Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park - End of the road

At the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park visitor center, we were told that if we wanted to see red flowing lava, we'd have to drive down to the end of Highway 130. And it really is the end.

Here's a view of the (solid, cooled) lava field.

And a pretty little view I caught. Not sure who would want a house there, but it is a unique and strangely beautiful landscape.

In the distance, lava flows into the ocean, with a huge plume of sulfur dioxide smoke rising from the site. After sunset, you can see the plume illuminated red from the lava glow. Recently, there have been surface flows around the ocean outflow that viewers could see (in the distance) at the end of Highway 130. But flow patterns change daily, if not hourly. Unfortunately, there was no lava to see from there the day we went. Here's what we could see.

We stayed until just about sunset, but we'd already decided that the glow wasn't going to be satisfying. The Housemate in particular was disappointed that we didn't get to see the red hot glowing flowing lava; I had seen flowing lava (a red speck in the distance) when I first visited the Big Island 15 years ago (gosh, I'm so old), so I was partially satisfied in being able to claim I'd seen red hot lava. Luckily for us, as we walked back from the disappointing view of smoke to the parking lot, some locals sitting at a table at the path entrance/exit caught our attention. They were selling lava tours, where an experienced guide leads us on a hike out to get a good view of the lava flow. You can't go out by yourself, because one: it's probably a bad idea, since it's rough and there are better paths to take than others, and two: it involves going over private property (illegal trespassing!), but the guides cut a deal with the property owners so they're allowed to take people through. They had a laptop showing very impressive video of flowing lava, which they said was taken last Sunday on one such hike. All this could be ours, with $40 and a 45 minute hike.

I was a little wary of going anywhere not sanctioned by the National Park itself, but the Housemate seemed very enthusiastic about the idea. There were some logistics issues, since we hadn't eaten dinner yet and it was 7:00 and this could take 3 hours, and we didn't have cash on us, but we decided we were OK in terms of food and water, we didn't mind driving back to Kona later at night, and there was an ATM at a convenience store right near where the hike to the lava flow would start. We decided to take the plunge.

As we talked to one of the other young couples (a nice Swiss pair) waiting for the guide to arrive, we decided this felt a little like the beginning of a horror movie: four young, international couples, all strangers, heading out with a mysterious guide over rough terrain well after dark, with the promise of a spectacular, if hazardous, sight. Yes, this was a great idea.


Hezabelle said...

Did it end in murder, theft or intrigue of any sort?

Vanessita said...

Wow, that was really like the beginning of a horror movie... No way I'd venture through some suspicious trail at night with unofficial guides (and an empty stomach) like that.
Glad you came back alright.

Eleni said...

Hez - Uh, someone broke his flashlight. It ended with a race to find a bathroom!

Vanessa - I was reassured by the fact that there were multiple groups of locals organizing these groups, with multiple guides, and by the fact that the national park allowed them to set up stands in their parking lot to recruit tourists. So it wasn't just one guy who thought it would be a good idea to hike out to see the lava, but a bunch of people who'd done it many times before. And if was a really bad idea, the national park would probably do something about the people selling the hikes.

That said, I was pretty concerned. I'm glad I made it back OK, too.