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by Susie Lin, Photo Editor

Once a fishing village on the Puna coast of the Big Island, Kalapana is now a barren land of slowly cooling rock. A few house still stand. The landscape of this former fishing village was forever changed in 1990 when Royal Garden, the subdivision in the area, was covered by 33 feet of molten lava. The lava flow, which seemed endless, continued from April through December and destroyed 180 homes and everything else in its path as it added 150 acres of land to the island of Hawai‘i.

A few homes were spared by the flowing lava, by sheer luck, and they still stand today. These homes are completely surrounded by lava and cut off from civilization. A few families still live in the barren subdivision, collecting water in tanks and using generators or solar for power.

By December of 1990, the surface of the lava river had cooled and lava was flowing through a tube. The flow dried up by February as a new tube was formed on the western edge that delivered lava directly to the sea.

Today, the Kalapana area has become a volcano park with access available to the public, although fishing on the coast is reserved for native Hawaiians of the Kalapana area and their guests.

The hike to the coast from the parking area is about two miles one way, on rocky sharp, glassy lava. It is best to wear long pants to protect your body from the lava in case you may fall and shoes or hiking boots with good traction and thick soles. Bring first aid supplies for treating injuries, in case you fall onto the lava. Wear sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses, too for protection from sunburn, because the sunlight can be intense during the day, and take extra water.

Start the trek through the volcano park early to avoid hottest time of the day, and pace yourself. The four-mile trek ranges from low to medium elevation due to the way the lava has formed.

Once you have reached the coast, you can walk down to the Kalapana Black Sand Beach, formed by the explosion of the lava into grains of rock when it hits the cold water of the ocean. The temperature in the water and the whole area will be higher due to the lava that is still continuously pouring into the ocean.

It is possible to camp overnight at the volcano park. During the night, you can often see the lava of Kilauea’s puu o‘o vent glowing as it flows down the cliffs to the sea. Over-night visitors must register at the ranger station, so they can be warned if the direction of the lava changes.

Going on a lava hike is a unique experience available in few places other than the Hawaiian islands. Be fully prepared for the hike to ensure its success and your own safety.

Kalapana facts and cautions

Visitors are allowed in the park Monday – Friday, from 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Take Highway 137 around the eastern coast of Hawai‘i to the very end or take Highway 130 south from Hilo to Highway 137 and continue to the end. A park ranger’s station and parking area are located at the end of the road.

· Stay on the path as directed by the rangers.
· Wear sturdy shoes.
· Bring a flashlight if hiking after dark.
· Bring plenty of water.
· No restroom facilities are available on the lava field.
· This is an active volcano, and it is unpredictable.
· Stay away from any house that is private property.
· Do not get close to the ocean. The land is unstable and may suddenly collapse.


April 23, 1990

Photos courtesy of USGS

June 6, 1990

Photos courtesy of USGS

June 13, 1990

Photos courtesy of USGS

Walter’s Kalapana Store and Drive Inn (sign in photo above) was burned and covered by lava in early June as flows moved relentlessly through the Kalapana area. During this difficult period, scientists of the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory provided detailed information on lava movement to the Hawai‘i County Civil Defense, which made decisions regarding evacuation, road closures, and safe vantage points for residents and visitors.

The hike at the Kalapana Volcano Park has different elevation ranging from low to medium. It is best to watch each step you take because not all areas are sturdy.

Photos by Susie Lin

Many of these houses are built on the lava rocks on Kalapana.

People standing at the edge of the coast at the end of the hike.



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