enigmatic and fascinating attractions on the Big Island of Hawaii, some better known than others, many out of the way and generally off the beaten track. Tour Guide Hawaii has produced an encyclopedic collection of the most up-to-date information, presented as short GPS-cued videos, in an app downloadable to iPhone and iPod Touch that covers the entire Big Island, highlighting the popular and the uncrowded, the famous and the secluded, the adventurous and the relaxing.
What’s at the End of Chain of Craters Road?
The end of the Chain of Craters Road is currently around Mile Marker 19, just at the Holei Sea Arch and about ½ mile from the National Park eruption viewing station. Good, if distant, viewing of the eruption, displays about the volcano and natural history of the area, as well as a wealth of information on hiking to, and viewing, the lava, are available here. In addition, numerous sea arches, sea caves, fabulous bird watching, indescribable ocean views and some pretty good biking are to be found here. Even if the lava flows are too far away to be easily hiked to, the hike along the new land, twisted lava forms and endless basalt landscape is well worth the drive to the end of the road.
Over the months and years, the lava river issuing from Pu’u O’o winds its way back and forth across the lava plain of about 8 miles breadth, usually flowing into the sea within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, but sometimes outside the eastern margin of the Park on County of Hawaii land at Waikupanaha, sometimes ponding behind the low lava hills for weeks at a time without entering the ocean at all. Check with the rangers about flow conditions; they can tell you the best way to approach these flows. Current eruption updates are available from the National Park Service by calling 808.985.600. Listen to their advice, heed their warnings, especially if you plan to hike all the way to the lava flows.
When the lava flows outside the Park onto Hawaii County land, you can see it from the Puna side at the County of Hawaii Viewing area at Waikupanaha; for further information on hiking to see the lava at Waikupanaha, please go here.
When the flows are within the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the best approach is to drive to the end of Chain of Craters Road in the Park and then hike in. This hike can be of a few minutes, or a few hours, duration, depending upon how far away the lava ocean entry is. The hike is over an uneven, rough surface, hot during the day even when it rains, cold at night and navigation can sometimes be counter-intuitive. The trail at first is marked with cairns and reflectors, but after the viewing station located at a few hundred meters, you are on your own to navigate the basalt wilderness. The good news is, even if the hike is a couple hours duration, when the lava flow is in the National Park, you are allowed to walk right up to it; this is not true if the lava is flowing onto County of Hawaii land at Waikupanaha.
The End of the Road is the second busiest area in the Park when the lava is flowing. Rangers try to be available here to talk to visitors through most of the day and into the evening. The Rangers will have the most up-to-date information about hiking to, and viewing, the eruption. Due to the popularity of this area, it is not uncommon to have to park as much as ¾ of a mile or more from the end of the road.
You should bring at least 2 quarts of water, a flashlight for hiking out in the dark, camera, food, first aid kit, sun screen and a rain jacket; wear a sun hat, sturdy hiking shoes, long pants and a long-sleeved shirt–those rocks are sharp! Over the years, we have found a stout hiking stick and an umbrella to be of good use as well. Since photos and video are most spectacular at night, it is wise to bring a camera tripod.Remember: you will be hiking out at night; plan and pack accordingly. There will likely be no food or gasoline available for purchase after dark until you reach Hilo or Kailua Kona.
Hiking all the way out to the active flows is one of the most spiritually rewarding, awe-inspiring, curiosity quenching and amazing things one can do anywhere in the world—but it is neither for the physically unfit nor the meek of spirit. It is a long, hot hike over broken ground and glass-sharp rocks; the heat from the volcano is savage; the weather, if clear, is sweltering…frequent squalls blow in off the ocean and the rain and wind can get pretty wild out on the lava plain where there is absolutely no cover or shelter to protect you. No water or shade are available anywhere along the hike.
The molten lava itself is mortally dangerous, although slow-moving and easy to outpace. However, the incautious and inattentive can find themselves surrounded and cut off as flows advance whilst they are looking elsewhere. It is a good idea to use a sturdy walking stick or ski pole to probe in front of you, as you approach the active flows. Although it may appear dark and solid—especially in the bright daylight—much of what you will be walking on is still extremely hot and may not be completely hardened—best to probe it first before walking out on it. You only have to have your running shoes catch fire once to learn the wisdom of wearing sturdy boots here. Don’t be tempted to touch, spit on, sprinkle water on, poke, kick, throw rocks into or interrupt or molest the molten lava flow in anyway—the results will be blindingly fast, inexplicably unpredictable and agonizingly painful.
Remember that you are hiking on a highly active volcano, if flowing streams of lava strand you, no rescue is practical or possible; plan, take care and pay strict attention accordingly. The section on Lava Viewing has a great deal of important information regarding hiking on this active volcano; be sure to review it so that you may approach the home of the goddess with respect, knowledge and awe, and return unscathed.
Going to see the lava flow and the eruption of a living volcano may well be the adventure of your lifetime; please be careful and pay attention to these warnings to make sure this is not the FINAL adventure of your lifetime.
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All media copyright 2010 by Donald B. MacGowan. All rights reserved.