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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, March 9, 2008

Kilauea lava sidetracks county viewing plan

Volcano stirring
Activity at Big Island's Kilauea is heightening as the eruption of the island's youngest volcano entered a new phase. Read our stories, see more photos, and see video.

Photo galleryPhoto gallery: Kilauea lava flow
Video: Kilauea lava draws big crowds

By Kevin Dayton
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Tourists take pictures of the creeping lava near the new Big Island viewing trail. Hundreds gathered for yesterday's opening.

MICHAEL MARLIN | Special to The Advertiser

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Viewing-area hours: 2 to 10 p.m. No vehicles allowed in after 8 p.m.

Cost: No charge at this time

Beware: Volcanic fumes are hazardous to people with respiratory problems, and the trek on lava may be too much for elderly hikers or small children.

Bring: One to two quarts of water per person, sturdy shoes, one flashlight per person for night viewing, long pants and a hat.

Remember: Obey signs and stay within designated areas.

How to get there

Directions: Travel south from Hilo on Highway 11 to the junction with Highway 130 at Kea'au. Take Highway 130 past Pahoa until the highway ends at the access road to the lava-viewing area.

Hike: After parking along the two-mile access road, walk to the trailhead and then hike about a half-mile over old lava to the viewing site.

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"Everybody has to realize that lava is something that goes where it goes, and so if you're in the way and she can't get around you, then you have to accept the fact that it's over for you."

Timothy "Oly" Kearn | Former Royal Gardens subdivision resident

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KALAPANA, Hawai'i People who live on the slopes of Kilauea know how unpredictable Madame Pele can be, and she proved the point yesterday.

Just as county officials held a blessing to open a new road and trail to allow visitors to get a good view of the lava flowing into the sea, a finger of lava was pushing up to the edge of the new trail and threatening the new path before it even opened.

The blessing by kupuna Minnie Ka'awaloa went off without a hitch, but less than an hour later lava cut the new trail in several places and blocked access to the ocean.

Captain Cook residents Ryan McCarthy and Greg Comiskey drove across the island and walked at a fast clip down the new access road as soon as it opened, but even they were out of luck.

"We hiked it in early and we got down there and the lava had come across the trail, so we couldn't get all the way down to the water, but it was really nice," McCarthy said. "You could get right up to the lava, you could get up close and personal with it."

"You could get 2 feet from it if you want. You could step in it if you really want," he joked.

With that, the new half-mile trail to the ocean became a quarter-mile trail to the lava flow that blocked the way about 200 yards from the ocean entry.

Only about 20 people actually made it to the ocean entry before the lava ignited some dried brush and started a fire near the trail, prompting county officials to march visitors away from the ocean and the burning area, McCarthy said.

Big Island Mayor Harry Kim called the surprise advance of the flow "a big problem."

"This shows you, never try to predict too much as far as Pele's ways," Kim said.

"We were hoping this would not happen until tomorrow morning and we could open it up all day, but there was a huge surge in the past hour, and we have to watch it very closely," he added. "In the midst of today, we may have to adjust."


There were some logistical problems as well. County officials had estimated several hundred people would be able to park along the new access road constructed out of remnants of the old highway, but police said only about 160 vehicles were able to fit.

Vehicles lined Highway 130 well before the road opened with the blessing at 2 p.m., and some motorists had to wait hours to get inside the gate as police let in 20 cars at a time. The line of cars at times backed up more than a mile on Highway 130 yesterday, and one resident described the usually empty stretch of highway as "Grand Central Station."

Dozens of visitors gave up hope of being able to drive close to the flow. Families parked their rental cars, slathered sunscreen on the kids, grabbed water bottles and began walking the 2.6-mile length of the access road.

Among them were Austin, Texas, resident Mike Craig, his two daughters, his sister and his brother-in-law.

"We're all from the South originally; we're used to the heat," Craig said as he started down the road winding through blackened old lava flows."If the girls get tired, we'll take a break and we'll just sit down here in the shade.

"When we saw in the paper that it was entering the sea, we thought, 'Man, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.' "

As the heat peaked, others decided to sit in the shade at the gate leading to the access road and let younger adventurers make the trek inside.

"If we wait here long enough maybe it will come right up here to us," joked Rose Buck, from Stonewall, Manitoba, after hearing the lava had cut the trail. Buck decided to wait at the gate while her three sons made the walk to the flow with other family members.


Those who made the trip returned red-faced, sweating and thirsty. Many said it was a much longer hike than they expected, but worth the trip.

Bob and Patty Hansen, on a two-week vacation from the Chicago area, stood about 10 yards from a shallow depression and watched it fill with molten lava.

"Very impressive," Bob Hansen said. "It's beautiful. I mean, flames were coming off of it."

For others, the crowd represented a business opportunity. John Hutchinson of Kea'au and Petey Vital of Nanawale Estates arrived early with 25 cases of water and some hats for sale.

Business was brisk, and they sold a couple of cases of water even before the blessing and the gate opened. "It's hot out here. It's a nice warm day," Vital said.

Among those watching the blessing yesterday was bearded Timothy "Oly" Kearn, who has lost two houses to lava in Royal Gardens. The second house, which he moved out of in 1986, finally burned when a flow reached it last week.

When asked if the new access road and the lava viewing arrangement is likely to last, Kern said: "This road has been covered many times. Remember, I say it's not a good idea to make assumptions."

"Everybody has to realize that lava is something that goes where it goes, and so if you're in the way and she can't get around you, then you have to accept the fact that it's over for you," Kern said. "That's what happened to me."

Reach Kevin Dayton at kdayton@honoluluadvertiser.com.