Shane Nelson
Shane Nelson

Visitors eager for an up-close look at the new Kilauea lava flow on the Big Island of Hawaii can now check out the incredible natural wonder from another vantage point: the Pacific Ocean.



Moving southeast from Kilauea's active Pu'u O'o vent, the flow oozed down the Pulama Pali earlier this summer, not far from the southeastern edge of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, before heading across a flatter coastal plain and finally steaming into the ocean Tuesday.

The last time Big Island visitors were able to witness molten red rock pouring into the Pacific was three years ago.

Shane Turpin, the owner of Lava Ocean Tours, told me he's been taking guests out to the new flow by boat much of this week, providing clients with a two-hour tour on the water that gets people within a matter of feet of the steaming, liquid-rock extravaganza.

Lava flowing into the Pacific Ocean from Kilauea Volcano.
Lava flowing into the Pacific Ocean from Kilauea Volcano. Photo Credit: Shane Turpin

"It's just a beautiful sight," Turpin said. "The flow is coming down over about a 150-foot cliff, and it's created some beautiful cascading lava flows."

Folks can still hike out to the lava from either within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park or the Kalapana Lava Viewing Area at the end of Highway 130. People are walking along a gravel emergency access road within the national park out to where the flow enters the ocean.

It's about a six-mile round trip from the Kalapana Lava Viewing Area parking lot and approximately a 10-mile round trip from the end of the Chain of Craters road within the national park. USGS officials are encouraging hikers to be prepared with lots of water, proper footwear and flashlights for after dark and urging extreme caution around the flow itself, especially near the water entry. 

Meanwhile, a number of tour companies are also offering guided hikes out to the new molten flow, including Kalapana Cultural Tours, Hawaii Forest & Trail, and Kapohokine Adventures. Perhaps not surprisingly, however, Turpin says the best view of the lava right now is from the water.

"The flow is on a big overhanging cliff, so the best way to view it is from the bottom," he said. "From the topside, you can't see a whole lot."

Three years ago, I joined Turpin on one of Lava Ocean Tours' boat excursions out to a lava ocean entry, and I was simply blown away by the extraordinary experience and how close we were to the mesmerizing liquid rock. But the tour isn't for everyone as the boat journey travels across some of Hawaii's roughest water. Those prone to seasickness, or not in good enough health for an often extremely bumpy ride on the water, should probably pass.

"The boats are way better, but the people are still the same," Turpin, who is a Coast Guard-certified captain and guide, said of the new vessels his company is now operating. "I always think of myself as an egg deliveryman, and I can't crack my eggs. You can shake them up a bit, but you just can't crack them."

Still, for those who make the trip, viewing molten lava forming new land at the edge of a remote island in the Pacific is certainly one of Hawaii's most outstanding experiences.

"From young to old, every person I've been able to show it to has just been floored," Turpin said. "How many other ways can you watch the birth of earth, [and] there is just something magical about the raw earth meeting the sea"

Lava Ocean Tours operates four trips out to the new lava entry daily, including the most sought-after sunrise tour as well as a dusk outing. The company provides trips in two different boats -- the largest is a 42-foot, 49-passenger vessel. Pricing for the two-hour tours starts at $145 for adults and $119 for ages 4 to 12. Visit www.seelava.com.

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