Hawaii's Kilauea volcano, which has been erupting continuously since 1983, is putting on a particularly good show, drawing crowds to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island for a close-up of lava flowing to the sea at a new entry point that began May 16.
"There is no end in sight," says park ranger Mardie Lane, suggesting that current volcanic activity — with its accompanying flurry of earthquakes — is "at the whim of Pele," the goddess of fire in Hawaiian mythology.
Park visitors able to hike in the heat several miles over an undulating lava field can come within a dozen or so feet of the flow, says Lane, "but it's no easy trek." From the end of Chain of Craters road, where there's a lookout point with telescopes for the less physically fit, the flow is about five miles away.
The only lodging within the park is Volcano House Hotel, which has rooms from $95 to $225 as well as rustic cabins. The hotel is "filling up," a spokeswoman said, and advised booking as far ahead as possible.
The eruption is "totally awesome," says George Applegate, a Hawaii native who heads the Big Island Visitors Bureau. It's "not like the movies [with] this large fountain exploding" but rather a big, bubbling caldron pouring out lava. "You can watch mother nature create this earth in real time. It's a beautiful show."
Ranger Lane says, "It does take your breath away ... there's something so primordial about it — lava, fire, sea water."
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is open 24 hours daily; the Kilauea Visitors Center, which shows an introductory film, is open 7:45 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. General information, such as weather conditions, is available at (808) 985-6000.
A park permit, good for seven days, is $10 per car. Hikers will find tips on preparation and safety at the National Park Service's website, www.nps.gov/havo.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is 30 miles from Hilo and 96 miles from Kailua-Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii.