The firehose of Hawaii

Big Island, Hawaii / March 2017 

After a dramatic sea cliff collapse on Hawaii’s Big Island, a rare “‘firehose” of lava began pouring out of a cliff and into the Pacific Ocean. Seeing the photos, we knew it was rare and likely to stop at any moment and so, we had to get there, and fast.

On the 16h of March 2017, we boarded flight NZ10 from Auckland to Honolulu before connecting to flight HA 1102 to Hilo, Big Island. The flight was long, but thankfully there was only a 4 hour time difference. We would be spending just about as much time in the air as we would on the ground on this mini expedition (just 3 days!)

We picked up our 4×4 rental and headed west to drive to the summit of Mauna Kea. We had been warned about the dangerous drive up there and that only certain vehicles were allowed. There was even a checkpoint with a compulsory stop to ensure we knew what was ahead. As we drove further up, we kept expecting the road to deteriorate…but it never did. The gravel road was wide, smooth and never a problem. It was infinitely better than many of the gravel roads we drive on here in New Zealand with standard vehicles. What was astonishing was the climb. Sea level to 14,000 ft and palm trees to snow in under 2 hrs. Oxygen at this level was 40% lower also. The true summit was only another 15 minute walk.

After making our way to our Air BnB near the town of Mountain View, we headed down to Kalapana and cycled over recent lava flows and towards the firehose. The viewing area was positioned too far away making visibility difficult. All we could see were a few sparks and the yellow glow. The only solution was to organise a boat and view from the ocean.

Whilst we thought about how best to make that happen, we stopped at the Jaggar Museum to observe the lava lake in the Halemaʻumaʻu crater. Considering we had witnessed the lava lakes on Ambrym – and up close – this lava lake wasn’t nearly as impressive. And it was so far away and difficult to observe with the naked eye.

The next morning, we were up at 3am to locate the active lava flows from the Pu‘U ‘Ō‘Ō crater. John, a local and friend helped us. It’s a large field of mostly hardened lava and the local knowledge was super helpful. Within the hour we had located a number of active flows…and what a sight. It was hot also – really hot. At times I had to take a breather and cool off. Some rocks were deceiving as they looked hardened, but actually were still molten underneath. Squirting some water on them was a good way to ensure our safety. We stayed a while, well into the morning and captured many unique lava flows and formations.

Like most trips, another pair of shoes were melted.

With time running out, we had to make plans to see the firehose up close. I got on the phone and rang a few volcano friends. One gave me a number to call and within the hour, we had a boat and captain ready to take us out there. We had to be at Isaac Hale Park within 2 hours…so it was back in the car and another mad dash there.

Isaac Hale Park was a nice location with camping and safe swimming. We boarded a small boat and made our way around the coast. It was rough going, but it was our only way to get the vantage point we were after. Within an hour, we got our first view of the firehose. A huge flow of molten lava poured out of the cliff face, creating huge explosions as it hit the ocean. We got close, probably too close, but we had the best possible vantage point. At times, small rocks would hit the roof of the boat. The ocean was hot to touch and near boiling in places. This was one of those unbelievable moments that we’ll never forget.

For our final day, we explored the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park during the daylight hours. There were a few walks through some active sulphur areas. The 135-metre long Thurston Lava Tube was also a highlight and formed 500 years ago.




After 3 days, we were exhausted, but extremely satisfied by what we had packed in. A great trip all-round.



Add comment: