I looked Madame Pele (Goddess of Fire) straight in the eyes, and I was the first to blink…
Staring into a 2,000-degree moving, bubbling, glowing, molten stream of lava is an amazing experience, and I was able to do this during my recent visit to the Big Island. The Hawaii Island, as it’s also called, has been famous for its 25-year eruption of Kilauea. Most watch it from afar, but I wanted to get closer. I was directed to Kalapana Cultural Tours, and they came through like gangbusters with an experience like no other! Mind you, there are unsanctioned tours out there, and for several years now, the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park has initiated safety restrictions to prevent visitors from walking into lava flows. But the tour I took was given by the family who actually owns the land under the most recent flows. They are experienced hikers who know the land and where the flows are, with the utmost regard for safety.Where lava meets land – a lone Ōhia Lehua tree and the ridge through which lava flows through tubes.
Long pants and sturdy shoes, a walking stick, camera, water and snacks are a must. And lots of energy and endurance. This is a long, arduous hike, where any misstep can bring injury. You are walking on a field of basically cooled silica, which is the primary mineral in lava. It sounds like you’re walking on broken glass. Thankfully, there is little change in elevation, but because of the uneven surface, each step must be watched. Late afternoon hikes start after the day has already cooled, so heat is not an issue. But you return in the pitch black of darkness, lit only by flashlights. Oh my, what fun it was!! And the beauty of the lava field will overwhelm you. It’s fascinating to see the shapes that the cooled lava have taken. You’ll see newer flowers, still actually warm under foot, with hot steam spitting out of cracks. The thick, viscous lava cools into many shapes.
By the time we reached the active flows, the sun was setting and made the light perfect for our face-to-face with Pele. I can’t begin to tell you how exciting this was. We were just a few feet away from fresh flowing lava breaking through the crust of Earth. It was a “National Geographic” moment to the T! The lava crackled and popped and oozed all over, rivulets splitting and forming fingers into new flows. We took our hiking sticks and poked right into the molten mass, watching the stick burst into flames. Our group leader was ever-watchful of our safety. We stayed an hour, then walked back in the dark. Half way back, we stopped to watch the full moon rise over the lava field with the Southern Cross constellation to its right. It was just too beautiful for words.
This was one of the highlights of my entire five years spent on these wonderful islands. I know I’ve done what most people will never do. You could do it, too. The tour lived up to its title of “Extreme Lava Tour” because it showed us “extreme” in so many beautiful ways.Pele in her most breathtaking form – beautiful, flowing red, hot lava.