Where to see hot lava
The only place where one could watch hot lava up close almost every day with reasonable safety used to be Kalapana, on the Big Island of Hawaii. The trip involved driving to Kalapana and then leaving the car behind in the free county parking lot at the start of the lava trail for the last couple of miles of the trip.
Today’s lava report: Red hot lava on the island of Hawaii is only visible inside Kilauea volcano’s caldera. People who visit the Kalapana lava trail area these days do it to see unique formations of hardened lava, or to ask Goddess Pele (e.g. for good luck or success). Some visit to catch unique visual phenomena, for example gold lava. (This occasional phenomenon is caused by a rare local combination of sunlight angle, air temperature, lava rock moisture and other factors. The lava rock did not turn into gold, obviously.)
Walking the 10+ mile round trip from the parking in Kalapana used to take three times as long as the alternatives, biking or shuttling the bigger part of it. One would get tempted to sneak past the Local Traffic Only sign too with the car, to spot hot lava from the vehicle. In fact, to get close to hot lava required going well past Gate 2.
One of the places one can still visit in Kalapana is the Hot Foot lava exhibit (tel. 808-938-7842) near Gate 1. In Volcano village, some areas of the Volcanoes National Park are still open but not many due to the subsidence of Halemaumau crater. Some of its forest trails offer lookouts with soaring remote views.
Lava tour 101
First, a couple of things experienced lava viewers might find obvious. Don’t forget to bring hiking shoes for your lava trip. The nearest shoe store to Kalapana is in Hilo, 30 miles away. Next, when going to the surface flow, smoke is not a sign of flowing lava. If you head towards the smoke, you’ll only find smoke. (A steam vent.) Do not stand over a steam vent, especially during rain. The top 1 inch of lava rock can be crumbly, so when you walk over lava, pick level surfaces for your next step as much as possible. This way if the rock does crumble, you won’t loose your footing. If the rock sounds hollow, don’t step near to its edge. On the lava field, before you sit down on any rock, pour a few drops of water on it for… er, good luck.
90% of common lava scrapes could have been avoided by wearing long jeans and the other 10% with putting on gardening gloves when you start hiking over the lava rocks.
Finding the way back on the lava field in the dark is a challenge. One visitor solved it by preloading the area maps into his cell phone before the trip and saving a marker before starting the lava field hike.
The true meaning of lava
To see lava flow is to see land being born. You are having a face to face with the very essence of the Earth, coming up from thousands of miles deep to meet you. The birth of new land is the birth of new possibilities, a new beginning. Be original. Be a part of the celebration of Earth’s renewal!