One of the most remarkable vacation
experiences Hawaii has to offer is a trip to see the Big Island's
active volcanoes. The eruption of Kilauea, youngest of the island's
five volcanoes and centerpiece of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park,
is now in its 21st year, making it Hawaii's longest documented
volcanic eruption cycle and one that has been experienced by
millions of visitors.
Two decades of
eruptions have been destructive, obliterating the village of
Kalapana, the black-sand beaches at Kaimu and the ancient temple
and visitor center at Wahaula. Lava rock covers portions of the
highway that once connected the park with the district of Puna.
Today, that road ends where lava flows met the sea, a 40-minute
drive from park headquarters.
destructive power, Kilauea is actually one of the most accessible
volcanoes in the world. As Kilauea's energy is released
along miles-long fault lines called rift zones, the pressure that
builds into cataclysmic eruptions of other volcanoes, such as
Washington state's Mount St. Helens, rarely occur in
There are two
ways to experience the Big Island's volcanic activity. On the
ground, you start at the visitor center for Hawaii Volcanoes
National Park, 32 miles west of Hilo and about 125 miles from the
Kona and Kohala coastal resort areas. Check in at the visitor
center for eruption updates and advisories before heading to the
coastal eruption zone. Over the years, some people who have
wandered past posted limits have lost their lives.
The best viewing
times are dawn and dusk, when the volcanic activity is most
distinct and impressive. For dusk viewing, flashlights are a must,
necessary for a nighttime walk back to your car over the lava
For those with
time to overnight -- two or three nights are recommended -- there
are many convenient options in and adjacent to the national park.
For example, Historic Volcano House (www.volcanohouse.com; 808-967-7321) offers no-frills
rooms overlooking the Halemaumau crater.
Just outside park
headquarters, Volcano Village features a selection of
bed-and-breakfast and house-rental options, including the Kilauea
Lodge (www.kilauealodge.com; 808-967-7366), with a main
house, dining room and shop. Daily rates are $115 to $190,
include My Island B&B Inn, one of the volcano bed-and-breakfast
pioneers (808-967-7110, www.stayhawaii.com); Volcano Artist Cottage, a
one-bedroom unit in a garden setting for $109 a night
(808-967-7261, www.volcanoartistcottage.com); and the
elegantly tropical Volcano Rainforest Retreat (www.volcanoretreat.com, 808-985-8696).
Hilo, 30 minutes
to the east, provides another overnight alternative, with hotel and
from the air
provide another volcano-viewing option. Hilo International Airport
is home base to four "helitour" operations focused on hour-long
flightseeing over Kilauea's eruption zone.
The most popular
tour also includes an aerial view of waterfalls in the lush
rainforest surrounding Hilo. Flights are in the $200 range and are
commissionable. Air tours also depart from Waikoloa in west Hawaii;
however, with travel times to the eruption zone considerably
longer, those two-hour tours price out at $424 and up.
helicopter tours are the ultimate thrill, both for the views they
afford and for the experience of helicopter flight. I've done it a
number of times over the years, and each time it's been awesome and
of helicopter tour operators, each with four- or five-passenger
craft, points to a high level of satisfaction and positive word of
mouth. They include:
Hawaiian Helicopters: The largest of the volcano
helitour operators, Blue Hawaiian Helicopters offers wide
visibility on six-passenger ECO-Star helicopters at $200 for the
55-minute volcano/rainforest flight from Hilo's main terminal, and
$424 to $477 for the two-hour departure from Waikoloa.
Call (800)745-2583 or visit www.bluehawaiian.com.
Safari Helicopters: Safari Helicopters,
family-owned and in business since 1987, offers a 45-minute
volcano-only tour at $164 and a 55-minute waterfall-volcano combo
for $209. Call (800) 326-3356 or go to www.safarihelicopters.com.
Paradise Helicopters: Paradise Helicopters offers a
45- to 50-minute volcano-waterfalls tour aboard its
wide-visibility, four-passenger Hughes 500 craft for $185, or $215
with doors off. Six-passenger helicopters are used out of Waikoloa
on two-hour, $385 air tours that range the island. Call (866)
876-7422 or visit www.paradisecopters.com.
Tropical Helicopters: Tropical Helicopters offers
volcano tours starting at $132 and a special Feel the Heat
doors-off tour at $180, as well as custom charters, with departures
from both Hilo and Kona airports. See www.tropicalhelicopters.com.
" In addition, Above It
All (800-538-7590) and Mokulele Flight
Service (866-260-7070, www.mokulele.com)
both offer fixed-wing airplane tours of the eruption zone.
Above It All offers 50-minute flights from Hilo
at $155, a circle-island tour out of Kona for $278 for two hours
and a 90-minute Volcano Sunset Tour from Kona at $174.
Mokulele's twin-engine planes guarantee every
passenger a window seat on a 90-minute Circle Island tour that
departs Kona International for $249.
For more on
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, visit www.nps.gov/havo.
To contact reporter Allan Seiden, send e-mail to [email protected].