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Get Up Close and Personal with Some Hot Lava on Hawaii Island

November 29, 2013 at 12:40 PM | by | Comments (0)

We have a question for all you well-traveled folks out there: Sure, you've experienced a lot in your life, but have you ever walked on a rock that was a day old?

Hawaii Island might not boast the beaches that some of the other Hawaiian Islands do, but it certainly makes up for it with its incredible opportunities of environmental exploration. Yesterday, we told you how you can find all but two of the world's ecosystems on the island (except temperate snow forests or polar ice caps), including active volcanoes.

And if you think staring into a campfire is memorizing, wait until you're ten feet from a 2,000-degree lava flow as it oozes out of the earth.

As soon as we came out of the jungle we could smell it in the air, the burning, smokey scent coming with the wind from the dark, rocky ground ahead. People say that you feel like you're on the moon when you're exploring a lava field, and we think that's a pretty damn good way to put it. The Pāhoehoe lava is smooth but brittle, creating a "volcanic glass" surface that easily chips away when it's cool but is extremely sharp, which is why we're wearing gloves in the photo. When you walk on it, it is solid but airy - kind of like meringue, if that makes sense.

Looking at the video, you might be curious about stepping on such a surface, about whether or not you could accidentally end up knee deep in lava. The answer is no, and the reason is because it's so hot, there is no chance whatsoever that it could sneak up on you or that you could get close enough to walk into it unknowingly. In the photo you see above, we could definitely feel the heat on our back, and with some of the bigger flows, even approaching with a five-foot long stick was challenging - we had to straight up cover our face and could feel the hair on our arms burn at times.

But the fear, heat, and sense of danger is what makes the experience so incredible, the opportunity to get so close to something so destructive and pure. Plus, it looks really, really amazing flowing out of the cracks in the ground. And once you feel how intimidating and powerful a small amount is, imagining a big eruption becomes overwhelming.

The lava cools very quickly, and you'd have a hard time poking a stick through it only minutes after it turns from red to black. That's where this idea of walking on a day-old rock comes from, because "new ground" is literally being created right under your feet (we'd give it a courtesy cushion of a few hours before trying to hop around on it, though).

So how do you see this on your next trip? Well, that's the thing with the lava flow - it's somewhat unpredictable. As recently as a few months ago, it was flowing into the ocean, but it has since stopped and we had to get on a tour with Ahiu Hawaii to hike out to a crater. It was the most extreme adventure we've been on in terms of an organized tour: a 10-mile roundtrip trek through the rainforest to the volcano. If this sounds too intense, no worries - there are other tours, but this is one thing you're better off waiting to book until you arrive because the options will depend on where the lava is flowing at that particular time.

[Photos: Will McGough for Jaunted]

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