Friday, March 28, 2008

Hawaii Vacation Recomendation: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Hilo (Sad Little City)
For many years, I've wanted to see molten lava. It was this desire that drove me--by degrees--to Hilo. Hilo, HI is the largest city on the Big Island. Even so, it is small and dead. Every moment spent in Hilo reminded me plainly that the city existed to house tourists. There is little to see and even less to do. Eager to see lava, I quickly rented a car and left without regret.
Night Hikes over Lava (Misery)
Visitors to Hawaii Volcanoes National park are greeted by steam vents and some impressive craters. . . but no molten lava. After setting up camp in one of the few places not covered in lava and steam vents, I headed down the Chain of Craters road to the coast in hopes of catching my first glimpse of molten lava. After hours of hiking over extremely rugged lava, breathing in toxic fumes the whole way, what I got was this:
The experience was admittedly amazing. On the distant slopes I could see small snakes of lava flowing. The smell of ash and the red glow of molten rock gave the whole area a mystical feeling. The forces of fire and water struggled in an epic tale of death and creation.

Still, the experience was a little disappointing. I had to use a zoom to get the above shot, and the distant glow of lava just wasn't what I was hoping for. One side note: if you attempt this at night, bring at least two lights. I brought one with extra batteries, but my light broke and I ended up stumbling back using my phone as a flashlight (an absolutely horrible idea). A gas mask might not hurt either. The fumes and ash from the lava are almost suffocating at times.

Success: Molten Lava
The disappointment of getting only so close stayed with me as I traveled around the island. On my last day on the Big Island, I decided to give the lava another shot. Following a tip I got from a local, I hiked in from the east (outside the park boundary). This route was faster and shorter. At first, I didn't find any molten lava here, either, but as I walked around, following vent holes, the air and ground heated up substantially. Finally, I stumbled upon what I'd been searching for:I was elated and amazed and just started screaming. It was the most amazing sight I've seen. I was about 4 meters away when I first saw the lava slowly creeping along.
Photographs of the lava tell only part of the story. To really understand what it's like to see molten lava, you must experience the intense heat and hear the popping, cracking noises it makes as it breaks out from under the hardened lava.
I was both amazed and delighted by how close I could get to the lava:This is where I got the photo for my avatar:Warnings:
Trying to get this close to lava is probably really stupid. First, the heat is intense and frequently unbearable. Below, I'm turning tail after oncoming lava became too hot for me to stand. The funny look on my face is the look of PAIN.Second, the outside of the lava forms a hard shell very quickly and it is sometime difficult to tell the old from the new. At one point, I looked down at the lava I was standing on only to find that all the cracks in it were glowing red: Needless to say, this was extremely unsettling.

Finally, the new lava is very unstable and frequently collapses into the sea, so doing this:is really stupid and unnecessarily risky.

To summarize, don't do the things I did.

I highly recommend visiting Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. However, make sure you're prepared. If you need advice about this trip, drop me a line, and I'll be happy to help you out.

  • Hawa'i Vocanoes - National Park website
  • For the latest updates on volcanic activity within the park, visit the Kilauea Volcano Status page.
  • The Volcano House is certainly not the hight of luxury, but it is perched ideally next to Kilauea Crater. It also offers a basic fare of food and drink for passers by. They sell a locally brewed "Volcano Ale" that's decent.
Directions to a Roundabout Route to Lava
To get to lava flows from the east start in Hilo. Take Highway 11 south to 130 south. Close to the end of 130, take a small road named Kiamu Chain of Craters Rd. This branches off in a southwestern direction. Unlike Chain of Craters Rd to the West, when this road is blocked by lava flow, a small dirt road goes up over the lava flow. Maps of this area are below:In Other News
I've finally finished designing my photo book and am eagerly awaiting the final product. You can drop me a line about this too. Get art. Support a starving artist.

And finally, THE AMAZING FLYING GECKO: This little guy dropped down onto the windshild when I was driving at 35 mph. Miraculously, he survived unscathed.


  1. Great post,
    Really like the photos of the active lava. It must have been a great day for you , but bloody hot!!


  2. Wow, great!! Nice to know I have someone to ask for tips when I do go to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. I did plan to go there last December during my winter break, but well, the plan did not materialize :(, but I still want to see that park. Thanks for sharing your photos, I enjoy seeing them and just trying to imagine your experience. Wish you very well on your photo book Ben.

  3. I especially like this photo, the vertical shot of the lava.

  4. Absolutely great!!! This is something I would love to do someday. My husband talks about it all the time, so you never know. We may make it there yet. Your pictures are terrific!

  5. Sandpiper and Elizbeth, you guys need to get over there! It's Amazing!

  6. More great photos, especially since you and your camera managed narrowly to escape the same fate as the T-1000 Terminator. How recent is this trip?

    How are you publishing your coffee table book, how much is it, and how can I get one?

  7. Fabulous shots, and after reading your warnings, I suspect these shots are the closest I'm going to get to any lava myself!

  8. Nice pictures!

    And I do know about the unsettling feeling of being on new lava! Unfortunately, I stepped on some and slipped. Shards of lava in my ankle with the whole walk back to feel it. (Though at the time, due to where the lava was flowing, we came from the west, and it was a good 1.5 hour walk back!)

    I wish you'd have given Hilo more of a chance... I found it delightful :)

  9. Wonderful post there on the lava...but I think you were a little too close for comfort...I really like how the pics turned out though...good post. Great links also. You have an amazing blog.