Volcano Watching on the Big Island

I arrived on the Big Island January 9th of 2023 just a few days after the big eruption ended on Mauna Loa. As I got off my plane I saw a notice that read “Big Island: volcano erupts again.” I thought it was old news. But I was wrong. After Mauna Loa settled down, the Kilauea volcano in the Halema’uma’u crater started kicking up. The good news is that even though it was spewing thirty-foot towers of lava, it was at the bottom of a caldera. The better news was it was still spewing as I arrived. The very next day we high-tailed it to UNESCO World Heritage site of Volcanoes National Park.

The key to observing the entire lava lake is to walk the 2-mile trail to the overlook. Get there early (like 3:30 – 4pm for the full effect of the darkening sky). You are parking at the turn on Devastation Trail. The Devastation Trail is a fun walk and ends up at Pu’upua’I Overlook of a huge, now silent, volcanic crater.  I mention this because you will have a lot of free time until dusk.  About 45 minutes before dusk you can wander down the path (Old Crater Rim Drive Trail) not open to cars. Some folks packed in folding chairs. A great idea, but probably best if they are backpacks. Also wear a hat and a warm jacket. The Devastation Trail viewing point is at Keanakakoi.

Once the sun drops on the far side of the crater it is chilly, even if it was 85 degrees that day at the beach. The viewing site is easily marked when you have to leave the trail. As you sit and watch the lava spew the lava lake bed starts glowing. The darker it gets in the sky the more the red fissures show up. It looks very much like the lake of lava Anakin Skywalker AKA Darth Vader almost perished in. In a wordy: gnarly.

I suggest bringing flashlights and not depending on your cell phone for the walk back. If you get a clear night you will likely take lots of video and photos. And while it looks small from your location, the lava lake is 127 acres.  You will be about 1 mile away. So, if you have zoom capabilities bring them. Also, good to bring binoculars.

We stayed until a half hour before full dark. Stars and planets were starting to pop up. We did not have a reservation at the Volcano House within the park, so we could not get into the fancy restaurant (The Rim). However, we did snag a table in Uncle George’s Lounge. It was to celebrate my 72nd Birthday and the food was fantastic. I highly recommend the Caesar salad and fish and chips.

From both restaurants (actually two rooms next to each other with huge picture windows) you can see the sulfur gases rising up from the volcano crater back lit by the sun hot and bright lava lower in the crater. It was a super fun way to celebrate my Birthday with a bang, or more like a fountain of lava. I visited the gift shop in the Volcano House to commemorate the auspicious occasion. I bought a Volcano-print Hawaiian shirt. Mahalo to the Volcano Goddess Pele!

Sally Franz and her third husband live on the Olympic Peninsula. She has two daughters, a stepson, and three grandchildren. Sally is the author of several humor books including Scrambled Leggs: A Snarky Tale of Hospital Hooey, The Baby Boomer’s Guide to Menopauseo, and Wired Sal’s Parody Songs and Skits. To see Sally Franz perform these songs, go to her YouTube Channel. And check out her newest book, Wired Sal’s Parody Songs & Skits.


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