The Big Island continues to grow. There are constant lava flows emanating up from the Earth's core. At the end of the Chain of Craters Road is the best place to witness active flows though who knows where you will see them tomorrow. For updates on where and how to see the lava: http://www.nps.gov/havo/visitor/lava.htm
At the "end" of Chain of Craters Road, you get an excellent opportunity to walk on lava. Continue 1/4 mile (500 meters) past the roadblock, over uneven lava. Be sure to stay on the marked path, as footing is even worse off the path... plus you run the risk of falling into actual molten lava -- not exactly the "hot time" you were hoping for!
The steam cloud that you see in the distance in the picture is a hydrochloric acid plume produced when hot lava enters the ocean. An orange glow from the lava may be reflected in the steam cloud at night.
Visitors hiking to the lava activity area are cautioned to wear optimum sunscreen, heavy boots, and carry 3-quarts of water per person.
The best viewing is at night and flashlights (and extra batteries) and rainwear are required. During the most dramatic activity, the word quickly spreads throughout the islands. At night, the cars can be lined up 2-miles or more along the road!
The area's conditions are hazardous and the hike is not recommended for those with respiratory or mobility problems. Hikers are required to stay at least a quarter-mile from the ocean as the unstable lava benches may collapse at anytime. Sections larger than a football field are known to collapse and visitors have been killed and never recovered.
One way to really get a good look at the lava flows is by Helicopter from Hilo. Helicopter tours provide an outstanding learning opportunity to view the entire 2-mile lava journey from the outflow high uphill to the lava entering the ocean.
The lava flow adds significant realestate to the island of Hawaii every year. As a result, it moves from place to place, and so when one drives closer to the current flow, expect the road to be absent. Wear rugged shoes, take some water, and expect to hike a ways from the parking area. Parking will be very dense and haphazard off both sides of the road, so expect to walk a distance past parked cars just to get to the make shift ranger station where some questions can be answered. The park gives all sorts of hazard warnings, trying to reduce the crowd of old and young that may not be capable of the trip. We arrived relatively late in the day, so we took our headlight flashlights to guarantee visibility on the way back. The path across the existing cooled lava flow is indeed a hazardous one, since the fresh lava will cut hands and knee like broken glass. Navigating the trail is not hard because of the regular flow of lava watchers going in either direction. As one hikes along, the first evidence of the lava flow may be dim lights from the fires further up the gorge. The lava flow itself is cool at the surface, with molten lava just feet below. As one gets to the center of the flow, various molten lava appears in patches at the surface. I recall being required to view the glowing molten flow steaming at the sea from a vantage point quite a ways away. It's very hard to describe this experience, but dusk and evening are good times to watch the flow. Watch your footing though!
Look, you made it this far ... probably flew over the great ocean too ... go those extra miles and see real lava flowing down the mountain! Though hard to find, and sometimes even harder to get to, I will guarantee that standing near the actual lava flow is a truly awesome experience! And don't forget those photographs that will make bragging more believable
Our bus driver explained the lava flows by saying that it was best just to evacuate and wait for the lava to do its thing - because none of the things that people have done worked - building dams to deflect it, putting water on it to cool and harden it - doesn't work.
When we were there, Kilauea was Active at two Locations - the Summit and East Rift Zone The most recent flow in the park had gone across the end of Chain of Crater's Road (photo 2) and part of the Crater Rim Drive was closed also. The place to see the hot lava flowing though was outside the park boundaries and it was most visible at night.
On the ship, I saw this from my stateroom at night (photo 4). I was afraid my grandson would want me to drive down to that location, but he was satisfied with seeing the activity in the Kilauea crater and going to the Jaggar Museum overlook at night.
We did see lava flows from the helicopter tour (photo 3)
In any case, before you go, visit the NPS web site to see where the lava flows are occuring
So once your in the park I recommend you go down to the end of the road, south of creator rim road. You’ll notice that the road ends. There you can see red lava flow. The road used to pass by, but in 2003 lava flowed over the road and blocked off the passage. Well walking to the lava flow you will see street signs that are engulfed by the lava. There is a ranger station, which will warn you of all the hazards related to watching the lava. Once at this small ranger station, you can begin your walk to the lava. The train is very uneven and slippery. It was about an hour walk each way to see the lava up close. Now the flows are always moving, so once at the smaller station, reed the sign that will tell you exactly how far away the lava is. Also this area contains a lava arch, which is an arch that water flows through at the waters edge. Don’t miss it, you will see signs for it at this small station.
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See molten lava! What I've wanted to see was red hot liquid lava. I know it's dangerous but that's really part of the attraction. To see it coming alive, that in itself is exhilarating! I made myself a promise, I'll be back again :-)
It's impressive but not Grand Canyon impressive. While we were walking on the hiking path, we met a man who went there and described it as "just a cave". I've been there before and see more than a cave. It's somewhat lengthly but not more than a quarter mile long. It's nice and cool when you enter but is constanly leaking due to the porous rock above.
Beyond the tourist area lies a deeper darker cave (who's name escapes me). Special tours will take you in there to see the cave life and stalagtites. The animals in there have adapted to the darkness.
When I visited the Park the last time (March 2005), the active lava was not directly visible from the end of the Chain of Craters Road; but the billowing steam cloud in the distance, coming from where the lava was streaming into the sea, showed us that the eruption was in progress and was very much active.
It took me about three miles of very hot hike over pahoehoe (ropey) lava terrain to view an active lava stream. It was mostly a level hike, but over rough and very unusual terrain, reminiscent of the stage set of the movie Alien ! At about 1.5 miles I walked over some very fresh lava, with heat coming from below; it was a spooky experience to feel that the earth underneath was fluid.
At three miles I came to a place where a minor lava flow was pouring into the sea (picture). The vivid red color of the flowing lava didn't look like it was glowing; rather, it looked like blood dripping out of the mouth of a black beast. A very grotesque but compelling sight, totally worth enduring the heat of the hike. Offshore, I spotted a lone humpback whale.
Rangers at the Visitor Center and at the end of the Road have up-to-date information about the eruption, so you should check out with them before you head out for the hike. Be prepared for heat and bring plenty of water!
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