The Old One Collapsed

Lava Viewing Area Collapses into the Ocean!

New Year's Eve brought its own fireworks at Kamokuna Lava Ocean Entry when a 26-acre lava buildup collapsed into the deep blue sea. For months, we heard reports of cracks forming in the wide, flat delta the river of lava had formed since it started flowing there. The cracks were widening, the area was deemed unstable, but we had no way of knowing exactly when it would give way. Well, New Year's Eve was the night!

You expect dramatic changes in a landscape when that much land just leaves. But it changed the dynamics of the flow, too. Now, instead of gurgling and spurting, lava shoots straight out of the side of the cliff, like a fire nozzle. The island was abuzz with excitement over it.

When some friends suggested a sunset hike, we were ready to see the new shape of things.

As we parked, we noticed all sorts of changes. The lava has been flowing in that spot for many months now, and the tentative, disorganized business that originally sprang up under tarps along the parking lot had morphed into more serious retail endeavors. Sparse and enthusiastic had changed to well-stocked and businesslike. Less random crafts and offerings, and more pragmatism like affordable bike rentals.

When the lava stops flowing to the ocean, I have a feeling it will be a great time to buy a used mountain bike!

It was still a solid hour and a half walk from parking to viewing, though, so we got moving. Usually, parking at 4:00 will give you plenty of time to set up at the ocean entry for sunset.

Hitting the viewing area with enough light to see our way out over the lava flows, it was shocking to see how much had changed since right after Christmas, which pretty much looked like late October or even early October. The entire cliffside we used to stand on was gone.

Sunset and Lava’s Fire

There was quite a crowd at sunset, arranged all over the lava flow amphitheatre, watching in wonder. We took our spots and patiently waited for most of them to leave with the last of the light. A medley of different accents, languages and voices floated around, all in amazingly happy and friendly pitches.

Aloha is a cliche, until you experience it flowing as naturally as the warm breezes over you, despite the anonymity of darkness.

The lava was anything but gentle, though!

Angry retaliation at the ocean's savagery had the lava tube aggressively pumping out of the cliffside. Giant plumes of gases snaked long over the waves and towered smudges against a velvet-Elvis sky. Mischievous winds played with the steam to reveal a towering, smooth pillar of endless heat. Or an explosion would send fireworks above the plume and waves of sound crashing through the crowd, filtering into oohs and aahs in passing.

We had come for that magical just-after-sunset lighting when the clouds are still textured and the lava glow not too much brighter than the night around it. But, as always, we lingered to watch the show. In Hawaii, there's no need to hurry.

Marching to the Sea

Walking back, we paused every once in a while to look back in thanks and farewell. Looking through the "magic window" of the camera's lens revealed the path of lava all the way from its source high above us in Pu'u O'o.

And a surprisingly vivid red glow points to a massive skylight in the lava tube carrying the flow. Having walked over untracked lava fields ourselves, the idea of coming upon a skylight that large and fierce was disconcerting!

Andromeda Overhead

Soft air and magical skies are the stuff of Hawaii nights. Walking and chatting, we paused often in sheer wonder at the beauty revealed. Only a handful of people live at that end of the island on the fresh flows where the village of Kalapana once stood. Backing up against the vast national park lands beyond, lava's glow was the only competition with the deep sky above.

Officially, the viewing area closes down at ten. Like so many things around here, though, that means only that the official part is over by then. Nobody comes along to kick you out; you're just on your own. The park ranger's car passed us on his way out; bike rentals were closing up their tarps; generators for lights were winding down at the parking lot. Ours were among the last cars left. But there's no gate to close. One of the best parts of being here is that there is seldom a need to hurry, and always time to enjoy the moment.

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