There are several ways to go lava-hunting on the Big Island of Hawaii. You can visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, go to the lava-viewing area in Puna, take a helicopter tour or explore a lava tube. Your budget and a desire to walk or hike vs. ride might determine how you pursue your lava-viewing pleasure. Be advised that no lava sightings are guaranteed. It all depends on Madame Pele’s mood on a particular day.
It’s the most-visited tourist attraction in the state of Hawaii, welcoming more than a million visitors each year, according to the National Park Service. The 333,000-acre park includes 2 active volcanoes, Kilauea and Mauna Loa. Your best shot at seeing active lava and other volcanic activity is driving or biking along the park’s 2 main roads, or hiking on one of the many side trails. Some lucky visitors can get a glimpse of Kilauea’s glowing crater at night.
Cost: $10/vehicle, $5/individual (pass valid for 7 days)
Heading toward the southeastern coast in Puna, Highway 130 ends abruptly where past lava flows have covered the road. Park the car and hike to glowing lava displays on your own or hire a local guide. The lava could be a few feet or a few miles away from the road. Bring flashlights to hike at night; the best viewing is after dark.
Cost: Free (guides start at around $25/person)
Lava tubes form when the outer crust of a river of lava starts to harden but the liquid lava beneath the surface continues to flow through. After cooling, a cavernous tube of solid lava rock is left behind. Lava tubes come in many shapes and sizes. You can drive a car through some and have to crawl through others. Fascinating new life-forms, such as wingless crickets, blind spiders and possibly cancer-curing bacteria, live within the deep, dark interiors.
The eastern part of the Big Island is riddled with lava tubes, but they are located in other areas of the island as well. Thurston Lava Tube is easily accessible because of its location within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Also located in the park is the pristine, 500-year-old lava tube, Pua Po’o. To protect the tube, only 12 people are allowed entry each week. Park employees ask participants to keep the location secret so no one harms the tube. Reservations are required a week in advance.