Hiking to watch lava pour into the ocean is a something to see but getting close enough to a slow moving finger of pahoehoe and feeling the heat and energy was a once in a lifetime thrill ! The hike is getting longer but is well worth the time and effort.
When deciding what Islands to visit we came to the Big Island for the snorkeling and to see lava ... the snorkeling is amazing but the lava was underwhelming. Maybe it was just that day or we should have taken a night excusion but our very hot walk to see the lava was very disappointing. First it's hot out .. your walking on black lava and theres actual steam raising from the river of lava underneath soooooo it's super hot and uncomfortable. They stress to wear proper footwear and I'd do that. We saw people in flip flops and no water .. don't be that person. Anyway the lava is uneven and falling would really hurt so slow and careful. But we got to the end of where they allow you to go and the "active" lava was just a teeny tiny bubble. Sure it's active lava which is a once in a life time thing for us .. but wow that was a let down. The journey back was faster since I was aggravated.
At the end of the Chain of Craters Road where the lava had closed the road, the bus stopped and gave us a chance to get out and walk on the lava and take photos close up of what I had seen from a distance in the morning from the helicopter. It was very interesting.
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!
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
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.
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!
Ok, this was really cool. I got as close as I could to this slow flowing lava. I could feel the heat through the toes of my shoes. These constant lava flows emanating from the Earth's core can easily be seen down at the Chain of Craters Road.
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!
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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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
Don't you just love the patterns in the lava flow? I spent easily an hour walking over the lava flow. I couldn't get enough of it. I left all the other tourists behind and walked and walked. It got really hot because I think there is still some residual heat, but I kept going. The old lava shines with metallic glints and the scent of sulphur in in the air. Awesome.