The lava flow creates plumes of steam
it meets the water along the coastline.
The flows cracked beneath our trail shoes, their soles warm to hot
as we walked lightly across the path of hardened molten lava. We
parked our car at the end of Chain of Craters Road where a flow had
swallowed up a good chunk of the road inside Hawaii Volcanoes
National Park. It was nearly dark, and a throng of visitors had
gathered for an evening hike to view the steam wafting above the
black-sand beach and the ethereal lava spilling into the Pacific
Ocean. As it grew darker, the glow increased.
Earlier, as we planned our trip to Hawaii’s Big Island, we knew
we had to visit the park, especially because Kilauea Volcano has
been going strong since its most recent eruption in 1983, making it
the most active volcano in the U.S.
The day after our hike on the flows, my wife surprised me with a
helicopter ride over Kilauea, arguably the best viewing platform in
the national park. Hovering above the grand mass of lava offered
views of nature unleashing its ferocity, volcanic ash steaming out
of newly opened vents on an island still adding acreage.
As we flew over lava fields, our pilot gave us a brief history
of the volcanic activity on the Big Island and explained the
different types of lava. He pointed out a lone house, the only
structure standing, while others around it were swallowed by lava
decades ago. It looked as if it stood on an island surrounded by an
ebony sea only a few swaying palm trees still standing tall
alongside a solitary home. It was a crystal-clear day, and the
contrast of black molten lava against the turquoise-blue ocean was
simply stunning from above.
Even more spectacular and a touch intimidating was our flight
over the steaming cone of Kilauea. We made three gradual passes
over the volcano, hovering above as it spewed billowing plumes of
sulfurous gasses, like a gaping wound protruding deep from the
As the helicopter skirted the coast, we counted the line of cars
parked along the Chain of Craters Road where we had walked the day
before. Flying above the towering plumes of sulfur caused by lava
greeting the cooler ocean we watched hikers zigzag steadily across
the trail. From the air, we were rewarded with unparalleled views
of nature’s fury as steep, hollow waves exploded into the molten
lava as it oozed into the frothy surf, a daily occurrence since the
last eruption 25 years ago.
Aerial view of steaming Kilauea
the most active volcano in the U.S.
Hawaii’s volcano goddess, Pele, has been particularly busy of
late, sending a steady stream of glowing molten lava down Kilauea
volcano to the ocean. On land, clients will currently find the best
views in Kalapana, located at the end of Highway 130 on the eastern
tip of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. There, county workers have
set up a viewing area open 2-10 p.m. Clients can expect a 40-minute
walk from their car to the viewing site.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is still very much open for
client explorations. Though the downwind stretch of Crater Rim
Drive is closed off for now, from just past Kilauea Military Camp
(as is Jaggar Museum and its overlook) visitors can get stunning
views of the plume from the trail along Volcano House hotel.
“Visitors should know that if they follow precautions, come
prepared and listen to officials, the volcanic activity on Hawaii
Island is not only fascinating to witness, it’s also safe,” said
Big Island Visitors Bureau executive director George Applegate. “A
contingent of scientists, local and federal officials are keeping
close tabs on the situation, and keeping the public well
The Big Island Visitors Bureau has launched a new volcano
eruption update page on its Web site www.bigisland.org/volcanoupdate
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Exploring on Land:
Be prepared for all weather conditions. Clients should dress in
layers, bring raingear and drinking water and wear hiking boots or
Exploring by Air:
Blue Hawaiian Helicopters
Rates: 50-minute tour for $218 per person; two hours for
$440 Commission: 15 percent
Rates: 45-minute tour for $169 per person; 50 minutes for
$219 Commission: 25 percent
Additional Big Island Air Tour
It comes down to good judgment, following the cones left by park
rangers that mark the trail in a national park where natural
wonders are unpredictable.
It’s never a sure bet where the flows are streaming into the
ocean because they constantly shift. Hawaii Volcanoes National
Park’s visitor’s center has the most current updates.