Unpredictable, wild and exciting
During our visit to the Big Island of Hawaii in 2018, we booked a trip with Aloha Lava Tours to hike on the Kilauea volcano.Timing can be everything because nature can be unpredictable: four months after our adventure, the 2018 lower Puna eruption on Kilauea volcano’s East Rift Zone began. For months, the island was in a state of emergency. If we had planned our trip a couple of months later, this trip would not have been possible. In other words, we would have missed what is probably the most amazing and spectacular experience I have had in my life. I highly recommend when visiting the Big Island to include the Hawai’i Volcanos National Park to your plans and explore the raw wild beauty of the island. Maybe you can even hike a volcano like we did.
We arrive at Kanapala and the home of Scott and Cheryl, the owners and tour guides from Aloha Lava Tours, close to four in the afternoon. After our stop in Pahoa to stock up on waters and some snacks, the area becomes more and more disserted and desolate. We pass big areas of lava, with new houses on them. During our briefing Scott and Cheryl explain that the houses we saw on our way were destroyed during the last eruption in early 1990. That eruption destroyed about 200 houses. Scott and Cheryl were lucky, the lava flow just missed their property.
The circle of life
For decades, most Big Island residents like Scott and Cheryl were safe and others returned to rebuilt the houses they had lost. There were small lava flows but there was little damage and the lava flows were attracting tourist like us, eager to hike the volcano and watch the lava flow down the volcano.
Scott explains that we will drive in their little house on wheels to the point were we can enter the volcano. He makes sure we all have solid footwear as lava is anywhere between 700 and 1200 degrees Celsius and even the parts we walk on can get very hot.
We climb on board, ready for the adventure to start and after a short drive we arrive at the bottom of the volcano. It is still light when we start our hike and the first part of our walk is on old and hard lava. Scott points out the little plants that are starting to grow back in the older areas of the volcano. You wouldn’t think anything would grow on the type of material lava is, but it shows how resilient nature is.
Walking on an active volcano
We get to the higher part of the Kilauea volcano when the sun is starting to set. We see the first glimpses of an orange glow and we start to feel the ground getting hotter. Scott is guiding us expertly over the lava, knowing exactly where to walk and what areas to avoid.
We stop at an area that looks the same as the other areas we walked over, but Scott tells us to halt. He points at an area of black lava in front of us and tells us to wait as he expects the lava to start flowing out soon.
We watch in fascination and soon we see little spots of orange appear in the black ground. After a while the little orange spots slowly pop open and turn into streams of lava. Several of them flow on the area where we just walked and all of a sudden we are surrounded by active lava.
The unbelievable power of nature
By now the sun has disappeared and the sky is turning black, making the experience even more powerful. We watch for over an hour and realize the power of nature and try to imagine what it must feel like if you see this river of insane hot orange mass slowly but surely making its way to your house.
It is now almost completely dark and Scott tells us it is time for us to go back as he wants us of the mountain safely. In order to make sure we don’t walk accidently onto areas with new lava, we follow Scott in single file. We walk passed areas with brand new lava and we can feel the heat burning underneath our soles. Scott tells us to keep walking and not stop. We make it back to the car and look back up to the mountain that is now completely in the dark, lit up with orange streams of lava everywhere.
The 2018 Kilauea eruption
In conclusion, it was an unbelievable experience and it is almost unreal when a short four months later, we hear that the Kilauea Volcano has erupted, pouring its lava through Leilani Estates, a neighborhood not very far from where we walked the volcano. The eruption lasts for three months and covers an area ten times the size of Central Park, destroying more than 700 structures, making it Hawaii’s most destructive eruption in decades.
Aloha Lava Tours has for the moment suspended their tours. Looking back now, and having seen the force and destruction of the eruption, I am not sure I would do the tour again, but I am glad we did the tour before the eruption and had the opportunity to see the magnificent Mount Kilauea up close and personal.