I was already planning to go to Hawaii’s Big Island. And then two weeks before my departure, news broke of the Kilauea Volcano eruption. Like many others, I was slightly concerned about the safety of traveling to this island. So I started gathering information and watching the news closely. Luckily, I was in an area near, but far enough away from where the lava was flowing.
The original plan was to visit Volcano’s National Park. But due to the active eruption the park was closing for safety reasons, as you can imagine! Luckily, Hawai’i has quite a few tour companies that offer creative ways for visitors to witness the active volcanos during their trip. The two main ways are by land and sea, so naturally I had to do both!
A Boat Tour with Lava Ocean Tours
A recommendation from my AirBnb host, I booked this tour just the evening before. Luckily, a few seats were left. We were joining a few other crazy travelers, also wanting to get an up close look at the lava flowing into the Pacific Ocean.
The Lava Ocean Tours boat leaves from the Wailoa Harbor in Hilo right next to the Suisan Fish Co. It is best to put the Suisan Market in your GPS as it will be the easiest way to find the high speed boat.
I took the 4:00 am sunrise trip and yes, it was incredibly hard to wake up that early. However, its always much easier to set an alarm for something fun and exciting, isn’t it?
The journey out to the Kilauea eruption took about an hour and was no smooth sailing! Prepare for some rough seas, a lot of bouncing around and tons of sea spray. Yep, you will get wet. Probably wetter than you think, so pack some rain gear!
Also, have your camera gear prepared and ready prior to boarding the boat as it is very difficult to mess around with on the open water and you might lose something if you’re not careful.
Before departure the captain, on our trip we had Captain Shane, will go through some safety protocols and what to expect during the trip. Additionally, there were two other crew members who remain with the guests at all times.
During the journey out to the lava I definitely started to nod off, which probably wasn’t the best idea because every time the boat hit a big wave I would be whiplashed back awake. Try not to fall asleep, it is a very rough ride and it doesn’t feel good.
Approaching the site, the sun began to rise and the glow of lava was an intense shade of orangish-red. I highly recommend either the sunrise or sunset trip so that you have a better chance of witnessing the lava glow.
The closer we got, which was pretty darn close, the hotter the air became. You could literally feel and smell the steam plumes coming from the lava smoke as it was pouring into the ocean. There were a few times when the lava was spewing so much that it could’ve landed in our boat. At one point, one of the crew members scooped up some ocean water in a bucket for us to feel. It was so hot I could barely dip the tip of my finger in it.
The views were unlike anything I could’ve imagined and I was surprised with how fast the lava was actually flowing. Even though we were incredibly close to the lava flow, these photos were taken with the Canon 6D and a 100-400 f/4 lens.
This trip with Lava Ocean Tours was a huge highlight of my trip to Hawai’i and I am so grateful to have witnessed the Kilauea Eruption from this perspective. The Captain and crew are all highly trained and extremely professional.
Currently the cost of the Volcano Boat Tour is discounted at $150 for an adult since there is not active lava flowing into the ocean. If you are on the Big Island I would highly recommend them for a lava ocean tour during your stay!
A Helicopter Flight with Paradise Helicopters
Another last minute decision led me to Paradise Helicopters for their doors off lava and rainforest tour. I absolutely love seeing things from an aerial perspective. I’ve done 2 other helicopter flights before (one in Botswana and one in the Faroe Islands), a hot air balloon ride in Tanzania, a sea plane flight in the Maldives and I own a drone! So this helicopter flight in Hawai’i to see the lava flow was a no-brainer.
I arrived at the Hilo airport 1 hour prior to my flight to watch an instructional and safety video. One of their main safety requirements is to have straps on all cameras and phones. It is essential to keep all loose items locked in a locker provided and to not bring it with you on the flight. It could be a danger if anything flew out of the helicopter. The company also advises all passengers to wear closed toe shoes and some warm clothing as it does get a little chilly with the wind. Once the video is complete you walk out to the runway to board the helicopter.
The in-air portion of the trip lasts anywhere from 35-45 minutes depending on weather conditions. Our flight lasted exactly 45 minutes. The majority of our time we were viewing the Kilauea Volcano. On the way to Fissure 8 we passed by the lush rainforests and many of Hilo’s impressive waterfalls.
Approaching the Kilauea Volcano’s active lava flow we saw the smoke plumes rising up into the sky. Seeing exactly where the lava had already flowed, subsequently destroying many homes and land.
The glowing lava was boiling and spewing out of huge craters in the earth from the eruption. The lava was reaching heights of 300 feet in the air as it was spewing from the fissures!
Flying over the area, we could see how quickly the lava was flowing in a river-like stream down towards the ocean and then dumping into the sea.
Since my flight in May, the Kilauea Volcano is not longer actively erupting. Regardless, the experience of flying over the Big Island and this newly changed land is perfect for any thrill seeker.
The cost of this doors-off flight is $324 per person and is worth every penny. Check out their website for other tours. These include land and air trips allowing you to spend more time exploring the volcanos or landscapes of Hawai’i.
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