Lava Viewing Demystified

Lava Viewing: What will you see?

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A great day for lava viewing on the flow field. – Photo: Lavaland Hawai’i

Lava viewing conditions are ever changing, and it’s impossible to predict what may happen from one day to the next. But believe it or not, that’s part of the fun.

Many people see photos of lava cascading into the ocean or flowing in rivers right past onlookers and wonder if they’ll get to see the same thing. Because activity changes daily, and sometimes even by the minute, the answer all depends on what the volcano has in mind at the time of your visit.

Here’s what you need to know:

Lava Bike and Hike Tours: Where do you take guests?

Our guides will take you to the best activity available on the day of your tour. If the ocean entry is particularly active then we’ll head there. If there are spectacular surface breakouts that day we’ll go see those instead. If it’s possible to visit both the ocean entry and surface flow within a reasonable distance, then we’ll take you to both, however this cannot be guaranteed.

Ocean Entries: Will I see lava going into the ocean?
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An ocean entry photo from the sea cliffs using telephoto lens.  – Photo: Lavaland Hawai’i

Ocean entries are extra special and comparatively rare, since not every flow makes it all the way to the sea. This is the first time in three years there has been an ocean entry. The last one was active for just 9 months. 

Right now the lava is flowing into the ocean at the Kamokuna Ocean Entry. At present, lava is flowing in several streams over an area about half mile wide. You can view the ocean entry from the tall sea cliffs on the eastern side of the flow, but to the west, concentrations of noxious gasses and particles from the steam plume are too dangerous (and nasty) to breathe.

The terrain of the ocean entry changes daily as lava tubes carry flows down to the ocean and lava deltas regularly build up and erode away. Viewing conditions change frequently as well. Your guides will take you to the ocean entry if that’s going to be the best show on the day you visit.

Surface Flow: Can I stand next to lava?

Surface flow is what we call lava that flows on the ground which you can approach close up. These happen when lava breaks out of the tube system. Surface flow can last from a few days for larger breakouts, to only a few minutes for smaller ones. They change literally moment to moment.

Surface flows are more common as a lava flow first spreads out, but become less so once a tube system has been established. Nevertheless, scattered breakouts do occur throughout the life of a lava flow and we regularly scout for promising surface activity to show our guests. We’ll take you to surface activity whenever it’s available within a reasonable distance.

We do a lot of homework to find surface flow for our guests, but sometimes it’s just not there. There are no guarantees in nature… 

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Guests photograph a recent large pahoehoe flow – Photo: Lavaland Hawai’i

Private Tours: Can I request surface flow and/or ocean entry?

If your heart is set on seeing either ocean entry, surface flow, or both, we can give you the best opportunity on a Private Lava Bike and Hike Tour, provided the volcano cooperates. While we cannot predict or guarantee what nature will do, we’ll make every effort to get you to the specific volcanic activity you’re looking for. Because conditions are variable, you’ll want to check back close to the time of your planned visit. Contact us for Private Lava Bike and Hike Tour pricing and details.

What if lava stops flowing?

Lava flows sometimes surprise us by taking a break and then starting up again due to pressure changes beneath the volcano. And, as with all things, lava flows have a life span which will someday come to an end.

The best minds in science cannot yet accurately predict when a lava flow will end. It may happen gradually, or as is more often the case, quite suddenly, without warning.

So what happens if the lava flow shuts off, or moves into a closed, legally inaccessible area before your visit? We’ll be happy to change your reservation to another of our tours if you like. Or if you prefer, we’ll refund you in full. That’s our guarantee to you.

Ka Makana: The Gift

While it can be a bit frustrating to make travel plans around Kilauea’s unknowable schedule, the unpredictability of lava viewing is one of the things that makes it so special.

There’s no way to know exactly what you’ll see until you get there. It’s always a surprise, like a present you get to unwrap. If you’re here on the Big Island when there is accessible lava to see, count yourself lucky! Whatever you see will be a gift. 

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  • Lava Activity Update

    Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park remains closed due to the current volcanic activity but we're hopeful we'll be able to resume tours soon. We'll post any new information here as we receive it. Please check back!