There are very few places on earth where you can see lava in person. And even fewer where you can walk right up to it. Kalapana on the Big Island of Hawaii is the safest and easiest access to see actual lava flow. The added bonus here was that there was an option to rent bikes to get to the fiery spout approximately 4-5 miles away.
Although it is a long and circuitous route to the south eastern tip of the island by car it is definitely an experience to be had and one not to the missed!
Renting bikes was a very easy process, the vendors are right around the car park area. Make sure to test ride the bike and adjust seats etc before riding into a magnificent sunset.
And what a bike ride it was! While going in, the wind is at your back...making it an easy exhilarating one. As you bike (or hike which is also an option) across the fields of lava its difficult to imagine that Kalapana used to be home to a fishing village. In 1986, lava started flowing out of the Kīlauea volcano toward the town and ended up destroying it. The lava continues to flow to this day and the town is now completely buried. So although it was a thrill ride across unimaginable landscape and a chance to marvel the unstoppable force of nature, a point to remember is that it is a historical site and reverence should be had for the residents that lost their homes.
Someone described the surreal landscape as the crust of a freshly baked brownie...burnt to some extent and magnified thousand fold.
The molten lava hardens so fast that the rock still looks like its in motion. With bumps and cracks, swivels and spirals, deep crevices , its tricky to walk on them..and headlights or flashlights are necessary if you're attempting to hike it after dark. Bear in mind, this isn't an easy hike and definitely leave your fuzzy slippers and flip flops behind. Here you experience the untamed side of the ever-changing Big Island with new land forming right beneath your feet!
At end of the 4.5 miles gravel bike path, you abandon your bike to walk by foot another half mile over the crusty uneven terrain to get to the edge of the ocean cliff. Lo and behold what words cannot describe, it is a sensation, a reawakening of sorts, a wondrous phenomenon to watch. From here you can witness a torrent of lava gushing into the Pacific almost in a perfect waterfall like pattern. It is one of the most amazing events we have witnessed.
What was spectacular was the rate at which the hot magma, seen as a strong flow of bright orange molten rock, was hitting the sea. At Kīlauea's ocean entry, the interaction of molten lava flowing into cool seawater caused pulsating littoral explosions that threw spatter (fragments of molten lava) high into the air along with clouds of bellowing dense steam. It was indeed a 'Fire-hose' of molten lava plummeting into the deep sea.
There are hot and deep earth cracks running parallel to the sea cliff around the entry point and it’s a very unstable and hazardous area! The park staff has cordoned off sections and determined the safe zone from where the viewing is spectacular. Pay heed to this! The views from here are breathtaking and you find yourself just standing in awe and appreciation of the sheer force and power of mother nature. A definite must see and must do experience on the Big Island. One that will take your breath away and leave you with a lasting impression deep within.
Tip: Carry water, headlights or flashlights. Wear sturdy shoes and heed the caution signs. The last thing you want to leave behind is a part of your melted foot!