Original viewing area
On my first day, I drove along the coast line to pass the time until it got closer to dark when the lava can best be seen. When afternoon hit, I took my rental car and headed to the end of the road on the eastern side of the lava flows. I was early, but I had heard it might be a long walk so I hiked along the coast line hoping to see steam where the lava found its way to the Pacific Ocean. Unfortunately, I didn't see any in the distance after walking a couple miles across dried lava, but I did find a number of amazing off grid houses. Each one had been built on top of the lava that had wiped out the old landscape (and neighborhoods?). Their only electricity came from wind and sun. Their water was saved in giant metal containers that filled up with each rain storm. I have no idea what they do with their human waste. I'd guess a compost toilet, but I didn't see one, nor, did I ask. There were lots of keep out signs and since I had come in through people's backyards, and not the roads, I just quietly moved along toward the road that had come into view that people were using to drive to the lava viewing area. Apparently, I had found the wrong end of the road.
I hiked and hitched back to my car because I didn't want to be walking miles back to my car when it was dark. After I got there, I drove out to the county supervised lava viewing area. It was a major let down. We were no where near any lava. Apparently, the lava had started moving faster and they were worried it would overtake the path to the old viewing area so they moved it back a half mile on the night that I arrived. We could see some light behind the trees and then red in the distance. That was it. Boo. Hiss. Frump. On my disappointed exit, I asked a camera man where he had taken his photos labeled from that day since they had moved it back. He let me know that he goes in at 4am when no one is around to get photos which set me to plotting . . .
My viewing area
I left the lava viewing area and headed along the coast to camp in a state park. Around 3am, I was back up and heading for the lava. I didn't use an alarm. I think the excitement woke me up. The four or five security guards were all gone. There was only one truck of people finishing off their beers. I wound my way past the current viewing area to the lava path that they had marked with white paint to the old viewing area. I was super happy to have my skate skiing poles to use as hiking poles. Hiking on the lava at night, even with a flashlight, was definitely challenging. Unfortunately, my flashlight had decided to almost stop working so it was even more challenging. I just took my time and moved slowly. Finally, I found what I was looking for, lava.
It wasn't the fast moving lava you see on TV. A snail could have outrun this stuff. It was hot. I was breaking a sweat just standing near it. I did not succumb to sulfur fumes. I did not fall into a lava tube. I didn't a whole lot of things that they warn you about. Either, I am really lucky or it isn't that bad. I'm honestly not around lava enough to tell (so that probably puts me in the really lucky category), but the lava was moving slow and I had been hiking on the dried stuff for a few hours already that day without any issues. Where I hiked was also all old lava. I did get turned around a couple times in the woods, but I never walked on still warm lava. For the critics, that won't make it any better. For me, it made safe enough to try and entirely worth it. Next time, I'll take a friend and a headlamp. Next time, I also won't tear through my shirt, lose a wallet, and take home scrapes that I am still carrying two months later.
Kilauea caldera at sunrise.
Kilauea caldera when the sun is up.
After my lava adventure, I tried to head back to sleep but my mind wasn't having it. The sun was up and it was time to explore. I headed into Volcanoes National Park and up to the Kilauea Crater to watch sunrise and then down Chain of Craters road to the ocean. As you drive down to the water, you pass five old craters. I wonder how long it will be until the current one is an extinct vent. It is amazing that you can tell one eruption from another based on the color of the lava. I don't know if the different colors are based on color when it erupted or just time exposed to the elements. It is beautiful to see them beside each other and the ocean.
Striations of different lava flows.
Vegetation reclaiming the land from 30 year old lava flows.
Pu'u Loa Petroglyphs
Sea cliffs at end of Chain of Craters road
Holei sea arch
On the way out of the park, I stopped at a lava tube that you can hike in. I'm not sure what I expected, but that wasn't it. I expected something much smaller. You could have easily driven a large truck through it. Certainly neat, but I have trouble imagining that much lava pouring through there. Anyway, that was my whirlwind trip through Volcanoes National Park. Very, very worth it. Go. I wish I had more time to hike up to Mauna Loa. That will have to wait for next time.