During our trip to the Hilo side of the Big Island of Hawai’i, Emily and I were determined to view lava. It was number one on our list of things to do, followed by…well, I don’t even remember because we were so hell-bent on seeing Madame Pele in all of her glory.
There are several different ways one can view liquid hot magma on the Big Island. You can can head to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Kilauea overlook and watch the glow from the Halema’uma’u crater from a safe distance. You can drive until the end of the road in Kalapana, park, rent a bike, pedal for four miles, and then hike another quarter of a mile to see the lava entering the Pacific Ocean from a very safe distance. You can take a helicopter ride and view Pu’u ‘Ō’ō where the lava flow begins and work your way down to the point of entry into the ocean. Lastly, you can take a boat tour out to where the Hawaiian goddesses and sisters Namakaokahai and Pele battle for all to see. This is the option we chose to try first.
The National Park has a safe viewing area on the sea cliff overlooking the lava flow. To show you how far away it is, or how close we were to the lava, the first picture was taken with a 24-70mm lens, at about 70mm, whereas the second picture was with a 70-200mm lens, zoomed in completely to 200mm. As you can see, it is a long way away.As the scorching hot lava hits the cool Pacific Ocean, violent explosions occur, as well as hissing and crackling noises. The picture below shows a few chunks of lava being tossed in the air after the lava reacted to the ocean. The chunks of steaming lava float on the surface of the water, smoldering, cooling, until they become a dense rock and sink below the waves. After reading the wide variety of reviews on TripAdvisor, we decided to go with Lava Ocean Tours Inc. because, although there are negative reviews, at least the company takes the time to address those concerns and responds to them. Besides, most of the negative reviews were a personal attack on the Captain of the boat, not about the viewing of the lava. I don’t care if you were asked to move your car because you parked in the boat wash area, or that your kids were acting up and someone took it upon themselves to disciplined them since you couldn’t be bothered because you are on vacation.
They load the boat by age, so that older people, and those with any concerns get the back of the boat, usually a less choppy ride. Emily and I sat in the front row of the boat. Talk about a bumpy ride! Being in the front, we didn’t get blasted by the sea spray as much, AND we were able to see and anticipate the big drops and waves, so it was safe enough. Granted, we both had a death grip on the bar in front of us, but the sore forearms the next day were worth it. We were wearing our rain jackets and water-resistant pants, but honestly, we only got hit with a handful of drops. The lady sitting directly behind me was soaked by the time we got out to the lava.
The ride takes over thirty minutes to get out to the lava flow, but once you are there, the Captain gets the boat close enough for you to have the experience of a lifetime. The ocean is rough, the heat from the lava is stifling, and the fumes from the steam clouds are intense at certain points, but that is the adventure you paid for, right? Unfortunately, all these elements usually add up to someone getting seasick, which is exactly what happened to a young boy on our trip. The closest barf bag is anywhere over the side of the boat, but this kid chose to use his seat instead. Rookie mistake.
As the sun was setting, the lava became even more intense in color right before we had to head back to the boat ramp. I’m not exactly sure how long we were out at the lava flow. We were taking pictures, hanging on when the boat was rocking, sweating from the heat, and trying to take a breather and enjoy the moment, and then, it’s over, time to head back to the boat ramp. The ride back was light enough to still see and anticipate the bumps, but by the time we made it back, the sun had set and it was dark. The tour company offers one more boat ride at 7:25 PM, but I do not think I would want to sit up front for that one. Not being able to anticipate the bumps would definitely make the ride a lot rougher.
Overall, the tour is well worth the price (although giving a $10 discount for kama’aina was kind of an insult, as it is only a whopping 4% discount). The experience was all Emily and I could talk about the rest of our Big Island trip. We took a helicopter tour on our last day in Hilo, and it was a complete disappointment. For the same price, we could have (and should have) gone back out on the boat.
Being so close to the lava was a life-altering experience. Here we were face-to-face with Pele and Namakaokahai as they continue a battle that has been raging forever. If you do not believe or take stock in mythology and that reference is lost on you, the end result is new land is being created right in front of your eyes. The oldest rocks on Earth are 4.28 billions years old, but the ones we saw on the lava boat ocean tour were only a few seconds old. If that reality does not impress you, skip the boat tour, skip the helicopter tour, stay at the resort, and order another mai tai.