It was humbling and mesmerizing experience to watch lava flowing into the ocean. I struggle to find the adequate words to describe it. If you are able to get out to the Big Island to see if for yourself, then I strongly encourage you to do so.
I wanted to share some tips for viewing the lava so that you can make the most of your experience. Here are my suggestions.
When to Go
Try as best as you can to see the lava around sunset and afterwards or before sunrise. The sun’s rays wash out the incandescence of the lava, so you can’t really see as much of it in the daytime. The following image illustrates the dramatic difference between daylight and dusk lava viewing. After dusk, the contrast is even more dramatic.
We were able to see the lava during daylight hours and then at sunset and about an hour afterwards. We were fortunate enough to see the contrast of daytime viewing and nighttime viewing. There really is a huge difference in what you can see.
Assuming lava is visible from the Hawaii County lava viewing point, if you go to see the lava just before sunset, you’ll be able to walk to the lava viewing point more safely in the daylight hours. When lava is active at the Hawaii County lava viewing point, the site opens to the public at 2pm and closes at 10pm. Entry is not allowed to past 8pm.
Where to Find the Lava
Kilauea Volcano is quite active and almost always on the move. At the time of writing and subsequent updates, here’s where lava has been active and somewhat accessible or viewable for the general public:
- Inside Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, you can indirectly see lava via the red/orange glow at night at Halemaumau Crater. This glow is is produced from the lava lake bubbling hundreds of feet below.
- Puu Oo is typically active and can be seen most easily via a helicopter tour.
- Lava has traveled down the pali (cliffs/hills) from Puu Oo and made its way towards the ocean in recent years. It has usually been visible via the Hawaii County Lava Viewing site.
See this collection of useful links to help you find out what’s going on with the active lava flow. Through those resources, you will be able to find out where the lava has been active within the most recent 24 hours.
What to Wear
- One of the most important things to wear is shoes with a rugged sole and good gripping tread, such as hiking shoes. A trail running trainer would also work. You’ll be trekking over very uneven surfaces (hardened lava) and a shoe with a firm or semi-firm sole will help you keep your balance. I observed a few people wearing flip flops and dress/street shoes and they had a very difficult time walking. I wore my hiking shoes and I was so glad I did. Andy wore his Keens, which also worked fine because we did not get close enough to the lava activity to feel the heat. If you’ll be very close to the actual flow and/or walking over fresh lava, which we don’t advise, a hiking shoe with a good sole will protect your feet from the heat.
- If you’ll be seeing the lava during day light hours then be sure to wear sunscreen and a hat or visor. Sunglasses are also helpful.
- You should try to wear long trousers to protect your legs if you fall. Hardened lava can be sharp as glass and quite dangerous if you fall. I wore a light weight hiking trousers.
- One reader, Ben, advises to wear gloves to protect your hands should you fall. Pick up a pair of work gloves from the dollar store.
What to Bring
- Water is a must! If you’ll be going to see the lava in the daytime, bring extra water. It’s amazing how much hydration you need when you’re walking over black lava with no shade.
- Snacks or energy bars may come in handy. There are no restaurants in the area.
- Flashlight for finding your way in the dark. The county has installed some reflective poles and some yellow tape on the ground to help you navigate to and from the viewing point.
- Binoculars will help you get a closer view. You may be a couple of hundred yards or more from the lava.
- Cameras with well charged batteries and plenty of memory or film. Near the water, it’s quite windy, so if you have a tripod, do bring it
- A hiking stick or pole helps to keep you steady over uneven terrain.
- Sunscreen and lip balm with sun protection. Generally, there’s no shade in the lava flow areas.
- A hat or visor is useful to help protect your eyes and face from the sun.
- Your eyes will appreciate sunglasses, especially if you must hike over black lava fields in the daytime. Polarized lenses are particularly good to reduce eyestrain.
- Wet wipes. (There are port-a-johns, but no way to clean your hands.)
- If you have long hair, you may want to bring something to tie it back because it can be very windy near the ocean.
- Band-Aids and antibiotic ointment, in case you fall.
- Depending on where you’ll be going, you may want to have some mosquito repellant. After viewing the lava in the daytime, we walked back to our car to escape the sun and sit on cushioned chairs while we waited for sunset. We rolled down the windows and ended up getting some mosquitos in the car. Luckily we had our mosquito repellant with us.
Other Important Considerations
- Be aware of the many dangers of being around active lava. (Mahalo to Angie for the link.)
- Obey all signs and instructions provided by the county employees. (Hey, how about thanking them for establishing this viewing point for visitors to see.)
- Lock your car doors and put valuables out of sight.
- If you are thinking of going to see the lava from the West side of Hawaii, then plan on about a 2.5 hour one way drive.
- Finally, enjoy this rare and awesome display!
See more ideas of vacation activities on Hawaii’s Big Island.