I’ve been on the Big Island of Hawai’i for three months now, and surprisingly my name here is much easier to remember. “Slava – like “lava” with an “s” – the locals get it right away, since lava is quite the common phenomenon around here. Two weeks ago I got to see the lava from a distance churning in the Halemaʻumaʻu Crater of the Kīlauea volcano at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (I have pictures to share, but I guess another time). It was incredible to watch it glow at night, a pure confirmation of how alive and powerful the Earth is. Little did I know back then, that very soon I’d get an opportunity to see lava close by!
When a friend mentioned a couple of days ago that they are letting people see the lava flow, a decision was immediately made to go. ASAP.
“The Island of Hawaiʻi is built from five separate shield volcanoes that erupted somewhat sequentially, one overlapping the other. These are (from oldest to youngest):
- Kilauea was our destination again, but this time the Pu’u’O’o cone. This active volcano has been continuously erupting since 1983 (the year I was born), making it the longest eruption in history.
The lava fields on the Island continue to amaze me. This is how the whole Hawaiian chain was formed – molten rock from the depths of the Earth finding its way to the surface.
To get to the actual lava flow, we had to hike three miles on a gravel emergency road and then about the same distance through this lava field. Exhausting, but worth it.
The lava coming out of the Pu’u’O’o cone comes down the slopes of the volcano in the form of a red hot river visible at night and slowly makes its way through old lava flows towards the ocean. Can you spot it in this photo?
Walking through the lava field requires great caution at every step. The new lava flow can easily be mistaken for old one, since it is only slightly lighter gray in color.
The heat however is a dead giveaway where fresh lava can be found. If the ferns growing in the cracks of the rugged rock are brown, better watch your step.
Live lava lurks beneath the cracks, ready to slowly venture out.
Dangerous, yet so captivating.
It crackles as it moves and cools, and little flakes come flying off it. If water hits it, it sizzles.
The further in the field we walked, the more dangerous the terrain got. It was almost like a game, spotting where the live lava was and walking around it to observe it.
The heat rising from it is intense. Grateful for the cool ocean breeze and the water we carried with us.
The shapes it takes as it cools… molten rock turning into solid ground.
Where old and new lava flow meet. This field and I were born at the same time, and now I was standing on it watching new ground in the making.
Looking at the distance, we could see the lava flowing down the slope and smoldering the trees it met along the way.
Slowly, but surely it advanced ahead. There is nothing that we, humans, can do to curb its mighty and destructive flow.
Yet, we live in close proximity to it, hoping it will be merciful to us.
What is more, we turn it into an attraction – people were even roasting marshmallows on it.
Our awesome workaway host and lava field guide Greg, leaping over hot lava.
The bright blue ocean, the strong southern wind, the black rugged lava field, the immense heat rising from the molten rock, the majestic setting Sun – it all transported me back to the beginning of time when the Earth was wild.
I probably got closer to the lava than I should, but Fire is my element.
The Sun was setting and it was time to walk the 6 or so miles back to the parking lot. Never had I imagined that I would see lava so close by in my life (and live to tell about it 😉 )
On the way back we met many people headed to see the lava and attempt the hike at night. Like a modern-day pilgrimage, we were irrevocably drawn to the sacred core of the Earth hoping it would reveal its luminous secrets.
I kept turning back, stealing glances at the red hot river of molten rock streaming down the slope and spilling over a field of sharp black lava rock that felt like walking on broken glass underneath my feet. Life on Earth is so magical and fragile.
THE RETICENT volcano keeps
His never slumbering plan;
Confided are his projects pink
To no precarious man.
If nature will not tell the tale
Jehovah told to her,
Can human nature not survive
Without a listener?
Admonished by her buckled lips
Let every babbler be.
The only secret people keep
– Emily Dickinson
Get live lava updates here.
Photos of me by Johnnie David.