Hawaii Forest & Trail offers Kilauea up close

HONOLULU -- If their clients can take the heat -- literally -- agents can arrange to have them brought to within a few feet of a fiery lava flow.

Hawaii Forest & Trail's (HF&T) Kilauea Volcano Adventure goes to the brink of one of the most active volcanoes in the world.

Kilauea has been erupting on the Big Island since Jan. 3, 1983. It's the longest recorded rift activity in Hawaiian history, and scientists say there's no indication of when it will end.

Every minute, 55,000 gallons of molten lava gush from cracks on the volcano's flanks, enough to cover Washington (63 square miles) in two weeks.

The 2,000-degree lava often makes its way to the sea, creating "massive, roiling clouds of steam," said Rob Pacheco, HF&T's president. "There is a surreal majesty to the violence of the lava hitting the ocean."

Although he has witnessed it dozens of times, he said, the spectacle never ceases to amaze him.

"Just think," Pacheco said, "the lava has come from deep in the earth and now is making new land, and these islands rose from the middle of the ocean, formed from one lava flow after another. The heat, the sounds and the smells of the flow stay with you a long time."

Pacheco grew up in a farming community in northern California. When he moved to Hawaii in 1990, he discovered "what an incredible natural laboratory the islands are."

"Their isolation and spectacular extremes of geography provided plants and animals with opportunities for change found nowhere else in the world," he said. "If Darwin had stopped here instead of the Galapagos, he probably would never have left."

In 1993, Pacheco founded HF&T, which has earned recognition as one of the top outfitters in the state.

"I think where we excel is our emphasis and commitment to the interpretive experience," Pacheco said. "Our guides' job is to form a connection between themselves and their guests, and then help guests connect with the environment they're in.

"This isn't just a matter of giving information, it's a process that communicates values, ideas and universal themes. When this happens, people view a place much differently and connect with it at an emotional, intellectual and, hopefully, spiritual level."

The Kilauea Volcano Adventure is a prime example of HF&T's goal to educate as well as entertain.

Most of the trip to and from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park traverses the slopes of Mauna Loa, the largest single mountain mass on Earth. The drive winds through coffee and macadamia nut orchards, native dryland, rain forests and expansive grasslands.

In the park, participants view amazing diversity in the landscape, from smoldering steam vents and massive craters to ebony fields of smooth pahoehoe lava and lava tubes draped with veils of mist and lush ferns.

Binoculars poised, sharp-eyed bird-watchers can spot a variety of native species, including the apapane, a red-and-black colored Hawaiian honeycreeper; the yellow-and-green amakihi, which nests in crater walls and flies out to sea to feed on fish; and the omao, a shy thrush with a distinctive call.

HF&T's guides share intriguing tales of Pele, the tempestuous volcano goddess, and her stormy relationship with her suitor, Kamapuaa, a god who was able to transform himself into an eight-eyed hog.

They also point out the ohelo berries that Pele supposedly fancied and ohia trees ablaze with crimson lehua, her favorite blossom and the official flower of the Big Island.

Despite the five-hour drive from Kona and the six hours spent in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Pacheco claims the Kilauea Volcano Adventure is one of his firm's best trips for families.

"It's a wonderful way for kids to learn about volcanoes," he said. "It's also great for visitors who don't just want to sightsee but really want to understand the landscape."

Pacheco added, "If your clients are curious and have a love for Hawaii and nature, there's no better place to visit than Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. It is truly a powerful and inspiring place."

Outfitter: Hawaii Forest & Trail
(808) 331-8505 on the Big Island; (800) 464-1993 from the mainland.
E-mail:[email protected]
When: Check in at Hawaii Forest & Trail headquarters by 6:50 a.m. The daily tour departs at 7 a.m. Approximate return is 7 p.m.
Where: 74-5035B Queen Kaahumanu Highway. Clients can arrange for free pick-up at select resorts from Kailua Kona to the Kohala Coast.
How much: $145 for adults, $115 for children age 12 and under. Includes continental breakfast, deli lunch, bottled water, rain gear and use of daypacks and walking sticks.
Note: Guests must be able to hike on uneven or rocky terrain. Nature walks range from a half-mile to 1.5 miles. Wear closed-toe shoes.
Commission: 10%. Brochures describing HF&T's nine Big Island tours will be mailed upon request.

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