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Pele shows off with Kilauea volcano

Times Staff Writer

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."

One of the best ways to see the flow is by helicopter. Companies, including Safari Helicopters and Blue Hawaiian, offer departures from Kona or Hilo.

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,

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is 30 miles from Hilo and 96 miles from Kailua-Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii.

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