The reason we chose the Big Island of Hawaii for our trip was the once in a lifetime chance to see a live volcano. The Kilauea volcano has been active since 1983 and there are only a few times when lava is visible. Volcanic activity changes every day and I was monitoring it on the US geological survey website for a month and hoping that we would be there at the right time. The Kilauea volcano in Hawaii is not your typical volcano where there is a tall mountain and lava flows out through a crater on the top. Read on to know more about it.
We started driving towards Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. While we were driving what struck us was the variety in tropical plants and flowers. The rain forests here were amazing!! We were so enthusiastic; we bought a book about tropical plants and flowers, and started identifying them as we passed them.
Our next stop was a black sand beach. Big Island is known for its black sand. Black igneous rock from the lava flow gets disintegrated into sand particles and forms these beaches. This beach was supposed to be a rest area for turtles. We went, spread our mat, and sat down on the beach. Immediately we saw turtles popping their heads out of the water. There were a few green turtles that came and slept on the beach. It was wonderful.
We reached the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park at 5:30 PM and started driving on the Chain of Craters road. On the way we saw old craters, fuming vents - proofs of past and current volcanic activity.
We reached the end of the road and immediately realized that we should have come an hour early. Cars were parked at least a mile away from the rangers office. The radio told us that lava was visible after a 2 mile walk from the office. After we reached the rangers office, we noticed that there was no road anymore. Lava from a few months back had closed a vast stretch of the road.
The trail was marked, but most of the hike was boulder hopping!! We keep walking on huge lava fields with the ocean on the right. We walked 3 miles when the trail ended. The ocean breeze kept us cool and we kept walking beyond that as were a few other people. After a while, we noticed that the lava below our feet became a little warm. The park ranger told us that we were walking on active Lava Tubes! There was a mountain there that was feeding this lava and was transporting it through a 11 km long lava tube into the ocean. I am sure it was very foolish to be walking on active lava tubes, but the chance to see a live volcano kept us going. We could see glimpses of the fire and smoke, but not the real thing.
We finally reached a place where there were hundreds of people sitting on the rocks and watching something like they were in an amphitheater. This was it!!
After a 3-mile hike, we finally saw hot red lava flowing into the ocean in 3-4 channels. It was awesome. We were speechless. It was one of those incredible sights that you only get to see on the National Geographic Channel, except this was happening live in front of us. The sun had set and we saw the bright red lava and the red glowing smoke it was creating.
We spent over an hour there and turned back only when it started drizzling. Night had set it, but luckily for us it was a full moon day. Even otherwise we had come equipped with flashlights. The rest of the hike would have been lackluster except that in the mountains, another vent became active and lava started flowing out. What started as specks of light became a flow of at least mile lava flow by the time we got done. It was an amazing sight that would remain etched in our memories forever.