Hawaii Volcano Eruption – Should You Still Go and Things to Do
[May 25, 2018]
The Kilauea eruption on the Big Island of Hawaii is in its third week. The majority of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is closed, and many people are worried about safety if they go. In this blog post, I will share why I think it’s still safe to go, provide resources for those who need to research on their own, and share my favorite activities on the island.
Should You Still Go?
The short answer is YES! Despite the shocking pictures in the news, it is still safe to travel to the Big Island! Going there at any time carries risk related to the volcano, which has been erupting continuously since 1983. And while the current eruption is one of the worst, anything outside the evacuation area on the Southeast edge of the island is safe to visit. The map below shows the affected area. The two biggest cities, Hilo and Kona, are not affected, and neither is the majority of the island!
If you still want more information on Kilauea’s impact, here are some of the best resources to find out what’s currently going on:
- The United States Geological Survey (USGS) Kilauea News website.
- The USGS Kileaua current status website. Check out the links at the bottom for maps, multimedia and more.
- Air quality information on Airnow.gov.
- Hawaii News Now
- Hawaii Emergency Management Agency
- County of Hawaii Civil Defense
As of today, Highway 11, which connects the West and East sides of the island along the southern coast, remains open.
Don’t get me wrong – this eruption is serious, and many people have lost their homes. In fact, you can help by donating via one of the following charities:
Now let’s talk about the awesome things that are still available to those who visit the Big Island during this time.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park – Kahuku Unit
The main park is closed, but its Kahuku unit is open and has extended its days and hours of operation. To find out the latest info, go to its website. The Kahuku unit is located on Hwy 11 in Ka‘ū near mile marker 70.5.
There is a no-fly zone in the area directly above the lava flow. However, helicopter tour companies are still running their tours! Opt for a sunset tour, which will give you a better chance to see the lava from afar. Tours departing from Hilo will be much cheaper because they are closer to the volcano. Allow plenty of time to travel to Hilo if you are not already staying there; coming from Kona can take upwards of 2 hours. Trip Advisor has a list of the top-rated companies. I also researched boat tours for this post. At this time, I cannot recommend them due to safety issues I read about on Trip Advisor and the USGS website. I also read this news article , which states that last year, the Coast Guard had to start enforcing a safety zone around the lava ocean entry area because some boats were getting way too close. If you do decide to go on a boat tour, make sure your operator is licensed; according to the New York Post, these are the four licensed operators: Lava Ocean Tours, Moku Nui Lava Tours, Hawaiian Lava Boat Tours and Kalapana Cultural Tours.
Hamakua and Kohala Coasts
If you really want to get away from the volcano, the northern part of the island is where you want to be. The Hamakua and Kohala regions are full of parks, valleys and waterfalls for you to explore.
In the Hamakua region, 8 miles North of Hilo, you will find the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens. It’s home to over 2,000 species set amid streams and waterfalls. I visited it in 2014 and really enjoyed it! Plan for a couple of hours here.
Don’t miss Akaka Falls State Park, just a few miles up North from the botanical garden. There is a paved trail to the waterfall and back with minimal stairs and elevation. Allow about an hour here.
In the Kohala region, I recommend Waipi’o Valley and Polo’u Valley. Waipi’o Valley is more remote and I did not have time for it during my 2014 trip. Polo’u Valley is more accessible as it’s closer to the main highway. Once you park, it’s a short but steep hike to the valley floor; however, the views are worth it and there is a black sand beach at the bottom.
Afterwards, stop by the cute town of Haw’i before continuing onto Kona via Kohala Mountain Road, one of the best roads I’ve ever driven!
Going to the top of Mauna Kea is an absolute treat, especially if you plan your visit for the sunset hour. Visiting Mauna Kea requires some logistics. Most rental cars can make it to the Visitor Information Station at 9,000 ft, but from there to the summit a 4-wheel drive is highly recommended. It’s needed not so much for traction on the gravel road but for the gearing. The lack of oxygen and the steep ascent mean engines can easily overheat on the way up and brakes can do the same on the way down. For this reason, unless you rent a four-wheel drive, book a tour with a company in Hilo. For more info on Mauna Kea, read my blog post from my visit in 2014. We went with Arnott’s Lodging and Adventures.
Snorkeling with Manta Rays
Last but not least, you can snorkel with manta rays on the Big Island! The Big Island is actually one of the best places to snorkel, period. If you specifically want to meet these gentle giants, book a tour to go out on the ocean around sunset when they come out to feed on plankton. I attempted to do this in 2014 but we ended up turning around because the water was choppy. My second attempt in 2016 was a success! We used Jack’s Diving Locker in Kona and were very happy with them. We did a combo sunset snorkel/manta ray snorkel/dive, which lasted a few hours. Read more about my experience here.
If you are doing both Mauna Kea and diving, please be aware that you need to add in at least 24 hours between these activities or you risk decompression sickness. You will be going from close to 14,000 ft above sea level to below sea level, and you will need to allow time for your body to adjust.
If you have a Big Island vacation coming up, let me know in the comments if you still plan to go and what you plan to see!