The best way to see Lava on the Big Island

A plume of smoke from Kilauea

This week’s show we discuss two things: using the Hawaiian/local language when vacationing in Hawaii, and whether or not to book a tour for lava sightings on Big Island. These questions came from a fellow fan and are most likely relevant to a lot of visitors coming to the islands. Let’s talk about the language topic first, and to give you a better idea of the question, here are their exact words, “If I went to France I would try to learn some French before I went, the same in Spain, but would you come off like a clueless haole if you tried to use some Hawaiian phrases while on the Islands – like Aloha! Pehea ‘oe?”

If for no other reason, learn a few words or phrases for the fun of it. Although you probably won’t use it too often, it might be nice to come home and be able to tell your best friend or family member “Happy Birthday” in Hawaiian (hau’oli la hanau), “Merry Christmas” (Mele Kalikimaka) or “good morning” (aloha kakaihaika). While you most likely won’t be greeting your restaurant server with these types of phrases in Hawaii, you can at least learn them. Think of them as souvenirs to bring back home with you. That being said, let us give you our opinion on what words to know and which ones to use while here in Hawaii.

When traveling to a foreign place, many people make sure they know a few basic words and phrases to help them along with their travels. In Hawaii, the general population speaks English, but we still use traditional words and phrases that might be unfamiliar to you and therefore useful to know. For example, when dining out at a restaurant, chances are you will need to use the restroom. Make sure you know the difference between “wahine” (female) and “kane” (male), as it could save you some embarrassment from walking into the wrong bathroom.

Another word to know is “howzit”. While many locals phrase this as a question, they are not actually asking you how you’re doing. They are simply saying, “what’s up” or “hi”. So don’t try to respond with your usual reply of “I’m doing good, how about yourself?” because they will have walked away before you can even begin. “Aloha” and “mahalo” are good ones to know and use, as they are your standard P’s&Q’s in Hawaii. Just make sure not to over do the whole aloha mahalo thing, as it tends to get a bit annoying to some locals. Another good term to know is “mauka” (mountain) and “makai” (ocean), as many residents use this terminology for directional purposes. Also, make sure to get familiar with the word “dakine”, as it is commonly used and somewhat confusing. “Dakine” can mean anything, literally anything. Here are a few sentences to give you a better idea:

“Did you remember to pack dakine for the beach today?”
“Meet my friend Pono, he lives over in dakine and works for dakine.”
“Can you pass me the dakine please?”

As you can see, “dakine” is a substitute for any word a local person is trying to pinpoint, but cannot, so they simply use this as a filler.

There are also many other words that will be unfamiliar to you that you might want to be able to recognize. Many foods, flowers, fish, and roads are referred to in the Hawaiian language, so it’s a good idea to get used to long and vowel-like pronunciations. Familiarize yourself with your hotel name and the street its on, so you’re not constantly stumbling over it. Many visitors don’t even like to attempt to pronounce a lot of the words here, but it’s always a good idea to try. An extremely common mistake is to call the “Like Like Highway” (pronounced “leek eh leek eh”) on Oahu the “Like Like” highway, so just make sure you don’t do that. Once you’ve learned a few Hawaiian terms, give yourself the ultimate test and try out the pronunciation of Hawaii’s state fish, the humuhumunukunukuapua’a. Yep.

Popular food names you will most likely hear and want to recognize is lilikoi (passion fruit), shoyu (soy sauce), saimin (noodle soup), malasada (fried pastry), musubi (spam wrapped in rice and nori-or seaweed), loco moco (popular meal of hamburger patty, rice, egg, and gravy), ahi (tuna), poke (pronounced “poke eh”, raw, cubed ahi), tempura (fried), kalo (taro), edamame (soy beans), mochi (sweet rice dessert), haupia (coconut dessert), and shave ice (shaved ice haha). To “grind” means to eat, but “grinds” means good food. “Choke” and “plenny” means a lot of something and “pupus” are appetizers, not bathroom humor.

Popular names for general things to remember are: honu (turtle), hale (pronounced “hall eh”, meaning home), kapu (keep out, restricted), heiau (ancient Hawaiian burial grounds, which are kapu!), puka (hole), wana (pronounced “vana”, meaning sea urchin), pau (finished or done), keiki (kid), ohana (family), e komo mai (welcome), kokua (respect), and opala (trash or rubbish). Also, don’t be surprised if local people call you “auntie” or “uncle”, as this is a general term younger people use as a respectful term for elders. You may also be called “cuz” as in “cousin”, “brah”, or “haole”. And “shoots” can mean anything from “bye” to “sounds good” to “whatever” and probably everything between those.

Hopefully this quick guide will help you become acclimated to the culture of Hawaii. And although it is a United State within an English speaking country, the Hawaiian/pidgin/local language remains very rich and present throughout every island. We are open to visitors trying out the language, words, pronunciation, and phrases, just try not to over do it. You wouldn’t over do a French accent in Paris, now would you?

Our next topic is about flowing lava and how best to view it. While many visitors to Big Island vie to see molten hot lava, this is not a guaranteed attraction, and some people may be disappointed in the lack of excitement. While we have no better idea of lava spewing times than the next local, there are ways to stay updated and informed about the volcano action. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is one of the most popular attractions in the entire state and offers visitors a wide variety of things to do. But by far the most sought after activity is viewing spewing lava from the active volcano, Kilauea.

Big Island has five volcanoes that make up its land, with one that is extinct (and will not ever erupt again), one that is dormant (has not erupted in historical time-200 years- but most likely will erupt again), and three that are active (have erupted within the last 200 years). One of the active ones, Hualalai, hasn’t erupted since 1801, Mauna Loa hasn’t erupted since 1984, and Kilauea hasn’t stopped erupting since 1983. Which is why lava sightings are so high. Regardless of the probability however, it’s a good idea to check the lava flow status ahead of time if you’re expecting to see some action.

Many companies charge big bucks for lava tours, however, every single one has a disclaimer about not seeing lava. You cannot get your money back if you don’t see any, and you will most likely sign these rights away through paperwork. There are tour companies, however, that give you vantage points of lava that no other company can, like aerial views and over-water views of lava spilling into the ocean via underground lava tubes. These unique sightings are exclusively available through helicopter tours. If you wish to experience the volcanoes from this viewpoint, we recommend it, because it’s nothing you could create on your own.

As for paying $600 for a tour company to take you around in a bus to view lava, we don’t really recommend it, because it’s something you can recreate yourself, for much cheaper. Especially because the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park has an extensive website that helps visitors do just this, plan a trip on their own. And while there are no special seasons for better lava spewing viewing, there is an up-to-date website that gives daily status updates on the active volcanoes of Big Island. On this site you can view webcams, photos, maps, current volcano alert levels, hazard summaries, viewing summaries, and more to help you plan your visit. This website is http://hvo.wr.usgs.gov/activity/kilaueastatus.php.

This website is as detailed as it’s gonna get, because we don’t think there is any better local to give you an insider’s look into the volcanoes than the scientists themselves. Also, for detailed information on things to do, how to get around the park, available activities, the history and culture, eruption updates, and other features, be sure to check out the park website at http://www.nps.gov/havo/index.htm.

We hope this helps for those who wish to see some lava while vacationing to Big Island. Remember that this is a natural phenomenon that cannot be controlled, so don’t set your expectations too high, as nature has a way of staying on its own course, and not yours.

Since 2006 Bruce Fisher has been publishing the Hawaii Vacation Blog and the Hawaii Vacation Connection Podcast which, create daily content about Hawaii Travel and Tourism. This Blog is the only online resource providing Hawaii-based information aimed at travelers seven days per week. Postings reflect the Hawaiian Islands, their culture and their lifestyle as accurately and thoroughly as possible.

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