(View Part I—Overview)
The best way to see active lava flows on the Big Island is by helicopter (well, unless you are lucky enough to see an active flow at the end of Highway 130, but that’s hit or miss). But helicopter tours present some decisions. First, helicopter tours are expensive. The consolation is that years from now, you will probably remember the exciting helicopter tour and you will forget how expensive it is. Second, the weather on the Hilo side will almost always have clouds and some rain. With Blue Hawaiian Helicopter Tours, you are given big discounts by signing up online ahead of time, but then you are locked in. If the weather is not ideal, you’re stuck. On the other hand, if you wait for perfect weather, you may wait awhile. Of course, if the weather is really bad, so that it is dangerous to fly or you can’t see anything, Blue Hawaiian will cancel the tour and either reschedule your flight or give you a full refund.
We signed up for a 10:00am tour ahead of time and hoped for decent weather. We left our cute little guesthouse in Honoka’a Friday morning and took a leisurely drive along the Hamakua Coast to our next lodging, the Inn at Kulaniapia Falls. Along the way we saw Laupahoehoe Point, a rugged point that is the site of a 1946 tsunami that killed 21 school children. We also saw ‘Akaka Falls, a 4-mile scenic drive to Onomea Bay, and somewhere along the way, a scenic overlook where we had lunch. We arrived early at the Inn at Kulaniapia Falls.
This charming bed and breakfast is a multi-building complex built in an Asian style. It was by far my favorite place, and I was sorry that we had only booked one night here. It is about 15 minutes from downtown Hilo up the hill in the midst of a macadamia nut orchard. The complex generates its own electricity and uses solar panels for hot water. The waterfall on the property is visible from the main house, and you can hear it from all the buildings. There is a short path to the waterfall, and if the weather is good, you can swim in the pool by the falls. The breakfast includes made to order eggs and waffles with fresh local fruit. Perhaps the best part of staying at a bed and breakfast is meeting the other guests. In our guest building, they were all friendly and quite willing to share their Big Island travel experiences.
Saturday morning we had breakfast in the common room and packed up, driving to Hilo airport, our check-in point for the Blue Hawaiian Helicopter Tour. We flew in an EcoStar, a helicopter that holds the pilot plus six guests. The weather was overcast, but we were hoping for the best.
Pu'u O'o Vent: The site of the current volcanic activity.
Lava hot spots zoomed in from the helicopter.The tour was approximately 50 minutes. We saw both sun, clouds, and even some rain. Our pilot gave us breathtaking views of Kilauea Volcano, the Pu’u ‘O’o vent (the source of most current volcanic activity), and close-ups of lava meeting ocean. The sun and rain even combined to give us a beautiful rainbow!
Volcanic activity builds new land!
Lava meets the sea in a steamy brew.
Hot lava creeping along older flows.
Next: Lava Viewing