One of Mother Nature’s greatest capabilities is her ability to create another body of life. In the case of Hawaii volcanoes, lava enables the creation of new land, extending the eastern boundaries of the Big Island of Hawaii, the youngest but biggest island thus far in the Hawaiian isles. If you have been reading the news this year, you probably saw dramatic images that resembled a Hollywood disaster movie, and you may be asking, “Where are the Hawaii volcanoes erupting?” or “Where do I go see the Hawaii volcano?” or “Which Hawaii volcano is most active?”
The most recent phase started on May 3, 2018, when Kilauea, the most active volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii that has been constantly erupting since 1983, underwent a pressure build-up, leading to a period of strong earthquakes and a new lava flow impacting residential neighborhoods east of the volcano in Pahoa. It inevitably destroyed residential homes and led to thousands to be evacuated. Fortunately, there were no casualties due to the generally slow-moving nature of the lava (more common with a shield volcano like Kilauea) and the dedicated efforts of scientists and authorities to anticipate the flow front and protect the population. But lava and the black broken-asphalt-looking cooled lava rock left in its wake did transform much of the southeastern corner of the island (an area of 14 square miles), including a somewhat popular vacation area and snorkeling destination at Kapoho Bay / Vacationland. It became the most destructive eruption in the U.S. since Mount St. Helens in 1980, with over 700 houses destroyed costing over $800 million. On the other hand, with the destruction came creation — the now-cooled lava rock has formed 875 acres of new land off the coast.
The video below by the National Park Service provides a chronological history of the recent events.
In early August 2018, the volcano eruption halted and has been quiet since, with little-to-no signs of restarting anytime soon. Due to the Big Island’s geographical location over an active hotspot in the Earth’s mantle (which led to the very creation of the Hawaiian Islands over the past 5 million years), lava will almost certainly reappear at the surface at some point in the future. However, it will likely exist in its more common form in recent decades of a bubbling crater in an undeveloped area, possibly with a slow flow of lava down to the ocean.
In many ways, it’s never been a better time to visit the Big Island. While tourism gradually picks back up, prices and crowds are down. It also means your travel dollars have a valuable impact in supporting the local residents and the economy, needed more than ever as local communities pick themselves up again, especially in the broader Hilo area. Volcano pollution, or “vog,” which has created a frequent haze on the Big Island and even the neighboring islands for many years, especially since 2008, has all but disappeared, resulting in some of the cleanest air and clearest views since Kilauea started its most recent active stage in 1983. The National Park has partially reopened in September, after months of closure, and will continue to reassess and make accessible additional areas.
While currently there is no lava visible by foot, air, or boat anywhere on the island (although that can change at anytime), the Big Island’s volcano region is still a fascinating place to witness geological wonders, including steaming vents, Mars-like stark landscapes, cinder cones, lava tree molds, lava tubes to explore, black sand beaches, sea arches, and much more. To fully appreciate the geology, the history, and the culture of volcanoes in Hawaii, a small group tour with local experts is recommended. These tours also add the convenience of all food and gear included, the ease of providing all transport (note: it is 4+ hours round-trip of driving from Kona / Waikoloa), and the peace of mind that you are in good hands in a still somewhat unpredictable area should the situation suddenly change. It will also ensure you get the most of a full day exploring the vast volcano region, and provide exclusive access to private areas, such as a lava tube you can walk through (note: popular Thurston Lava Tube in the National Park is closed indefinitely) and a working ranch on Mauna Loa with unique birds-eye views of the Kilauea volcano.
Volcanoes National Park and the rest of the Big Island are open and awaiting your visit!
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