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 a 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 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.

In 2013 I finally took the opportunity 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 involves 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 can 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.

My hiking boots were scorched by Pele as I walked across the fields of fire… 😉

Sturdy shoes are essential, Kilauea lava flow on Hawaii Big Island.
Sturdy shoes are essential. It does get hot under your feet!

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

Kilauea Volcano eruption 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 continuously erupting between 1983 and 2018. The activity usually concentrates within the Halema’uma’u crater on the top, and the Pu’u o’o crater further down in the East Rift Zone.

Since 2018 massive and dramatic changes have occurred, including the biggest eruption in modern history, with devastating effects on the surrounding areas. Here you can find the latest information on what Kilauea is up to, by the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Service.

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

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

From Hilo 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.

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

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.

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

Iceland eruption 2021

The latest epic volcano erupted to the scene in Iceland 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 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…

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

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

Kilauea, master of pahoehoe flows

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

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.

(c) Nancy Claus – Wilderness Coffee & Natural High

Do you have a question or a comment? Let me know in the comment box at the bottom of this page. Your input can also be valuable for other readers. Thank you for sharing. 💚

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

Last update: 11 September 2023
First published: 6 February 2017

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

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

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

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