Pele Puts Out

Hike to Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii

It’s one of the most awe-inspiring sights I’ve ever seen: molten lava flowing into the Pacific Ocean. From our front-row seats near the edge of a cliff, we watched in wonder as Pele, the volcano goddess of the ancient Hawaiians, performed spectacularly.

We had to work for the prime position, though.

Our quest to rendezvous with the fiery deity had begun earlier in the evening when we met up with a guide from Poke a Stick Lava Tours on the Big Island. Our group of about a dozen adventure-seekers set out on a 2.5-mile hike across a lava field in Kalapana. Cold, hard, black volcanic ash stretched far and wide, remnants of Pele’s past endeavors.

Hike Across Hawaiian Lava Flow

We trekked briskly and carefully across the uneven surface, which sounded like broken glass crunching beneath our feet—and just as sharp, as one of our fellow hikers found out when a sliver slipped into his shoe. As we paused for a break and to take a closer look at the swirling patterns left when the lava cooled, our guide recalled a previous eruption that had sent him racing to help a friend rescue possessions from a house in Pele’s path.

Globs of Molten Rock

We knew we were getting close to the action when heat began to radiate from the surface. The solid, long-dormant lava we had hiked for miles gave way to a living, breathing, blackish-gray substance that oozed across the landscape. Embers glimmered beneath the surface.

Brian Taunting Lava with a stick

Our tour company wasn’t called Poke a Stick for nothing. Wielding the long branches they had given us to tote along, we braved the intense heat and prodded the soft blacktop until red liquid emerged—a harbinger of what was to come. When we had enough photos of ourselves poking a stick in the lava and playing with fire, we continued a short distance to the coast for the main event.

Lava Poked With a Stick

Bright, thin streams of lava trickled down a steep rock face into the ocean, pooling on the wet sand before being washed away by the waves. If there is one thing we’ve learned on our extended travels, it’s that Mother Nature can’t be commanded. We doubted Pele could be, either, and we were pleased—and grateful—with the view.

As dusk turned to darkness, we sat on the rocks and watched the show, entranced, as minutes ticked slowly by. Our patience was rewarded when Pele came through with an even more impressive spectacle. On the hillside above, a lava shelf broke, sending a robust stream of molten rock pouring forth and making way for the sea.

Lava Flow into the Ocean

All too soon, we had to turn our backs on Pele. There’s a reason lava flow seekers aren’t supposed to set out on their own, and it quickly became apparent why as we headed into the pitch-black night for the return trip. To our inexperienced eyes, there was no discernible path across the open expanse. But even with his GPS on the fritz, our guide expertly led us back across the lava field. Forming a sort of human caterpillar, the members of our group stuck close to one another, each armed with a flashlight that we shone on the heels of the person in front of us to see where they stepped. Although it was arduous going, neither that nor the rain that drenched us could lessen our euphoria after what we had just witnessed.

Kilauea Lava Flow at Night

Make no mistake about it, however, this goddess can be fickle. Since our summer visit to the Big Island, where we witnessed her might in action, lava has since stopped flowing into the ocean. Mahalo, Pele, for putting out so magnificently while we were there to see it.

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31 Comments on “Pele Puts Out”

  1. Jayde-Ashe October 25, 2013 at 8:56 am #

    Wow, that is truly spectacular, and humbling. Mother Nature certainly cannot be commanded! Stunning photos.

    Like

    • Brian October 26, 2013 at 10:55 am #

      No she can’t. And that’s what makes things like this, or animal sightings or other acts of nature, so special to us. You can’t just order them up. To experience them you have to not just make an effort but have some good luck too.

      Like

  2. solaner October 25, 2013 at 9:32 am #

    Very impressive!

    Like

    • Brian October 26, 2013 at 10:55 am #

      It was off the charts.

      Like

  3. Danny Breslin October 25, 2013 at 9:53 am #

    Great photos.

    Like

  4. brissioni October 25, 2013 at 11:12 am #

    I remember reading The Last Day of Pompeii when I was a tween. It had such a powerful effect on me. Good to observe this artifact of nature while remaining safe; terrible to be in its path. Thanks again, I’m pretty sure this is another thing I will never see in person. I especially love the photo of the solidified lava flows and the explosiveness of the lava as it meets the sea.

    Like

  5. Ingrid October 25, 2013 at 11:17 am #

    Wow, what an exciting trek! Your photos are spectacular.

    Like

    • Brian October 26, 2013 at 10:57 am #

      We’ve been on a lot of hikes. And when we go, we always look for some kind of “payoff” at the end. And this really was worth the effort.

      Like

  6. Pat October 25, 2013 at 12:32 pm #

    This is amazing – thank you for sharing. It is something I have wanted to see for a long time and now I feel a little closer to saying I’ve seen it. It truly is a wow.

    Like

  7. harrienijland October 25, 2013 at 4:29 pm #

    I think this is great set of photo’s of a special place. Thanks for sharing.

    Like

    • Brian October 26, 2013 at 10:58 am #

      You’re very welcome.

      Like

  8. Steven October 25, 2013 at 9:09 pm #

    I agree with all th comments here; truly spectacular. Must get there. Cheers.

    Like

  9. Rajiv October 26, 2013 at 7:50 am #

    Wow… Really very nice

    Like

  10. Jenn Smith Nelson October 28, 2013 at 11:36 am #

    Crazy! What an intense experience.

    Like

  11. f-stop mama October 28, 2013 at 8:13 pm #

    Wow what an awesome experience and great photos to share. Thanks for this. Wow!

    Like

    • Brian October 29, 2013 at 11:14 am #

      Thanks for following along!

      Like

  12. cakesbykat November 6, 2013 at 9:41 pm #

    Stunning photos and great story!

    Like

  13. jessicahoar November 11, 2013 at 5:16 am #

    These photos are amazing! I am so glad to see them! I remember hearing about Pele waaaay back and the resulting poem I wrote about it earned me my first A. Happy travels guys!

    Like

  14. hermitsdoor November 23, 2013 at 10:51 am #

    We are watching a series of DVD lectures (Teaching Company) on geology. We are in the midst of volcanism. Your shots of the basalt fields in Hawaii revial their’s, especially the video section. This is definately on our list to do.
    Oscar

    Like

    • Brian November 25, 2013 at 10:18 am #

      Thanks Oscar, it certainly one of our favorite travel experiences.

      Like

  15. CurlyTraveller December 23, 2013 at 9:01 pm #

    OMG, this so impressive and beautiful! How lucky you guys were!!!! Truly magnificent! Envious;-).

    Like

  16. vannillarock January 22, 2014 at 10:45 am #

    you were indeed so lucky! i have just returned from a visit to big island and while still impressive it is not flowing. the after sunset glow from the crater was our highlight.great shots, thanks for sharing!

    Like

    • Brian January 23, 2014 at 9:00 am #

      We had read the lava we saw was no longer flowing. Knowing that it could go away at any time made it all the more special.

      Like

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