Hawaii (Big Island) – Volcanic fields of fire

Hawaii (Big Island) – Volcanic fields of fire

I’ve been wanting to go to Hawaii for nearly half my lifetime. Not so much the tourist areas of Honolulu, but the enigmatic steaming Big Island, where fiery flows of lava tumble down its rocky shores into the sea.

The biggest volcano in the world

The Big Island of Hawaii is home of the world’s largest volcano, Mauna Loa, rising up an astonishing 9000 meters from the bottom of the sea. More than 4000 of those are above sea level. If the base of Mauna Loa was on dry land, it would be even taller than Mount Everest. It’s so vast it actually presses the oceanic crust down into the Earth’s mantle. After it had been quiet for almost 40 years, Mauna Loa erupted for a short period in 2022.

All around the capital town of Hilo its ominous huge flanks are looming on the horizon, beckoning you to come & explore.

Sunset on Mauna Loa, Hawaii Big Island.
Enigmatic sunset on Mauna Loa, viewed from across on Mauna Kea on the north side of the island.

Lava flows from Kilauea, Hawaii Big Island.
Silvery lava flows from Kilauea near Kalapani.

Hawaii coastal lava flows

The lava flowing into the sea originates from another volcano: the smaller but more active Kilauea, nestled below the bulky flanks of Mauna Loa on the southeast coast of the Big Island. Kilauea is the home of Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of fire and volcanoes.

In 2013 I finally had the chance to go to Hawaii. I walked across the fields of fire from the town of Kalapana to the Kilauea coastal lava flows, and stood utterly mesmerized looking upon the creation process of Earth itself.

It is one of the most mindblowing things one could ever hope to see.

Natural high Hawaii.
The coastal lava flows near Kalapana – the creation of Earth in progress.

Big Island lava flow hike

Reaching the coastal lava flows from Kalapana involved a stenuous hike of at least 2 hours over rough & undulating terrain. You need to cross a massive lava field full of cracks and jumbled piles of rocks, riddled with lava tubes underneath. As you get closer to the coast, you could feel the ground getting warmer beneath your feet…

The best time to see the flows is during and after sunset, when the glow of the lava becomes clearly visible. However, darkness settles in quickly in the tropics. Within half an hour after the sun drops into the sea it’s completely dark, and it’s easy to get lost & disorientated in the lava field on the way back.

Walking on an active lava field is also extremely risky. It’s not always obvious to see where the crust is thick enough to walk on, or where it’s hollow (or with lava flowing!) underneath. Therefore it’s essential to go on a trip like this with an experienced hiking guide, who knows the local conditions and can navigate you safely across the lava field & back in the darkness.

The steaming lava fields of Kilauea.
The steaming lava fields of Kilauea.

Sturdy shoes are essential, Kilauea lava flow on Hawaii Big Island.
Sturdy shoes are essential. It does get hot under your feet! My hiking boots were scorched by Pele as I walked across the fields of fire… 😉

Ferns and houses on the lava field, Kalapana, Hawaii Big Island.
Half the town of Kalapana was buried under a lava flow from Kilauea in 1990. Some people just rebuilt their houses on the top of the lava field once it cooled down.

Kilauea Volcano update

Kilauea is one of the most active and dynamic volcanoes in the world. It has been going on and off for centuries, and was erupting continuously between 1983 and 2018. The activity mostly concentrated within the Halema’uma’u crater on the top, and the Pu’u’o’o crater further down in the East Rift Zone.

The coastal lava flows trickled down from the Pu’u’o’o crater. This particular crater stopped erupting in 2018 and is currently no longer active. That also means there is no more lava flowing into the ocean. Although with the dynamic nature of Kilauea, you never know what it might be doing in the future…

Is there still lava visible on Big Island?

The lava lake inside the Halema’uma’u crater continues to erupt at irregular intervals. But when it’s quiet, the glowing lava will not be visible. On the website of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Service you can find the latest information on what Kilauea is up to.

Kilauea Halemaumau crater at night.
The Kilauea Halema’uma’u crater at night, before the massive collapse in 2018.

The 2018 Kilauea eruption

Since 2018 massive and dramatic changes have occurred, including the biggest eruption in modern history. The Kilaeuea eruption in 2018 had devastating effects on the surrounding areas.

The summit of Pu’u’o’o suddenly collapsed on 30 April 2018, after increasing magma pressure from below. The lava lake that had been peacefully bubbling inside the Halema’uma’u crater for years quickly drained away, causing a huge collapse of the entire Kilauea caldera. Within three weeks time, a mind-boggling amount of 24 fissures emerged over a length of several kilometres, in the middle of streets and residential areas in Leilani Estates. The eruption sent devastating rivers of lava down the east coast between May and September 2018.

Renewed activity at Halema’uma’u

Less than a year later, a water lake bubbled up inside the remnants of the Halema’uma’u caldera. But at the end of 2020 the lava lake took over again and kicked back into action.

The fire goddess always wins.

Kilauea Halemaumau crater, Hawaii Big Island.
Steam rising from the bubbling lava lake in the Halema’uma’u crater.

Kilauea Iki crater hike, Hawaii Big Island.
Hiking across the Kilauea Iki crater in Volcanoes National Park.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

From Hilo, the capital town of Big Island, it’s easy to reach Volcano village by bus. Located just outside Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and surrounded by lush tropical forest, this cosy village is a great place to stay. The park entrance and the Kilauea caldera are within walking distance, with many steaming sights & walking tracks nearby.

Big Island bus

The Big Island Hele-On public bus connects the towns along the main road around the island. There are usually a few buses per day from Monday to Saturday. But there is no bus service to Kalapana. It’s more practical to rent a car if you want to go there – and have the flexibility to explore other places off the main road.

Road to Volcanoes National Park near Volcano Village, Hawaii Big Island.
The road to Volcanoes National Park.

How to get to the Big Island of Hawaii

Most flights from the USA, Australia, New Zealand and Asia arrive at Honolulu International Airport on the island of Oahu. From there you can take several domestic flights to the other Hawaiian islands. Big Island has two airports: Hilo on the east coast and Kona on the west coast. There are no inter-island ferries, apart from a local service between Maui and the nearby islands of Molokai and Lanai.

Kilauea & Hawaii Big Island map

This handy interactive map shows the locations around Kilauea and Kalapana. You can also zoom in for more details of the Big Island itself.

@ This is one of the top-5 reader’s favourites of 2023 and 2024 (up to now).

Kilauea volcano diagram
Kilauea shield volcano diagram. Source: USGS-NPS.

Iceland eruption 2021

Like Hawaii, Iceland also has a huge hotspot flowing underneath its surface.

The latest epic volcano in Iceland erupted to the scene on 19 March 2021 (and continued in 2022 and 2023). It mesmerized people around the world with rows of craters and scenic lava flows. In this article you can read all about the extraordinary Fagradalsfjall volcano on the Reykjanes Peninsula. If it keeps going for a long time with regular intervals like Kilauea, its lava flows might eventually run into the sea as well…

Lava flowing into the sea, Kilauea, Hawaii Big Island.
Can you spot the lava flowing into the sea?

Remote Islands – Hawaii (Big Island)

This article was originally published as a NaturePic Challenge: pictures of epic nature with a specific theme, and places that will trigger a natural high.

@ If you have any questions, let me know in the comment section below. I’d love to hear from you! Your questions, comments and suggestions can also be helpful for other readers. Thank you for sharing.

Follow Wilderness Coffee & Natural High on Facebook and Instagram for more stories.

Kilauea coastal lava field & double rainbow from above.
Kilauea coastal lava field & double rainbow from above.

More to explore & discover

Haleakala – The House of the Rising Sun

Fimmvörðuháls – The fiery pass across Eyjafjallajökull

Mount Etna – Vigorously steaming from all its craters

El Hierro – A volcanic hotspot underneath the sea

Fagradalsfjall – The spectacular Iceland volcano

© All photos and content on this website are my own, and subject to copyright (unless credited otherwise). Please contact me if you want to use a photo or quote a text from one of my articles. You’re welcome to share a link to my blog articles and photos on social media, with a tag and mention to Wilderness Coffee & Natural High.

Kilauea, master of pahoehoe flows

Fagradalsfjall started off as a Hawaiian style effusive eruption. It also produced those signature pahoehoe basaltic lava flows. But, as this mesmerizing video shows, Kilauea is the undisputed master smith for creating smooth flowing pahoehoe ropes.

First published: 6 February 2017

Ask a question, leave a comment or share your thoughts 💜