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15 Ways to Experience Hawaii’s Kilauea Volcano—Without Getting Too Close to Lava

Here’s how to see the exhilarating beauty of Hawaii’s fiery volcano.

Kilauea Volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii woke from its relatively gentle, decades-long slumber on May 3, 2018, when a series of fissures began erupting within a quiet Lower East Rift Zone neighborhood called Leilani Estates. As the world watched in horrified fascination, residents fled, a mandatory evacuation zone was created, and the area was cordoned off by National Guard troops and Hawaii DLNR to keep the public and residents safe. At press time, no one, not even residents, could enter the evacuation zone. Yet it’s still possible for you, as a visitor to Hawaii, to experience the wonders of the volcano—without getting too close. Here’s how.

Note: See how the government shutdown affects Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park

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Hike the Kahuku Unit of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

The main park is currently closed, and it may take a number of months before it reopens safely. However, the park’s Kahuku Unit, about 50 miles from the main entrance of the national park, remains open daily. Orientation talks, guided ranger hikes, and cultural activities are just a few of the things you can do here. Bring a picnic and explore the native trees, geologic history and other features of this beautiful spot. Kahuku Is located in Ka‘ū, on the east side of Highway 11 near mile marker 70.5.

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Explore Volcano Village

Shops, restaurants, cafes, and galleries are all open for business in this artsy enclave just a couple of miles east of the park entrance. Have a satisfying meal at the Lava Rock Café; pick up some sodas, snacks, flashlights, or sweatshirts at the Kilauea General Store; or pop into Kilauea Kreations, which features quilts, specialty goods such as lilikoi butter, crafts, and souvenirs. You can also try the excellent Ōhelo Café to warm up the chill with soup, pasta, ribs, or a burger.

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Go with the Pahoa Glow

No, you cannot get near the lava, but you can still experience the thrill of seeing the red glow from miles away. Eat dinner in one of Pahoa’s delicious eateries while an otherworldly glow fills the sky from Fissure 8. Don’t worry–you are perfectly safe! Try Kaleo’s Bar & Grill, Nings Thai Cuisine, Pahoa Fresh Fish, or Paolo’s Bistro.

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See Lava from the Water

Two companies take visitors out to see the live ocean entry—Kalapana Cultural Tours and Lava Ocean Adventures. Both leave early in the morning from Hilo and feature late afternoon tours as well. At press time, lava was still draining into the ocean at the ocean entry between Kapoho and Pohoiki on the island’s eastern point. (Be prepared for a rough ride over at times, as the seas near this side of the island can be intense and choppy.)

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See Lava from the Sky

All the helicopter companies are offering tours over the enormous lava river and active ocean entry. It’s a wondrous sight that will take your breath away. We recommend Paradise Helicopters, which flies out of both Hilo and Kona, and has flights for every budget. The company has donated lots of flight time to the community so that the historic lava flow event can be properly documented and mapped.

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Attend Volcano After Dark Near the Park Events

These events used to take place inside the park, but with the recent closure, were moved outside to Volcano Village at the Volcano Art Center. The “Near the Park” events feature such topics as “Saving Rare Plants from the Brink of Extinction in Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park,” hosted by a renowned botanist. Or attend a presentation given by a native Hawaiian cultural practitioner and professor on Pele, the goddess of the volcano and how the traditional cultural perspectives inform the ongoing eruption event.

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Stop by the Pu‘uhonua o Puna Hub

Talk story with members of the Puna community and “citizen geologists” Philip Ong and John Stallman. These beloved community heroes give daily updates and mini-lectures that have been shared via social media around the world. Meet world-famous Ikaika Marzo, unofficial Pahoa lava ambassador and information CEO. The Hub is located in Pāhoa, at the four-way intersection, on the corner lot across from Pāhoa High School. Look for the canopy tents. Open Monday and Friday from 2-6 pm.  As always, volunteers are welcome.

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Visit Tanglewood Gallery

You’re safely miles from the lava flows but you will still feel close when perusing this beautiful gallery of volcano images. Renowned photographer Harry Durgin has been on the ground capturing every phase of the 2018 eruption. He and his wife Mouse-Marie offer jaw-dropping photography of the volcano, the eruption, Fissure 8, the ocean, sunsets and other Big Island nature scenes for sale in their gallery (by appointment) located in Pahoa.

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Talk Story with Park Rangers

Displaced Hawaii Volcanoes National Park rangers are available at various locations to give lava talks and answer questions. One such place is the Mokupāpapa Discovery Center located on Kamehameha Avenue in downtown Hilo. Rangers will answer questions about the park, eruptive activities, and other topics. At 2 pm daily, they give a small presentation on the current status of the eruption in both the Lower East Rift Zone and at the summit.

Note: See how the government shutdown affects Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park

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Visit HVNP Gift Shop

Don’t give up your volcano swag just because the park is closed. This national park souvenir shop is everyone’s favorite stop at the Volcano House. The shop has been temporarily relocated to three locations: the Prince Kuhio Plaza, the Mokupāpapa Discovery Center (both in Hilo), and the Kahuku Unit of Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park. This is the place to come for all official things Kilauea Volcano—jackets, hats, sweatshirts, maps, books, DVDs, coffee mugs, keychains, and more.

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Stay in a Volcano Treehouse

Stay high above the forest canopy and watch the stars above while waking to sweet Hawaiian birdsong in the morning. These treehouses are the real deal and are perfect for romantic getaways or simply a way to bond with the volcano. Check out either Mahinui Rain Forest Weddings which also offers wedding services and Treehouses Skye, featuring the loving handbuilt creations of true-to-life, peace-and-love, former hippie Skye Petersen.

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Get Artsy-Crafty

Volcano Village is known the world over as an artists’ hamlet. Full of galleries, artist lairs, and crafty creativity, Volcano Village boasts such gems as the Fahrenheit 2400 studio, where you can watch glassblowers in action; historic Volcano Garden Arts, home to artist Ira Ono and his gallery, café, and gardens; and Volcano Art Center, where you can try your hand at pottery, stained glass, painting, lauhala weaving classes, and more.

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Visit the Winery

Yes, there really is a winery located at 4,000 feet in Volcano. Specializing in tropical notes such as yellow guava and yellow jaboticaba blended with traditional wine grapes, the Volcano Winery also offers samplings of more traditional libations including Pinot Grigio and Pinot Noir. Sit outside in the cool elevation, sip your glass of wine, and enjoy a cheese platter or other appetizer. BYOB is also allowed in the picnic area

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Run Across a Volcano

Running events are always popular in Volcano. While some scheduled for inside the park have been temporarily postponed, you can participate in half marathon, 5K and 10K events happening here. The “Shake, Rattle and Run” was held in the midst of the daily earthquakes shaking the summit in summer 2018. If you aren’t ready for competition, you can find plenty of running trails in and around Volcano.

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Play Golf at the Summit

The elevation may do some strange things to the soar of your golf balls, but this uncommon golf course is both fun and challenging. The public is welcome to play a round or two at the 18-hole par 72, 6,547-yard course located on the rim of Kilauea Crater. Established in 1921, Volcano Golf & Country Club also features a restaurant open for breakfast and lunch.

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