Lava meets the ocean, 1997


(August 1997)

Big Island's Kilaueau volcano has been active now since 1983. Lava is continuously streaming out of the Pu'u 'O'o vent of the Kilauea volcano, moves down to the ocean, and a cloud at the coastline indicates the place where the lava enters the ocean.

Kilauea from space (NASA)

The picture above was taken during a mission of space shuttle Discovery in 1993. The situation was quite similar, when we came to Big Island in 1997. We took a room in a hotel in Hilo, watched the volcano at night from Road 130 and during a helicopter flight. Here is our report:

End of Chain of Craters Road

The "Chain of Craters Road" ends at one of the older lava streams of the Kilauea. The street is closed from this point due to the lava. In a short walk of ten minutes we reached a better viewpoint.

Lava flow meets the ocean

From this viewpoint, we could see a steam cloud in the distance where the lava flows into the sea. We found that a place about one mile before the end of the road gave a still better view. We had only a very light tripod, and at this day the wind was so strong that we had problems to keep the tele lens quiet enough for photos.

We haven't been at this place at nighttime, but we can imagine that under good conditions you can see the glow of lava in the distance. If you want to get a still better view, you have to hike a 7-miles roundtrip which is very difficult, especially in the darkness. Imagine hiking over jagged and black lava without a shade and without a path in the heat of the day, or just with a flashlight in the darkness of the night, with eventually strong wind or rain or fog. In some places the lava is not very stable. This hike is not recommended, but it is not forbidden as well. A display at the ranger station gives hints for necessary equipment and the dangers you have to deal with. The decision whether or not we should go was not a problem for us, we just had not enough time at that day.

At the next day, after a sighseeing tour clockwise around Big Island with the car, we were about 10 miles north of Hilo. It was already dark, 7.30 p.m., and we saw a faint dark red glow far in the distance. We realized that this could only be the Pu'u 'O'o vent. When we could see it from a distance of 25 miles, the it should be much better from the nearby. We changed plans for dinner from Hawaiian specialities to take-away burger- and-french-fries specials, took road 11 from Hilo and then changed to road 130, which turned out to be closed for public traffic at mile 21. But right at this place we had a nice view on the volcano.

Pu'u O'o at night

We could recognize the uppermost part of the crater and the clouds were lighted with yellow and red colours. The intensity changed within minutes..

Pu'u O'o at night

From time to time, clouds obscured the view on the crater, and we could not see any structures.

Pu'u O'o at night

For awhile all the eastern sky was lighted in red, a sight that remains in our memories. We thought that we saw small fountains of lava, but we were not quite sure. In the meantime, a family from Hilo had arrived. They told us that it had been more impressive two weeks ago, when the volcano showed extensive "fountaining". Standing at a road somewhere in the darkness and watching volcano eruptions was something exceptional for us. But the best way for foreigners like us to come really close to an active volcano is a helicopter tour. If you like, you can follow us on the tour.

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