Venturing into the Volcano: Where lava meets the sea

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This visit to Volcanoes National Park was by far the coolest thing I ever done in my life.

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Nothing compares to seeing an active volcano and watching the power of creation right before you eyes.

When I visited the Big Island in March I had the awesome opportunity to visit the volcano in two ways: on the ground and in the air.

The ground tour was a hike through Volcanoes National Park, including visits to Jaggar Museum, Halema’uma’u Crater, the steam vents, Thurston Lava Tube, and a short hike to the lava front, where molten land cascades into the ocean.

 

The tour was with the local company Nui Pohaku, which operates hiking and biking tours of Volcanoes National Park to provide visitors an eco-friendly way to get close to active lava flows.

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Kilauea Crater, from the crater overlook

Nui Pohaku provided excellent service from start to finish.

They gave us meals as well (the tour took about 9 hours): we had a nice picnic lunch at Volcanoes National Park with deli-sandwiches, and for dinner we stopped at a local restaurant in Pahoa with good options for everyone. Inside the van they also carried a cooler and a basket full of snacks and drinks.

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A close-up of the lava bubbling in Halema’uma’u Crater

The guides were professional, punctual, courteous and knowledgeable. Amanda did a wonderful job of blending geography, history and culture.

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Iki Crater Trail, a short, relaxing hike

We learned about the flora and fauna native to the area, as well as plants and animals brought to the island. We also learned about the past and recent eruptions of Kilauea Crater.

Inside Volcanoes National Park we visited Jagger museum and Halemaumau Crater. We also had fun seeing the steam vents. The Iki Crater Trail is a nice and easy hike through the rainforest and after that we walked through Thurston Lava Tube.

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Thurston Lava Tube

 

After leaving the park we drove by Pahoa, where I was surprised to see how close the lava flow got to this little town.

In 2014, a lava flow headed west in the direction of Pahoa instead of its usual southerly route.

This put a lot of anxiety on the residents of the area, who waited for months to see if the lava would stop, reroute itself, or burn away their homes.

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The hike to the lookout, over smooth pahoehoe lava

Thankfully, the lava flow stopped in November, just a few feet away from the main town, taking a single house and overrunning part of the cemetery before cooling down.

 

Continuing the tour, we had dinner at a little cafe in Pahoa before driving to Kalapana for what was easily the best part of my day:

The lava hike.

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Pahoehoe isn’t too difficult to walk on

Nui Pohaku offers the shortest hike to the lookout where you can see the lava flowing into the ocean.

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View from the lava lookout

The hike itself is an easy 30- to 40-minute walk (we were told it was around 1.5 miles) until the end of the trail.

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Walking right next to the lava fields was an amazing experience and witnessing the explosive power of the volcano pouring lava to the ocean was unbelievable.

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Closeup of the lava flowing into the ocean

As the sun set the colors got more intense with crazy bright shades of orange, red and yellow.

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Another closeup, highlighting the vivid colors of the lava

Once the sun went down we got flashlights to help us see on the hike back to the car.

Because of how far away we were from any major towns (and sources of light pollution), the nighttime hike gave us an awesome stargazing experience as well.

Everything was as promised, making this the most awesome hiking tour I’ve ever been on!

 

Stay tuned for my next article, where I’ll share my experience of a helicopter tour over the Big Island!

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