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Visiting Volcanoes National Park brings the unique opportunity to witness firsthand the process of the creation and destruction of the landscape, with Kilauea volcano producing 250,000 to 650,000 cubic yards of lava daily, enough to resurface a 20-mile-long, two-lane road every day.
Viewing the lava flows up close, actually seeing the heat waves that rise above – if something is hot enough, it emits light in wavelengths that are visible to the human eye called incandescence – hearing that crackle and pop and feeling the intensity of the temperatures of up to nearly 2,200 degrees, is something you’ll never forget.
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Where's the Heat?
But how do you find it? Just hop out of your car, enjoy an easy stroll and there it is? Unfortunately, it’s usually not as easy as that. Most of the time, there are miles of cooled lava to get through first, requiring a rather difficult trek over the uneven surface. You’ll also need to have a good idea as to where exactly the current lava is flowing.
The USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory located in Volcanoes National Park offers daily updates, including the current location of the lava flows. How close you can get to the lava depends on where the flow is active, if it is accessible at all. This can change often, but recently required about a 3.5-mile hike over the cooled lava to reach.
With the frequently changing conditions as well as the rather brutal landscape, your best bet is to take a tour with a knowledgeable guide. They’re one of your best tools for witnessing the flow safely. While there are numerous large outfitters that offer to do this, you can enjoy a more personal experience that includes insider knowledge by booking with a local expert like Sean Davis.
A Tour and a Unique Airbnb
Sean, who’s lived in this area for the past 15 years, offers special, personal guided tours to his Airbnb guests for less than half the cost those big tour companies charge. You’ll get a whole lot more out of it than you would be joining a larger group with plenty of time for questions along the way.
A Front Row Seat
Sean’s place offers a front row seat for all the action, and the chance to experience a unique stay right among the cooled lava, which is surprisingly filled with life. Plus, you’ll get a head start on what could be a long hike to the lava flow, as the cabin is past the main gate where visitors have to park, cutting off about two miles from the trek.
The Lava Lake
While you’re on the Big Island you don’t want to miss the chance to view the lava lake from the Jaggar Museum overlook in Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park either. It can be accessed near the town of Volcano, about an hour’s drive from Kalapana.
The overlook outside of the museum offers a breathtaking panoramic view of Kīlauea Caldera with several interpretive displays about Kīlauea. The best time to view it is just after sunset. On a clear night, the erupting Halema’uma’u crater puts on an impressive show.
Volcanoes National Park
Sean Davis Airbnb ‘Front Row Seats to the Lava Flow’