Travel to the Big Island of Hawaii and it likely won't be long before you hear talk of Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes.
The fiery deity, said to reside within Halema'uma'u Crater, not far from the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park visitor center, has been busy of late, sending a new Kilauea lava flow northeastward from the Pu'u O'o vent starting on June 27.
At press time, the flow had stalled just a few miles from the outskirts of Pahoa, a small town where residents and business owners have been worrying for weeks about exactly where the lava will head next.
"We're all within Pele's grasp," said David Griffin, the COO of Blue Hawaiian Helicopters. "She's always doing something."
Touring the Big Island's extraordinary volcanic landscapes from the air is a high-end activity that truly sets the destination apart from the rest of the Aloha State, largely because it's the most consistent way for visitors to see molten red lava firsthand.
"You'll certainly see lava fields and steam vents, and possibly lava ponds and skylights [holes in the Earth revealing underground rivers of lava]," Griffin said of his company's air tours in the region. "It varies day to day, hour to hour, minute to minute. There are days you go up and maybe see a shovel full, and then the next day there's a lava flow headed for Pahoa."
According to Calvin Dorn, the CEO for Paradise Helicopters, the June 27 flow has generated a uptick in bookings for his company's Hilo-based tours, which include flyovers of Hawaii's only active volcanic region.
"Up at Pu'u O'o, there are actually some good skylights where you can see into the lava tube itself and see the bright orange of the flow," he said. "So right now is a good viewing time."
Both Paradise and Blue Hawaiian offer products that also show visitors the 11-mile-plus track of the new flow, which has burned its way through a forest reserve on its downhill trek toward Pahoa.
For Dorn, a longtime Big Island resident, the June 27 flow definitely stands out.
"It's very interesting because it's so narrow and so long," he said. "It's really kind of an anomaly. I've been out here since 1991, and I've never seen one this long and narrow, [and while] it's fun to watch, we certainly wish the flow would just stop right now and head back to uninhabited areas."
Helicopter tours are really the only way to see the lava flow in action as Big Island officials are strictly forbidding access on foot. Commissionable to agents, Blue Hawaii tours start at $196 per person, while Paradise Helicopters' Hilo excursions begin at $233. Visit www.bluehawaiian.com