Friday, June 08, 2007

Big Island - Molten Lava Flow

One of the highlights of a trip to Volcanoes National Park is to see real molten lava actually flowing. Since the exact location of the flow changes constantly, it’s impossible to know exactly where it will be on your visit. Sometimes it’s right at the end of the road, so you can drive right up to it. Other times, it requires hiking across the lava fields to where the action is.

On our visit, we consulted the park ranger. He told us that seeing lava would require a 6 mile hike across the lava fields. Each way. At night. After seeing our disappointment, the ranger pulled us aside and told us there’s another way to see lava, but he’s not allowed to talk about it because it’s outside park property. He advised us to ask some locals, which we did.

It turns out, you can get to the other side of the lava fields by driving to another area of the island, about 45 minutes away. The hike from that side is much closer since currently the lava has shifted that way, away from the park. So Conor and I set off to hunt down the lava. We drove until the highway ended. Then, you drive through what used to be a town, but has since been consumed by lava. This is where our Jeep came in handy. The road turns to lava, then back to road, and again to lava. Finally, we reach a point where we can’t drive any further, where the new lava fields begin. At around 6:30pm, we set out on foot for the 2 mile hike to where the lava is flowing.

Hiking across lava is not easy. The lava creates hills and valleys. The footing is jagged and uneven. You have to place each step carefully, or risk losing your balance. If you do fall, you’ll almost certainly cut yourself up since the lava surface is extremely sharp and jagged. Because of all this, the hiking is slow. It took us about an hour to make it 2 miles out to the flows.

Then, out of nowhere, we feel a strong heat. We look down between our feet, and through the cracks in the lava you can see a red glow. It is mesmerizing. Nearby, we see an area in the ground start to slowly open up and pour out a fiery red glob. It oozes out and downward at a snail's pace. You can walk right up to it. At this point, it’s almost dark. You can look across the landscape at the miles of cracked hardened lava, and see threads of thin red streams interlaced through the black. It’s amazing, but the best is yet to come.

In the distance, giant clouds of steam are rising into the air. As lava pours into the ocean, it hisses and crackles as it’s instantly cooled and made into new land. We head over that way, until we reach a few others observing from a cliff overlooking the show. Down below, there is a huge area of glowing red lava, slowly oozing out towards the sea. As it falls in, steam plunges upward. An eruption of sparks fly out. It’s dark now, and the glow lights up the night. We stayed there for awhile watching, not really wanting to leave.

The hike back was slower in the pitch blackness of night. We were armed with flashlights and extra batteries, which are an absolute necessity. As we head back, we can see certain streams of lava in the distance that we must have passed earlier but not noticed because of the daylight. Now in the darkness, it makes a dramatic impression. After what feels like forever, we eventually make our way back to the trusty Jeep.

Words and photos cannot do this experience justice. If you make it to the Big Island, this is an absolute must-do. This is easily one of the most unique and amazing experiences of our lives. Not a bad way to spend the last hours of my 20s!

Starting the long hike out across the lava, with a little bit of sunlight left:

As you can see, the footing is extremely uneven so we had to go slow. This is pretty much what we saw for miles and miles all around us:

The surface is sharp, like glass, so it's important not to fall. This made the hike back to the car in pitch black even slower.

After an hour or so, we feel a heat and look down to see the red glow beneath the cracks in the lava.

The first sighting of molten lava was very exciting, and almost surreal.

Now you can see little patches of red throughout the vast black landscape.

This particular flow opened up and began right before our eyes. It hardens quickly, so it was already blackening over when we left it.

Who ever thought we'd be this close to lava? And yes, it is hot. The sea breeze helps out somewhat, but you definitely break a sweat.

In the distance, we can see the clouds of steam from where the lava is pouring into the sea. We know there's a good show being put on over there, so we head that way.

From a safe distance, we join some others looking over a cliff onto the lava delta below. Here we watch the tributaries of lava intertwine and flow into the sea.

Video footage of lava flow:

1 comment:

Emma said...