Anyway……there was a very exciting reason why we were choosing to stay off grid in a town called Volcano. Can you guess what it is yet?
Yes, indeed it is the home to Kilaeua, the most active of Hawaii’s Big Island Volcanoes. As a geographer, I was always excited at the prospect of visiting this place but when it all kicked off in May this year, it was perhaps just a bit too exciting. In fact at one point , I wrote to the owners of our off grid Air BNB and asked whether we should be considering an alternative on the coast. But the owner said no , it would all be fine so we didn’t change our plans! In fact, when I asked Jane how she felt about staying where there was a currently active volcanoe she said ‘excited’ – so that was two of us. Hurrah.
Kilaeua has in fact been erupting since 1983 but on May 3rd 2018 it had its latest eruption when two dozen lava vents started to spew down rift of the the summit. On May 4th there was also a powerful earthquake of 6.9 which broke the nice man in the quilting shops windows. Nearly 2000 residents had to be evacuated from their homes in Leilani Estates (about 25km downslope from Volcano) and then on May 17th the volcano explosively erupted at the Halemaumau Crater sending volcanic ash 30,000 feet into the air and some of it landing on the town of Volcano. Lava entered the ocean in three different places and destroyed 700 homes in total (but not in Volcano, Mum! )
The summit dramatically changed as a result of all this as there were 10s of thousands of earthquakes triggered by 62 massive collapse explosions. These quakes caused building damage, rock falls, deep cracks in the roads and trails and broke water and sewage supplies to the park.
Not your average description of a holiday destination then is it? The Volcanoes National Park , where all this was happening, had been closed since May. But I’d been keeping an eye on things and so was delighted to see that the park had partially re-opened on 22nd September , just in time for our visit.
It did feel like an amazing privilege to be allowed into the park so soon after all of this and it’s hard to describe the feeling I had. On our day doing volcanoes we drove to the visitor centre early and I chatted to one of the Rangers about our options. He was very helpful and showed me which areas were open and which were still closed. After this we took the walk which went past the Sulphur Banks (steaming sulphurous rock banks) and steam vents (line up for your facials here) and then onto the Crater Rim Road where were able to look out into the Crater itself. This was incredible. To be honest it looked like a large quarry but to know that this was where all the recent crater collapse had happened and where the crater had doubled in size more or less overnight was awe inspiring.
The map I was given gave some sensible advice about being in such a highly active volcanic area such as:
- Stay on open trails and roads
- Stay away from cracks and sinkholes
- Rockfalls are unpredictable
- Wear sturdy shoes and long pants
- Do not hike after dark
I thought four of these were fairly obvious but wasn’t sure about the length of my pants or quite why it was important.
Of course, what we all want to see when we go to visit a volcano is some nice hot, molten lava but there were big signs outside the visitor centre telling us that there was no molten lava in the park or anywhere on the island and currently there was also no ‘glow’ from the lava lake which had been part of the crater landscape up until May.
After our hike along Crater Rim we had a quick visit to the Volcanoes House, where previously you’d been able to have fine dining whilst over-looking the Crater and seeing the ‘glow’ at night. Here we enjoyed the views with a Lava Man beer which seemed entirely appropriate. The place was damaged by all the earthquakes so all their kitchen catering equipment was sitting in the main lounge area. We picked up an emergency cheese and ham sandwich from the shop and very fine dining it was too.
Next we drove the 19 mile Chain of Craters Road which is a truely scenic drive as it descends 3700 feet right down to the coast. I’ve never experienced anything like it as the road made its way down through a variety of different and vast lava flows. First we came across the 1974 Lava flow (very brittle messy lava flow) then next the 1979 lava flow. This one consisted of more massive boulders of volcanic wasteland. But my particular favourite was much further towards the coast (I forget which year) where the smooth, almost liquid looking lava flow resembled chocolate brownie!
Along the way we stopped to take photos (often), collect souvenir lava and to admire the views. Finally, we reached the coast where it was rainy and windy and we walked across to look at the stormy sea arch and ate a lovely pineapple lolly.
It was late by now, so time to turn around. There’s nowhere else to go here because the 2003? Lava flow had cut off the road.
It had been another great day and I’d not felt in danger at anytime (except at one point where the path was just a bit too open to the massive drop into the boiling hot crater). But you did just wander around thinking ‘I wonder how much they really know about when the volcano is going to erupt again?’