Big Island Lava Viewing Update By Land, Air & Sea

*** Early 2012 UPDATE: The December 2011 lava ocean entry is no longer active. ***

The current lava flow, coming down the pali and traversing the coastal plain, reached the ocean late last week. The ocean entry point is within the National Park, near its eastern border. Today, numerous small streams of lava were cascading over the sea cliff, and lava entering the water was starting to build a small delta.
Lava entering the ocean, December 2011. Photo courtesy of the USGS.

The ever changing lava activity on Hawaii’s Big Island creates news options for lava viewing. As reported last week, lava is flowing down the pali (hill) to the ocean. I want to provide an update of the various ways you can view this exciting lava activity.

USGS lava flow map issued December 2011. Click on the image for a larger view.

By Land

You have two separate areas for lava viewing by land:

– With lava flowing into the ocean just within the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the park has created a beacon trail from the end of the Chain of Craters Road. This 9.7 mile round-trip hike is described as extreme due to the exceptionally uneven terrain over old lava flows. Visit this page to learn more about this hike. Note that you must pay a Hawaii Volcanoes National Park entrance fee of $10 per car.

– Perhaps an easier way to view the lava activity is from the Hawaii County lava viewing area in Kalapana. This viewing area is free and open daily from 2pm to 10pm, with the last car entry at 8pm. You can access this area by driving to the end of Highway 130. Currently, from this viewing point, you can see lava flowing down the hill to the plain. Lava is visible within a short (less than one mile) hike. You can also see the plume produced from lava flowing into the ocean, though I don’t believe you can actually see lava entering the ocean. For more information call the lava viewing hotline number is 808-961-8093.

For these land, please also see my tips for viewing the Big Island lava flow.

By Air

With the lava flow being so widespread at the moment, a helicopter tour provides a spectacular view. Most helicopter tours of the volcano depart from Hilo.

If you’re staying on the Kona side of the Big Island, you can find helicopter tours of the volcano that depart from the west side – Blue Hawaiian is one that I know offers this service. Taking a helicopter tour is the quickest way to see the lava flow, though quite expensive at cost of nearly $400 or more per person.

Best (Hawaii) Big Island Free and Budget Friendly Activities
Lava pouring into the ocean.

By Sea

When lava is flowing into the ocean, the folks at Lava Ocean Adventures offer boat tours to  get an up close view of the ocean entry without an exhausting  hike. If you are prone to seasickness, you might want to skip this option as this tour can be quite a rocky ride.

With any option you choose for viewing the current Big Island lava activity, you’ll definitely have a thrilling experience.

*** Early 2012 UPDATE: Lava is no longer entering the ocean ***

  1. Does the lava do any damage to the water of the ocean or to the animals that call it their home?

    1. Roberta — the lava heats the water immediately around the entry point to a scalding temperature and then cools down further away. I would say whatever is living immediately around the entry is burned. I would think that sea creatures sense the heat from a distance and avoid it — just a guess on my part.

  2. We are looking at taking a travel assignment to one of the islands next year. Your blog is a big help in getting a feel for the areas. Thanks.

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