Lava Hikes and Waterfalls

Friday morning we had booked a tour out to see the lava coming out of the Kilauea volcano. The Kilauea volcano has been erupting since the mid 80s, and goes through periods of being active, and inactive. Right now, its very active, and there's been a huge lava spout flowing into the ocean. You may have seen video of it online - and there’s more information here.

A close up view of the lava fountain pouring into the ocean. And yes, those dumbass people are standing at the top of it, with their small child - the whole cliff face is unstable and could (and has recently) go crashing into the ocean.

The lava flowing into the ocean is quite explosive!

The tour we booked was with some locals, who would park you close (on their property), then bike out close to where the lava was flowing into the ocean. JC was our guide, and she lived right on the old lava flows, close to where we needed to be. After parking, we biked about 2 km out to the lava flow. It was a short walk from there to the viewing area, where you could see the steam from the lava entering the ocean. It was hard to see the actual "firehouse", but it was still pretty impressive. Sadly, there were people that ignored the safety barriers, and walked up right to the edge of the cliff where the lava was entering the ocean. Incredibly dangerous, as there were huge explosions from the lava entering the ocean. 

The explosions could throw rock and ash hundreds of feet inot the air.

We started the tour before dawn, having had a bit of a rough start to the day when I screwed up setting the alarm. As we rode out, you could see the area inland where the main lava flow was coming out of the ground. In the dark, it was crazy to see how much of it was glowing, through the rock and trees, up on the ridge. 

Lava flowing into the ocean.

The day lightened as we rode out to the viewing area. Since the last major collapse of the cliff wall, you can’t really see the area where the lava fountain is flowing into the ocean as much as you would like. You can see it a bit, but the view from a boat must be amazing. The steam from the lava entering the ocean mostly obscure the lava, but there was still lots of action to see.

The view from quite a long way off.

When we arrived, the sun was just starting to rise above the horizon, and we had a pretty nice sunrise. There were all kinds of explosions, with huge chunks of rock and ash thrown hundreds of feet in the air. 

We stayed and watched for a good half hour or more, before it was time to head inland, up the lava flow to look for active lava above ground. It was all very exciting. It was about a one km hike out to where some active flows were happening. Along the way, JC was great about explaining how the different types of lava form, and pointing out all the super cool different formations. 

Looking back, you could see where the lava was flowing into the ocean, and the huge plume of smoke. It’s hard to explain how crazy it is being out on the active flows. The heat is unreal, and the way the lava come out of the ground is just completely unpredictable. All of a sudden there will be some odd noise - hissing, crack or pop - and then a new lava flow would show. 

Looking back across the old lava flows, to where the fountain was entering the ocean.

But even in this harsh landscape, life finds a way to take hold.

Taking pictures was a little unsettling, as you’d be focused on one area, and then something would happen next to you. Thankfully, this lava flows very slowly, so there’s no real danger. And the heat is so oppressive, that you can’t really get close at all. 

New lava flows, oozing from the earth.

The heat from up close was unbearable.

And one of the coolest things was how quickly the lava cools and hardens. At one point we were watching this pretty big new flow creep out of the ground and cover a pretty sizeable area. Within 10 minutes of it coming out of the ground, the top of the flow had crusted over. You could walk across it - it was still very hot and I wouldn’t have touched it - but it didn’t melt your shoes. Probably the highlight of the day.

Our hile on the active lava flows.

We ended up exploring and watching the lava for a good hour or more. We kind of lost track of time. Eventually we had to head back, and JC took us back to where out rental car was. In the light of day, the place was very different. They have this whole mini village set-up, with a bar, a number of “restaurants” and the usual assortment of gift shops. It was pretty neat. 

The starting point of our hike.

We grabbed some breakfast, and then hiked out to their black sand beach, about a quarter mile out on the coast. It was very beautiful, and we explored for a little while. We were off on a different part of the island so we decided to explore a bit, given that we didn’t really have any plans for the rest of the day, until our reservation at Volcano House later that evening.

Black sand path out to the black sand beach.

The black sand beach.

We drove along the coast for a little while, stopping to explore a couple of small parks on the ocean. We puttered about in some tide pools for a while, and enjoyed the scenery. Eventually we headed back inland, and back towards Hilo.

Even the smallest parks had amazing views.

Tide pool to explore.

Along the way we noticed Lava Tree State Monument, so we decided to stop in, and have a look around. The name seemed cool anyway. The public park preserves lava molds of the tree trunks that were formed when a lava flow swept through a forested area in 1790. There was a relatively short hike around the park, that took you to the most impressive of the lava molds. 

After that little break, we continued back towards Hilo. On one of my apps I had noticed a couple of very cool looking waterfalls that I wanted to check out, and Justine’s research had indicated that the drive north from Hilo was supposed to be pretty amazing, so we decided to go try and find these sites.

The first stop was pretty much in Hilo, just alittle west of the town at Rainbow Falls. The falls are so named as a rainbow forms most mornings in the mist of this waterfall where, legend has it, a goddess resides. We had missed the opportunity to see the rainbow, but the falls were pretty impressive on their own. We took some pictures, hiked around a bit then continued on our way.

Rainbow Falls

A slightly closer look at Rainbow Falls.

The drive north was pretty amazing. The road hugs the coast, providing amazing views over the ocean, as well as great views inland, crossing over these huge gullies where rivers empty into the ocean. As soon as we were presented the option, we turned off onto the “scenic route”. It followed a much smaller road, and provided some opportunities to stop. There were a bunch of cars parked at a small side road for the Onomea Bay Trail. This trail lead down to the water, and a beautiful little bay next to the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden. We didn’t go into the gardens, but hiked back up and continued along.

A small blowhole on the rocks down at the end of the trail.

Not long after we stopped at What's Shakin, a counter-serve stand with picnic-table seating & a menu of fruit smoothies & simple lunches. The fruit stand is part of a fruit orchard - avocados, bananas, mangos and the like - and Justine ordered a fresh, chilled coconut so we could have a cool, refreshing drink. Tasty!

After our short stop, we continued along to Akaka Falls State Park. The park was seriously under development - they were cutting down a huge number of trees - and it wasn’t clear why. On one of our tours, our guide explained that they are trying o clear out a lot of non-native tree species, so I guess that could have been part of it. Still, the park wasn’t very nice. We walked the short .4-mile loop footpath leading up to the 442-foot scenic waterfall. It’s a big waterfall. We took some pictures, and hung out for a bit.

Akaka Falls

As we had dinner at Volcano House, at 7:30, it was time to head back. It was starting to push 4:00 and we had a good hour and a half to get back to the cabin. It’s an amazing drive, and we’d have liked to do more.

We spent the evening at Volcano House, having an excellent meal in the glow of the volcano. It was a perfect wrap up to our days on the Big Island.