How to See Lava by Steven Brenner

Lava is flowing. Directions to get there were surprisingly hard to find. I learned what I could by speaking to a park ranger and with a couple vendors, as below.

Start at the ‘county lava viewing area’ in Kalapana, which is at the end of route 130. It is a little more than two hours from the Fairmont if you take the saddle road. (It is about as far from the Fairmont as you can get on the island.) Signs say the area is open 3pm – 9pm, though bike tour companies say they have rentals from 7am (and 4:30am by arrangement). It is best to hike out in daylight then see the lava after sunset when the glow is more prominent, and then hike back in the dark.

Arrival at the end of Route 130 around 4pm was recommended to us; we got there at about 3:45pm and left at about 8:45pm.

Many of the vendors near the end of the road will act like official personnel and try to prevent you from going further, instead directing you to use their services. We always told them we were heading towards the vendor we were using and they let us pass on. It is not clear where is the closest place you can publicly park if not using a vendor.

From the last point where you can drive, you need to walk another 3 miles on a dirt road and then about 2 miles across pahoehoe lava to get small lava flows. Hiking on pahoehoe is somewhat slow going and requires care, but my 9 and 11 yr old daughters did it. On 31 Dec, the lava was at roughly: 19.3483, –155.0405 It changes every day. (The large flow on the hillside is much further away, and unclear if it is accessible or safe to approach.) There is no trail; as the park ranger told me, “follow the crowd.” There is no supervision or official presence at the lava itself.

There are several options for getting to the lava from the departure area:

Option 1 – Park and walk the whole way. Not recommended, as the avoidable 4 miles on dirt road are unedifying.

All of the other options involve working with a vendor. There are many vendors available; we arbitrarily chose Kalapana Cultural Tours (KCT), Bike rental and shuttles: 808–796–0768. For any vendor, you park in their designated lot and then proceed from there. Sometimes there will be a shuttle from their lot to their next departure site.

Option 2 – Join a tour. Several companies offer these. They will shuttle you to ‘Gate 2’ two miles down the road and guide you to the lava. Kalapana Cultural Tours charges $105 for a regular tour and $150 for a private tour.

Option 3 – Bike. Rent a bike from a vendor at the end of the road. Kalapana Cultural Tours has these for $20. Then bike 3 miles to the National Park gate, then walk 2 miles to the lava.

Option 4 – Shuttle. This is what we did. Kalapana Cultural Tours has these for $10/person, with an additional $5 for a pack with I think a flashlight, water, poncho, and first aid kit. The shuttle takes you 2 miles (to “Gate 2”). Then walk about a mile to the National Park gate and head out onto the lava. Call them when you return, and they’ll pick you up.

(The companies are able to shuttle you beyond where you can drive because they own property along the road.)

Be prepared. There are several rescues each week from people falling while hiking on the pahoehoe lava.

There is Verizon and AT&T service at the departure point and the shuttle drop off, and sporadically along the way.

Some things we brought based on recommendation: -

  • Good closed-toe shoes. (n.b., If you don’t have good shoes, you can ‘rent’ sneakers from ‘Fairmont Fit’)
  • Good long socks
  • Hiking poles [optional]
  • Flashlights [essential]
  • Headlamps [essential]
  • Poncho in case of rain
  • Hat
  • Gloves (in case you fall; not essential)
  • Camera
  • Tripod
  • First aid kit
  • Whistle
  • Water
  • Sunscreen
  • Phone with GPS app and spare battery