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Sulfur Banks, on the crater side of the road, is just one of hundreds of gas seep on the flanks of the summit crater spewing hydrogen sulfide, sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide and steam. Hematite, native sulfur and gypsum minerals precipitate out of the gas flux streaming through the rocks, making colorful splashes on the outcrops. Children and people with heat or respiratory conditions, or anybody with a weak stomach should be wary of venturing down the road to see this.

Non-sulfurous steam vents, mostly across the road from the crater and at the aptly named Steaming Bluff, result from rainwater percolating down through the ground being boiled by the hot rock beneath and streaming up vents to the surface. There is a short walk to the Steaming Bluff from the Sulfur Banks parking area which comes to a breathtaking view of the crater and more productive steam vents.

For more information on touring Hawaii in general and the Big Island in particular, please also visit and

Written and produced by Donald B. MacGowan; narrated by Frank Burgess.  All media copyright 2009 by Donald B. MacGowan and Frank Burgess.

Eruption! Lava Viewing at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Big Island of Hawaii

Written directed and produced by Donald B. MacGowan; Narrated by Frank Burgess; Original Musical Score by Donald B. MacGowan

Can you believe this? It’s absolutely outstanding and amazing! You can actually walk right up to flowing lava here; see a volcano erupt before your eyes and the molten rock pour into the sea. This has to be one of the four or five most exciting, amazing, wonderful, mystical experiences on earth…you must not miss this!

Mauna Loa is active but not currently erupting. The summit area is slowly inflating, filling with magma and the flanks are subject to frequent minor earthquakes, but no obvious activity is apparent to the visitor. Kilauea, the most active volcano on Earth, started its current eruptive phase in 1983, the longest eruption in history. Since then it has ejected almost 3 billion cubic meters of lava. Flowing from various vents in the rift, most notably Pu’u O’o, in streams and tubes at over 1000 degrees Celsius, much of the lava makes its way into the sea in fiery, steamy explosions or the incredible incongruity of glowing hot lava pouring directly into the sea with little more apparent than a mere bubbling of the water.

Although surface flows and breakouts are frequent and common, there is no guarantee that over any given trip to the Big Island they will be visible or easily accessible to the casual visitor. Since the flow of lava over the moonscape plains and into the roiling sea can be seen nowhere else on earth, it is certainly the most exciting, unique and moving highlight of any trip to Hawai’i. People stand at the edge of the flow and weep at the majesty and mystery of the earth remaking itself; it is wondrous, remarkable and unforgettable. Before planning a hike to see the lava, check with the Rangers at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park for information on the hike length and location of surface flows and a review of safety information.

The lava seems to glow with only a dull petulance during the day and may be less than inspiring until nightfall brings it alive and the madly glowing, fiery goddess within is revealed. Thus knowledgeable hikers plan their hike to commence in the afternoon, reaching their destination at dusk, and to hike back in the dark. The lava streams and tubes migrate back and forth from time to time over a pali and plain of about 8 miles breadth. Sometimes the hike is a few hundred meters, sometimes a few miles, but it is always over an uneven, rough surface, hot during the day even when it rains, cold at night and navigation can sometimes be counterintuitive. The trail at first is marked with cairns and reflectors, but after the viewpoint overlook at a few hundred meters, you are on your own to navigate the basalt wilderness. Take at least 3 quarts of water for each person and two working (check before you leave!) flashlights per person. It is further recommended that you carry sunscreen, snacks, a first aid kit (that rock is SHARP, cuts are common) and wear sturdy hiking boots and long pants. 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.
For more information on viewing the lava, visit and