40 • Vacations
We fly from Honolulu to Big Island, getting an eyeful of the
magnificent ‘shield volcanoes’ before landing in Hilo. Then we
drive an hour to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
Kilauea’s crater is a circular depression, exactly as we expect.
What we don’t expect is its vastness – a full four kilometres
across, and strangely beautiful.
Perched on the rim is the Jaggar Museum from where we can
see a smaller inner crater. This is the active vent, marked by
a bulging column of gas and steam. “At night you can see it
glowing,” a park ranger tells the boys. “And yes, sometimes
it shoots lava. Seismic recorders tell us when that’s likely to
happen, but it also makes tell-tale sounds. It rumbles.
Sometimes it sounds like the sea.”
The vent is off-limits owing to poisonous gases so the
inevitable question is asked: “Where can we get close
The next afternoon, we drive two hours south to the town
of Kalapana, where we’re told Kilauea’s lava exits via
subterranean ‘tubes’ into the sea. We arrive to find Kalapana
isn’t what it was: in 1990, the townsfolk watched their houses
and gardens get swallowed up as Kilauea’s lava gently probed
a new path, encroaching a few metres each day.
But the townsfolk have rebuilt and are happy to greet
us – and the hundreds like us – offering to rent mountain
bikes from pop-up gazebos. For about $30 each, we’re
equipped with bike, helmet, first aid kit, head-torch and water.
The stream of lava pilgrims pushes into the twilight, following
a broad track that has been bulldozed through a stark, surreal
landscape. The lava field is all monochrome textures, formed
from ooze, crumbled and cracked. It stretches away on all
sides, up to Kilauea in the far distance. The six-kilometre ride
is oddly quiet except for the crunch of fat tires on gravel.
We arrive at a clifftop where a great cloud mushrooms, and
then park our bikes. Rangers marshal us to a space cordoned
by ropes, 500 metres from a portion of cliff that grinds and
steams like a machine.
“Can’t we get closer?” ask the boys, perched on pumice
I indicate a nearby section of cliff where, a week earlier, nine
brittle hectares had fallen into the sea. “No.”
Not that we need to be closer. We can see rock crashing into
the water, hissing violently, and as darkness closes, the lava
shows as glowing globules being birthed from the island’s
As we’d learned in Bishop Museum, we’re witnessing the
Earth renewing. Hawaii’s islands are a long chain of extinct
volcanoes. After each volcano was formed by the magma
reserve beneath us, the planet’s tectonic plates moved them
out into the ocean to cool and die. One day, Big Island will
have a new neighbor. It’s forming under the sea and already
has a name – Loihi.
For two hours, we sit among hundreds of people in the lava
field, watching, entranced by the spectacle, enchanted by
the weirdness. We ride back through the night, the beams
from our head-torches bouncing off the lava field. Only, we
pilgrims sound different now – there are whoops and calls
We’ve been lit up by lava.
SPONGE BOB WELCOMES YOU TO NIKELODEON HOTELS & RESORTS PUNTA CANA
Families looking for a sunny escape will love
Nickelodeon Hotels & Resorts Punta Cana.
This kid-centric property offers a perfect
balance between luxury and family fun.
Ultimate Family Vacations
By Sarah Pittard
Fall 2017 • 41
PARK RANGER AT HAWAII
VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK
MOUNTAIN BIKING AROUND KALAPANA
KILAUEA VOLCANIC LAVA FIELDS