Lava at the New Ocean Entry

The lava has been flowing into the ocean for a little over a month now and all my photographer friends are posting great photos. It is really past time I got myself down to Kalapana to see the lava. The real problem is that my vehicle has been in the shop and I had no way to carry the bike. The answer? Don wanted to make another go at it, his bike rack holds two! Can you pick me up on your way past Waikoloa?

61G lava flow ocean entry
The 61G lava flow ocean entry at Kamokuna under the light of a full Moon
While the lava is further from the end of the road than on my previous hikes, a full 4.5miles, it is actually easier to get to. When earlier flows looked like they would cut the main highway into Puna the county re-cut Chain of Craters road across the lava flows. The road is closed to motor vehicle traffic, but foot and bicycle traffic is allowed. This gives a direct access to the current 61G lava flow without having to cross country for miles across older flows.

Set the alarm clock early and be waiting out front of the house at 2am with the camera gear and the bike. I had to replace the front tube, it has been leaking for a while. I could fill it up for a ride around the village, but it would not hold for the full day needed for a run to the lava. Fortunately I had a new tube on hand. Replace the inner-tube, take a short ride to check out the bike, replace the headlight batteries, pack a ton of water, a few munchies, charge the camera batteries… Ready!

We arrive at the end of the road about 4am, well before the first light of dawn. There are a few other vehicles present indicating we are not the only ones headed for the lava in the pre-dawn hours. We unload the bikes and set off down the road, along the way passing a few folks hiking out, even a few coming back.

Riding to the Lava
Your author at the end of the road where the 61G lava flow again cut Chain of Craters Road
The riding is pretty easy, the road is gravel, but it is well packed and no trouble to negotiate. Don reports that the gravel had been softer two weeks before, but the thousands of visitors had packed it down. It also appears the county had spread some sort of dust control agent on the road also helping to pack the gravel. There is not much elevation gain or loss either, just some gentle hills along the way. Bicycle really is the way to go right now!

The entry is spectacular! There are multiple small rivulets of lava draining onto a black sand beach. A larger entry about fifty yards away creates a bright glow and a large plume of steam. Over the last month the flow has built a large lava delta at the base of the high cliffs, about 11 acres in size according to the HVO reports. Glints of cherry red lace much of the delta revealing that the whole edifice is laced with molten material.

As the waves hit the smaller cliff at the edge of the delta they sometimes generate small steam explosions when coming in contact with the lava. Chunks of lava fly about, tracing red arcs through the air. Larger waves sometimes break off multiple pieces, still glowing red, that appear to float and roll about in the surf turning the waves glowing red. We stay at a safe distance, enjoying the view from a perch at the top of the sea cliffs well above the action.

Surf the Lava?
A local surfer after giving up in an attempt to get down the the lava
Arriving about the same time we do at the ocean entry is a guy with a surfboard. We take one look and wince. No surprise, YouTube videos of people trying to “surf” at the lava are inspiring copycats. Never mind there is no real shore break, just waves slamming into a cliff laced with lava. If he makes it down there is a good chance we will be calling the paramedics to come get him, it is quite dangerous closer to the flows, hot chunks of lava flying about in the steam explosions.

I talked to CJ later, he was on the boat the same morning, they saw him as well and feared making the same phone call. Fortunately this surfer is unable to find a way down the 70ft cliffs and never gets his board to the water. We chat with him later in the morning, he is off to Pohoiki, the classic Puna surf break.

Pāhoehoe
A very close view of advancing pāhoehoe lava
After a while at the ocean entry we head a couple hundred yards inland to one of the many breakouts along the edge of the flow. Here the action is much more sedate, slow moving tongues of lava oozing forward across older flows. I can get close, as close as the heat will let me.

Here I shoot short segments of video, minute long clips that can be sped up to show the motion more clearly. I also take some close-ups attempting to capture the fascinating textures of the red hot material. Another camera is set for a time lapse sequence to capture a less visible process, the inflation that occurs just behind the flow front.

As sunrise arrives so do increasing numbers of people, the crowd thickens at the breakouts close to the road. As we bike back we pass a steady flow of tourists heading out to see the lava. Glad we got here early!

Thanks to Don I got to see the lava again, the first time since is ceased flowing into the ocean a couple years ago. It was a great morning spent at the ocean entry. Returning to Hilo I buy us a breakfast at Ken’s before heading back across the island. Tired but elated I begin processing photos. I really need to do this again sometime soon.

Author: Andrew

An electrical engineer, amateur astronomer, and diver, living and working on Mauna Kea, Hawai'i.

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