For the first time in almost a year, lava flows from Kilauea Volcano on Hawaii Island, the Big Island, have once again begun to flow into the ocean.
It is an exciting period of time when this happens since it allows many visitors to view, up close, the awe-inspiring majesty of the force of nature that is Kilauea volcano.
There are a couple of ways in which you can best view the current lava flows and one way which you should not even consider attempting. Let's discuss that first.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
The current lava flows are not accessible from within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The stream of lava that has reached the ocean are located several hundred yards outside of the park's easternmost boundary, flowing over private land close to Kalapana.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park officials do not encourage hikers to attempt to access the flows from the end of Chain of Craters Road. This would require over a 10 mile round trip hike over extremely dangerous terrain, especially at night.
From within the park, the current eruption witin Halema'uma'u Crater is visible from vantage points such as the Jaggar Museum. While you will not see actual lava flows, you can see a huge plume of volcanic gas that emanates from a lava lake approximately 100 feet beneath the crater floor. This plume becomes even more vivid after sunset.
County Lava Viewing Area
Hawaii County maintains Lava Viewing Area accessed from a location at the end of Highway 130 in Kalapana.
While the county announced its intention of closing this area in March 2012, as of the date of this update, the area remains open.
I visited this area in December 2009 and it was an experience well worthwhile as you can see in my feature on the Kalapana Lava Viewing Site - Puna District, Big Island of Hawaii.
Visitors to the Big Island can call the Lava Hotline number (808) 961-8093 for current information on the viewing area. As of December 14, 2012, the viewing area is open seven days a week from 2:00 p.m. until 10:00 p.m. with the last vehicle being admitted at 8:00 p.m.
Currently a round trip hike of 1/2 mile on a marked path over rocky terrain is required to reach the area where lava flows are visible. Visitors are required to wear proper footwear and bring plenty of water. I encourage you to wear sturdy, well soled shoes, bring a walking stick and, of course, your camera. Parking is free.
Additional information can be obtained at 808-430-1966.
An additional resource to view photos of the current flows and information on land access to view the lava flows is the excellent Hawaiian Lava Daily blog which is indeed updated by photographer Leigh-Hilbert.
Lava Ocean Tours, Inc.
Another way and, in many ways, the ideal way to view the current lava flowing into the ocean, is to take a trip with Lava Ocean Tours, Inc.
They offer tours which depart from Isaac Hale Beach Park (Pohoiki) in the island's Puna District on-board their 34ft, 24 passenger catamaran "LavaKai."
Their departure location is about a 45-minute drive from Hilo and a 1 hour drive from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
For the best viewing of the lava flowing into the ocean, I recommend their sunrise tour which departs at 5:00 a.m. It will require you to get up very early in the morning, but the views of the lava at night and at sunrise make it well worth getting up so early.
The tour itself is 2.5 hours in length and currently costs $175 for adults and $125 for children. They also offer tours during the daytime, at sunset and at twilight.
I took their sunrise tour in December 2009 and I highly recommend it. You will literally be within yards of where the lava is entering the ocean. You will feel the heat and hear the roar of the lava striking the water.
Of course, hiking across difficult terrain in the dark or riding a catamaran on what are often rough seas is not for everyone.
A final way to view the current lava flows from Kilauea, is to fly over them in a helicopter with the doors off.
Paradise Helicopters offers tours from Hilo including their, now famous, "Feel the Heat" tour where you fly directly over the lava as it flows from Kilauea's Pu'u 'O'o Crater en-route to the ocean.
I flew with them several years ago and you can see a gallery of photos that I took while on this flight.
The price is a bit steep, currently available online at $241.11 per person, but the flight is limited to four passengers and everyone has a "window" seat. Flying with the doors off is a photographer's dream since you won't risk getting any glare from windows in your photos.
The ocean entry of lava that began in late November 2012 marks the best chance in over a year to truly appreciate the power of nature as seen from Kilauea Volcano. There's no telling how long this current flow pattern will continue, so if you're making plans to visit Hawaii Island, the Big Island, this winter, be sure to take advantage of this rare experience.