Tropical paradise you say? Well sure I’ll take that! Who wouldn’t? The Hawaiian islands are known for their warm, breezy climate, palm fringed coastlines and tranquil blue waters. But what about the volcano?
Kilauea Volcano is currently the most active volcano on earth and it’s Hawaiian name literally means ‘the spewing’. The current Kileau lava flow which was named 61g in the area starting flowing into the ocean in May of this year out of the Kilauea Volcano on the Big Island . Although 61g is one of many lava flows Kilauea has been actively erupting since January 1983 and has continuously been active since written records began in the late 1700s and presumably well before that. You can witness this phenomenon by hiking out to it or from the ocean entry by boat.
Currently (as of this writing) the 61g flow is pouring into the ocean near the town of Kalapana on the East side of Hawaii island. There are no surface flows as it has created a solidified lava tube. However, the lava is visible as it pours into the ocean like a huge ‘lava-fall’ and it’s an incredible site to witness. There are two ways of getting to the flow by foot which is either through Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the western side or from Kalapana on the Eastern side. Whichever side you pick make sure to bring some decent hiking boots, socks and a lot of water.
For those that are taking the trek out to see where the lava and sea meet there are some special precautions to take. Besides the obvious issues with dehydration and improper foot wear visitors need to be aware of the unevenness of the land and that they will be near unstable, extremely steep sea cliffs. In addition, venturing too close to an ocean entry exposes you to the flying debris created when the lava flow meets the cold ocean waters creating a potentially dangerous situation if you are not paying attention. On December 31st, 2016 a massive lava bench broke off and fell into the ocean below but luckily no one was injured.
We always make it a point to photograph the lava pouring into the ocean if it is happening and conditions are right. Currently the National Park Service has limited the viewing / photography distance on land so taking the Lava Boat gets you quite a bit closer to the action – although it’s still worth both hiking and boating for the different perspectives you can get with each. The ocean view will give you some amazing opportunities that are unique and are not available by foot. The images possible of red hot, oozing lava exploding into the ocean are incredible!
Hawaii Island consists of five separate volcanoes with three of them being considered active still. The highest, Mauna Kea and Kohala are considered extinct or dormant while Hualalai, Mauna Loa & Kilauea are currently active. Hawaii Island is the youngest of the eight main Hawaiian Islands and is currently over the ‘hotspot’ that is responsible for creating these volcanoes and the Hawaiian Islands. Kauai is the oldest island as it is the furthest to the West – there is also new island forming on the Eastern end of the Hawaii-Emperor Seamount named Loihi. At this point Loihi is growing rapidly by continuously erupting under the ocean however it will not emerge for several thousand years at this point.
One can also witness Kilauea’s most active crater from the rim at Volcanoes National Park. The
crater – known as Hale’mau’mau contains a massive lava lake which glows red in the evening and can make for epic photographs when the stars emerge.
The volcanoes of Hawaii are steeped in folklore and native Hawaiian’s consider Kilauea volcano to be the home of their fire goddess Pele. Pele is the goddess of fire, wind, lightning and volcanoes. In Hawaiian mythology she is the one who created the Hawaiian Islands and is often referred to as Madame Pele or Tutu Pele as a sign of respect. Touching the lava or removing cooled lava rock is considered taboo as it is regarded by locals as part of Pele.
Regardless of which method you use to get out to the lava flows safety needs to be a priority as
the land created by the cooling lava flows is young and unstable. Most importantly you should go with an experienced guide who knows how to travel safely across the terrain at Kalapana and with Volcanoes National Park. It is also important that the group be adequately prepared and have the right gear – you need to expect the unexpected and while taking photos make sure you are in a safe area to do so. In other words, be aware of your surroundings out there!
I hope to see you when we head out mid-January next year for this amazing adventure – click here to read about the details of the Big Island of Hawaii Photography Tour & Workshop. If you have any questions about this trip or any of my other ones do not hesitate to send me a quick email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Russ Nordstrand is a professional landscape and wildlife photographer specializing in photography as fine artwork. His Fine Art Prints are hanging in homes, offices and private collections across the U.S and Canada and in many other countries throughout the world. Russ leads on average about 20 Photography Tours & Workshops each year to incredible destinations such as Yellowstone, Alaska, Glacier, Yosemite, Utah, Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, the Great Smoky Mountains and more. He also frequently writes articles on this blog on various photographic techniques, the art of composition, environmental concerns, photography and travel news as well as documenting recent adventures. Originally from the Pacific Northwest, Russ has lived in the greater Rocky Mountain West since 1999 and currently resides in beautiful Flagstaff, Arizona.