Over the last few years our adventures around the world have led to many cherished memories, countless hilarious moments, silly inside jokes, and a few magical experiences where it felt like the whole world stopped in time. From skydiving, to scuba diving, to whale watching, and beyond, there have been quite a few moments that were so powerful I get butterflies thinking about it years later.
And having a front row seat to the birth of an island might just take the cake when it comes to some of those unforgettable moments in life.
On our first trip to the Big Island back in 2014 we spent an entire day exploring Volcanoes National Park. We watched lava boil from the lookout point at the Halema’uma’u Crater (say that ten times fast!), we hiked, we viewed the lava fields from above on a helicopter tour, and we saw the glow of the volcano after sunset. And after an adventurous day of volcano-ing there was just one thing missing — we wanted the unforgettable experience of seeing lava pour into the ocean.
The glow of the volcano at night
Two years later, as our annual Christmas trip to Hawaii rolled around, we realized that we were finally going to get that chance. Not only was the lava pouring into the Pacific, but we had coincidentally decided to head to the Big Island for Christmas. (Talk about perfect timing!)
We realllllly wanted a front row seat to the Big Island’s most popular construction site, so I searched the internet high and low to learn more about the different lava tours available. One afternoon I just happened to stumble upon Hawaiian Lava Boat Tours (on Instagram of all places) and it didn’t take long to learn that this locally owned company totally rocks (see what I did there). 🙂 They offer two lava tours a day, take out a small number of lava chasers at a time, have comfortable seats on the boat, and the best part of all was that they were slightly cheaper than some of the more popular alternatives. (How could I say no to such a great offer?)
dark and way too early two hours before sunrise when we met Captain Kai and his first mate, I’kai’ka, at Issac Hale Beach Park on the east side; and as we cruised out of the harbor I noticed an eerie mist rising from the water — it felt like we were in a swamp in the Bayou instead of a harbor on a tropical island — however, I soon learned that the mist was simply an effect of the nearby volcano warming the water in the harbor.
We cruised South towards the Kalapana lava flow and a constellation-filled sky shimmered above as bioluminescence lit up in the wake of our boat. I’ve always heard about the fascinating bioluminescent scuba dives in Hawaii, but have never actually witnessed the phenomenon first hand, until now. And as we neared the 61g flow at Kalapana, the sky began to glow a brilliant shade of orange.
The boat eventually came to a stop and it was hard to believe my eyes: 2,000 degree hot liquid rock spilled from the Earth like a waterfall.
The lava falls poured into the ocean and warmed the surrounding water to a comfortable 112 degrees Fahrenheit. And while I was tempted with a quick swim in the hot-tub like waters, the frequent volcanic explosions at the surface made it so I stayed safely put inside of the boat. These explosions catapulted bright-orange pieces of liquid lava more than 100 feet into the air, at times landing on the cliffs above the falls; and as our eyes focused in on the silhouettes standing at the edge of those cliffs I couldn’t help but worry that those hikers were standing just a little bit too close.
I never realized that giant lava rocks could float on the surface of the sea, and I found it ridiculously hilarious to see these rather large pieces of extremely hot volcanic rock sputter by the boat like tiny (oddly shaped) sail boats. After the boulders cool down enough they lose steam and sink to their new home on the ocean floor over 200 feet below.
When we booked our lava adventure I knew that it was going to be a blast (pun intended! 😉 ), however, I never expected that this adventure would be one of the coolest — or should I say hottest — things we’ve ever done.