Months ago a video of lava spouting off a cliff and into the ocean went viral all over the internet. This is the Kalapana lava flow. The lava has been flowing for months now. Kalapana is on the Hilo side of the Big Island and if you ever find yourself there, you need to go see the lava flow.
Believe it or not, this isn’t the first time there has been a lava flow in this area. The lava comes and goes as it pleases, but it comes around enough that locals have bought small sections of land to rent you bikes so that you can go experience something truly spectacular.
Once you’ve parked your car along the road, you’ll see around a dozen tents set up. Underneath the tents are bikes, helmets, everything you need to bike the 10 mile round trip to the Kalapana lava flow. My family arrived at night after reading that if you go during the day, you’ll only see smoke rather than the lava. It was about 8:30 at night and we were terrified that we were too late and that the bike rentals would be closed.
Immediately after getting out of our car we were approached by one of the rental bike owners. He told us that it was too late to rent a bike but he was about to send up his last shuttle for the night and we could hop on. The shuttle was $25 a piece where as renting bikes would have been $20. They drove us along a vast lava field on a bumpy road for as long as they could before dropping us off. The driver was extremely interesting to talk to as he told us all about the history of the lava flow.
Oddly enough, as we got farther and farther away from civilization, there was still civilization. There are locals living in the middle of this lava field. They have no sewage, there are now power lines in sight. The even crazier thing is that these people’s homes have been destroyed by the lava multiple times in the past, yet they continue to rebuild and live there. When people ask them about their house being destroyed by the lava, they simply answer saying that their house would not be there without the lava. They are standing on lava. The island would not be there without lava. To them, the lava has not destroyed, it has created.
After about a ten minute drive we were dropped off. After this you still have a little under two miles to walk until you reach the viewpoint. They supplied us with flashlights, but the moon was so bright that we didn’t need them. The stars were alive in the sky, dancing above us.
As you walk, you will see a lot of bikers who either weren’t lucky enough to get a shuttle, or they just really like biking. You’ll finally reach a point where there are no more bikes allowed because the trail will end. For a short distance you walk across the lava rock before you see it in it’s full glory.
The entire coast glowed red. There was smoke everywhere and through it you could see lava flow into the ocean. Each time the lava touches the water it can create an explosion, this is why you can not get any closer than about 3/4 of a mile. If you look closely you can see the explosions as rocks will shoot into the air.
Stay as long as you can and absorb everything. It was a truly amazing experience and no photo or video can do it justice. This is not something that will last forever, this is once in a lifetime for so many of us.
So go do it.
All of these photos are long exposure shots taken by my insanely talented brother, Aidan Rowley. If you’re interested in seeing his work you can find him on Instagram @aidan.rowley.