Big Island "Hawaii"

It only works to call it "The Big Island," even though its name is "Hawaii."

I love the Big Island, even though I spend far more time on other islands. It has space to stretch out and great variety. Its summit is the best site in the world for telescopes. And the two largest optical telecopes in the worlds are there - the twin 10-meter Keck telescopes.

The Kilauea volcano has been active with only the shortest interruptions since 1986. (Before that Mauna Loa sent lava flows close to Hilo.) An active person can hike in and see the active flows. How far you have to hike varies from week to week from a couple hundred yards to 3 or 4 miles. And how close you can get varies also. Right now you can get within a few feet, according to photos posted this week. When we went in 1999 we chose the night trip, so we didn't get so close for safety purposes. But it was spectacular to see a river of red-hot lava flowing below us less than 50 yards away. And we truly saw bubbles of molten rock bursting - I estimate 6 feet in diameter. Incredible. The night trip is great because the red lava lights the sky, while in the day it gets washed out by the daylight.

How would you like to have lava flows over run your neighborhood?

Yes, those are streets and there used to be houses there; it was called Royal Gardens. But in 1986 over 100 homes were destroyed and access was cut off by these lava flows. Didn't they know there was a volcano there when they built?

We took our kids to see another neighborhood overrun at the coast a few miles north of here in 1990.

The most active volcano is Kilauea on the central eastern part of the island about 30 miles south of Hilo. It is in the Hawaii Volcanos National Park.

The official volcano observatory is run by USGS. They keep a web page with current and recent conditions that they update daily: Current Conditions. At the bottom of the page is the most recent map of the current and historical flows.

Now here is a treat. A stunning satellite photo of the very same scene.

Google satellite photo The area that looks like a black on white matrix on the map is green in the photo - yet another neighborhood overrun by the lava. The long smoke streak to the lower left is from the actual volcano center of Kilauea, called Pu'u O'o. On the map it is marked at the top of the red flow.

The tour guide - Arnott's Lodge in Hilo is a laid-back low budget motel. I don't know if I would stay there. But Doug Arnott does the up-close tours of the volcano area. The specifics vary by season. When the tour is during the day you can get the closest to the flows. A classic way to do it is to arrive in the area near sunset and stay as it gets dark. Then you get the full effect of the red, glowing lava, like the experience we had in 1999, at the top of this page.

In 1999 we had to hike in 3 miles over the very rough lava. And if you miss a step it's like glass. We both wore long pants and boots. But the location varies. You might just walk 100 yards from the car.

Mauna Kea

There are also tours of the top of Mauna Kea, almost 14,000 feet above the beach. Doug Arnott does it and other people as well. I did a tour in 1990 where we got to the top about an hour before sunset to see the telescopes, but we didn't go inside. (He said when he used to take people inside some got sick, but none when they stay outside.) We watched the sunset at the summit. Then we descended to about the 9,500 foot level and he set up an 8 or 10-inch telescope. It was June and we had a stunning view of Centaurus, right above the Southern Cross; Omega Centauri is a globular cluster you can see with your bare eye. (Arnott's trip is about the same as this.) The trip was my birthday present. Meanwhile, my lovely wife was down at a waterfront (no beach) condo sick as could be with our three kids!


The Big Island has a major shortage of beaches. There are resorts built on the rocks. But among its few beaches are black sand beaches - mostly on the east side near the volcanos.

To do - Coffee - famous Kona coffee south of Kailua-Kona. Rainbow Ranch Coffee Plantation

Youth with a Mission has their world headquarters in Kailua-Kona.

Our volcano viewing one-day flight tour in 1990.

Our family vacation in 1990. Hilo, the volcano, South Point, Naahele, Honokawa?, Parker Ranch, Kailua Kona, the summit tour.

Our 25th wedding anniversary - bike ride around the Big Island. Gini is a trooper!


Ron Hebron

Seattle, Washington, USA

ron_lfp at