Kilauea: Hawai’i’s Drive-Up Volcano

Kilauea, Hawai'i's Drive-Up Volcano

Kilauea at sunset

Photographs of brilliant orange lava flowing from the Big Island into the Pacific Ocean are abundant in most Hawai’i travel books. But since the sky is rarely as blue, the forest hardly ever as green as full-color glossy photos make them seem, we didn’t expect to witness Hawai’i’s land development in tangerine, molten lava force. We ended up driving right to it.

The viewing site, operated by Hawai’i County, places visitors what feels about a mile or so from the location where lava enters the Pacific. Open from 5pm-10pm (last car in at 8pm), the site requires a short hike over hardened lava.

Punalu'u Black Sand Beach: When molten lava flows into the cold ocean, it hardens and can shatter. This process creates the black sand beaches found throughout Hawai'i.

Punalu'u Black Sand Beach: When molten lava flows into the cold ocean, it hardens and can shatter. This process creates the black sand beaches found throughout Hawai'i.

After a visit to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, where we learned both geology and myth, we set out at the viewing site with rain jackets and flashlights. In daylight, massive plumes of smoke rise where lava enters the ocean.

An orange glow illuminated the billowing cloud as the sun dipped. And when twilight turned to blackness, lava sputtered into a haze where crashing waves merged with the smoke. Scattered spots of orange, the path of lava traveling toward the ocean, showed on the hillside like a rain forest lizard weaving its way down through dark underbrush.

For current eruption info on Kilauea check out these sites:

USGS Eruption Updates: Kilauea
http://volcanoes.usgs.gov/kilaueastatus.php

USGS Hawai’i Volcano Observatory
http://hvo.wr.usgs.gov/observatory/

National Park Service: Hawai’i Volcanoes
http://www.nps.gov/havo/index.htm

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