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Lava Into the Sea at Night | by Rennett Stowe
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Lava Into the Sea at Night

Long exposure image of lava flowing into the Pacific Ocean at night on the Big Island of Hawaii (Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii).



The thing everyone really wants to see on the Big Island of Hawaii is lava flowing into the sea. The national park seems to not go out of its way to describe how: In order to see the lava flowing into the sea you need to exit Volcanoes National Park and head east on Highway 11 toward Hilo. Turn south (right) on Highway 130 and take it almost all the way to the ocean. Just before the ocean veer right onto Kaimu Chain of Craters Road and take it until you can't go any farther.


Once at the end of the road you will be in a giant parking lot. Park and keep walking further out with water and flashlights. Just before you hit the trail, you will come across a tent city in which countless merchants will rent you a bike, and a bike light, if it is getting late (cost about $25-$30 per bike). We did not rent the bikes because we headed out about the time this part of the park closed (9:00 p.m.). However, I would highly advise renting bicycles; the rates are reasonable; it's an easy trail, albeit dirt; it will cut the time out on the four-mile trail in half (eight miles round trip).


What will you find a the end of the trail? Around mile three you re-enter the park. Indeed, although they don't advertise all this, it seems to be park sanctioned. This has one major drawback, which is when you get to the end of the trail, there are barriers where you park bikes and walk the remaining 1/2 mile. Nevertheless, if you go in the late evening, you will see the lava clearly flowing into the ocean. The later you are there the clearer the flow. Even at night, with a long exposure, I was able to get some decent images (see above).


As you might imagine, there are a number of people who go out there. The later you go, the fewer people there will be, We left the viewing area at about 10:00 p.m. and there were less than five people left. Yet, given the number of people who passed us on bikes on our way out, it must be pretty busy around dusk. Remember, sunset on the Big Island in July is around 7:00 p.m. Thus, you're going to have to balance your desire to have a great view and few competitors with being able to see by the light of day. The rock vistas can be very treacherous at night; we had a few close calls and slips. This could be especially dangerous for small children. Where there is no danger is from the flowing lava. It is just too far away to pose a threat as long as you stay behind the ropes.


The ride/walk out is pretty in the late evening as lava can be seen coming down from the hills on your right. However, unless you own a 15 K Canon or Nikon telephoto lense the lava on the hill cannot be photographed effectively. Additionally, if there is any chance that you will be out on the trail after sunset, a flashlight(s) is a necessity. If you choose to walk, you should expect this to be about a three to four-hour trip. If you rent a bike, it will be significantly less.


(These directions may no longer be accurate and you should use your own good judgment; indeed, the 2018 eruption makes it likely that the preceding information is completely obsolete and should not be relied upon).

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Taken on June 30, 2017