Lava Hike on Big Island – Get close to flowing lava & feel the heat (USA)

Categories: Travel reports, North America, USA, Hawaii

Seeing flowing lava from very close has always been a dream of ours and was therefore at the top of our bucket list. And today was finally the day when this dream was to come true. Today, a Lava Hike in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park was on the agenda 🙂

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Where can You See Active Lava on Big Island?

Big Island – the largest and youngest of the Hawaiian islands – is home to five volcanoes, three of which are still active: Kilauea, Mauna Loa and Huallai. The Kilauea Volcano is the youngest of these and currently one of the most active volcanoes in the world. It is not uncommon for it to regularly buzz, bubble and lava flows here on the island. The most recent eruption of Kilauea has been going on since the beginning of 1983, i.e. more than three decades ago. The lava does not flow out of the main crater itself, but mainly from a vent of the Puu-A-A crater, which is about 15 kilometers to the east.

Unfortunately, when we were on Big Island during our world tour in 2015, there was no way to get close to the lava. The reason for this was an event on 27 June 2014. At that time, a new lava flow erupted from the Puu-A-a crater and moved in a northeasterly direction through the forest, i.e. not towards the ocean. In the weeks and months that followed, the lava flowed faster and further, reaching the small town of Pahoa in early November 2014, home to just 800 inhabitants. On November 10, the lava reached the first house and only 45 minutes later the whole house burned. More and more people were evacuated because volcanoes assumed that the lava would bury more buildings and also the highway under it. But fortunately, the lava flow stopped at the end of March 2015 and there was no longer any danger to the inhabitants. On June 8, 2016, this current was declared inactive after lava had briefly leaked again.

In order to protect the inhabitants from the curious and not to expose tourists and residents to any further danger, the area was largely cordoned off in 2015 – when we were here on the island. However, there were some tour operators who offered illegal tours to the area. But since we didn’t want to go to a Hawaiian prison or pay a large fine, we decided not to take part in any such tour. So we had at least a good reason to come back to Hawaii 🙂

On May 24, 2016, there was a new eruption on the eastern flank of the Puu-A’s crater, and a new lava flow to the south – towards the ocean. The researchers refer to this lava flow as “61g lava flow” and it continues to this day (as of November 2017). On July 26, 2016, this lava flow reached the Pacific for the first time.

In preparation for our Hawaiian holiday, we have regularly informed ourselves on the pages of the national park and have followed the course of the lava flow. The closer the holiday got, the safer we were that we will finally have the opportunity to see flowing lava live. We were really looking forward to this moment in advance.

You can currently see lava on Big Island at the following locations (as of November 2017):

  • Jagger Museum (Hawaii Volcanoes National Park)You can only see the glow at night and the rising steam
  • Kalapana Ocean Viewing AreaRelatively far away and currently little lava. Therefore, from time to time only a little steam
  • Ocean Lava Viewing Area at the ‘End of Chain of Craters Road’Relatively far away and currently little lava. Therefore, from time to time only a little steam
  • Lava Boat TourUp close by boat to the current Ocean Entry
  • Lava Fields of the Kilauea East Rift ZoneHike over the Lava Fields to the Breakouts

These conditions can change almost every day! Therefore, it is always worthwhile to visit the website of the National Park Service.

A guided tour with EpicLava

Of course, if we are at the other end of the world, we wanted to get as close as possible to the flowing lava. Since we have never done this before and of course this is not harmless, we decided to take a guided tour to the lava fields of the Kilauea East Rift Zone.

First of all, we did a lot of research on the Internet and informed ourselves extensively about the different tour providers. Relatively quickly we came across EpicLava. On the one hand, the positive reviews on TripAdvisor impressed us a lot, on the other hand the Facebook page of EpicLava. Here the owner John Tarson – whenever he is with a group outside on the lava field – posts a current live video as well as insanely impressive photos of the lava!

We chose the Active Lava Sunrise Hike, which costs 165 US dollars per person. A proud sum, but definitely worth every penny!

Start of the Lava Hike in the middle of the night

One day before the tour we received an e-mail from EpicLava with all other important information. There are two different meeting places and John tells the meeting point at which meeting point the tour starts the day before the tour. It always depends on when the lava is where.

Our meeting point for the Lava Hike was at 4 o’clock in the morning at a Shell filling station in the small town of Kea’au. Gradually all the visitors were there (about ten people) and we first gathered at Johns’ car, because he wanted to give us some instructions on the timing of the tour. First, he gave each of us a small backpack with a large bottle of water and some snacks in it, as well as gloves, a rain poncho and a flashlight.

By the way, it is important to put on sturdy shoes during the tour, as the lava is very sharp. In addition, the sunny Hawaiian weather does not harm to pack enough sunscreen and sunglasses. We had also asked ourselves in advance whether we should put on short or long trousers. We then opted for long trousers (jeans, cargo pants or the like). It could well happen that you stumble or slip and fall on the pointed lava rock. Then you are at least somewhat protected by the long trousers.

When we received all the important information from John, we drove our own cars in a column after our tour guide John. About 30 minutes later we parked the cars at the last parking lot on the Kaimu-Chain of Craters Road – that was close to all the bike rental stations that were still closed around this time. During the day you can rent bicycles to go to the Kalapana Lava Viewing Area (Ocean Entry). We did that on another day – you can find our report on it here.

After all their cars parked in the parking lot, we split into two cars and drove the Kaimu-Chain of Craters Road about 2 miles further. On the left side you suddenly see the first houses built directly on the lava rock. Here John rented a private parking lot and so we were able to park our two cars here. This definitely saves a lot of footpath. From this private parking lot our hike started. From a distance we could already see the red lava glow – how impressive. So that was our goal today.

Hike over the lava fields

First we walked the gravel road for about 15 minutes until we passed a series of toilethouses – here we had the last chance to visit the toilet again before the several-hour hike. A little further on was the official entrance to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, which was only marked with a sign. So there is no cash register or anything like that.

From here we walked right to the cold lava field and followed our tour guide John. It is impressive that he knew exactly where to go, because the lava is not rigid but flows every day and is therefore no longer where it was the day before. So it seems that John has a very special feel for the lava and a special relationship with Pele, the Hawaiian fire and volcano goddess. It is not for nothing that he personally thanks Pele for the great lava flow after each tour.

Equipped with flashlights and gloves, we crossed the black and grey lava rock in the dark. You have to be very careful where you go here: Sometimes the rock was very pointed or there were bigger crevices and in between it has crunched under your feet again and again. Incidentally, this area in which we ran was not part of the national park, but was called the Royal Gardens Subdivision.

The following pictures are from our way back, so that you can get an impression of how the hiking trail runs over the lava fields. On the way out it was just too dark to take decent pictures.

Arrival at the lava field of the Kilauea East Rift Zone

After an hour hike we arrived at the current lava field of the Kilauea East Rift Zone. The closer you get to the lava flow, the more you feel the heat. And suddenly we were just a few meters away from the glowing hot lava. We couldn’t believe it. We had been dreaming about it for so long and now we were finally here. And the best thing was that no other person – except our group – was here. Actually incomprehensible at such a spectacle. There are other tour operators, but they seem to be on the road at other corners. All the better, then we had the lava almost for ourselves and could marvel at it and take an infinite number of photos.

Kilauea East Rift Zone, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Big Island, Hawaii, USA, EpicLava, Tour, Travel Report

Arrival at Kilauea East Rift Zone

In the first pictures at dawn, the glow of the lava, which is up to 1,000 degrees hot, is particularly beautiful. Everywhere the lava shines from the crevices and you can see it flowing everywhere. By the way, the lava of the Hawaiian volcanoes has a rather low viscosity and is therefore very thin. Insanely impressive! We didn’t know where to look first.

So slowly it got brighter and we had a great sunrise on the Pacific side and a rainbow on the mountain side.

On today’s tour we were once accompanied by John, our tour guide, as well as by Jeff Judd, who used to be a crime investigator in the national park. The two know the lava like their left back pocket and have answered us questions at any time. They also explained to us where it is safe to walk along and where not. John, for example, had once done a test for us and walked along 3 minutes old cold lava and did not sink in. Considering that the lava is actually up to 1,000 degrees hot when it flows along there, it is inconceivable that the top can cool down so quickly.

Take lava samples

Jeff had a pickaxe with him and gave us the opportunity to take a piece of lava from the lava flowto see how quickly the piece cools down. In order to get a piece, you have to get very close to the lava flow and you don’t believe how hot it is. Our skin on the arm has already turned bright red and has burned like fire. But if you are fast enough, it is to be endured 😉 But you can also clearly see in the pictures how hot it is. John also had a temperature meter with him and demonstrated live how hot the lava is, which is a few meters away from us. And that was actually about 1,000 degrees Celsius. Crazy and actually unimaginable.

More pictures of the lava

In total, we spent a good 2 hours on the lava flow and were able to take an incredible amount of pictures. We have kept our eyes open all the time and always waited for new so-called breakouts, because the liquid lava is best revealed during a breakout.

Our video of Lava Hike on Big Island

All in all, the Lava Hike was definitely the highlight of our trip to Hawaii! Getting so close to the lava, seeing it flow slowly and feeling the incredible heat is just an incredibly impressive experience that we can only recommend to everyone. MAHALO NUI LOA, PELE!

All travelogues from Hawaii

We had already visited the islands of Hawaii during our trip around the world on the way from North America to Australia. Here we were on O'ahu, Kaua'i, Maui and Big Island. Because we were so enthusiastic about the different islands and the diversified nature, we were able to make up for all the things we had not been able to do last time or which were partly not even possible. In 2015, for example, you couldn't see flowing lava on Big Island, because it didn't flow towards the sea as usual, but towards an inhabited village. And this was closed for access for the safety of all. But since 2016 the lava of Kilauea is flowing towards the ocean again and so we could finally realize one of our biggest wishes: To stand very close to flowing lava. We also wanted to snorkel on O'ahu in Hanauma Bay, climb Koko Head Crater, see a hula show, marvel at the fireworks of the Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort, enjoy the sunrise on the 3,055 meter high Haleakala and watch the turtles on the beach along the Road to Hana. So many things we didn't know about last time or didn't manage to do last time.
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O‘ahu: Hanauma Bay – One of the most beautiful snorkelspots on Oahu
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Big Island: Lava Hike on Big Island – Get close to flowing lava & feel the heat
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