The second youngest of the Hawaiian volcanoes breaks the surface of the ocean along the southern shores of The Big Island.
Erupting almost continuously since the early 1980s, Kilauea is one of the most active volcanoes on the planet and occasionally creates a true spectacle of water and fire.
On my most recent trip to Hawaii, Dane Jackson, Rafa Ortiz, Nick Troutman and I came across a news story stating one of Kilauea’s lava tubes was pouring molten lava out of the sea cliffs, creating a lava waterfall as the magma plummeted into the salty ocean below.
We wanted to bear witness to the natural phenomenon for ourselves. We chartered a local tour boat and made the mission 20 miles up the coastline from the closest access point, careful to assure our captain we knew what we were doing while intending to paddle as close as possible to the base of the falls.
Our captain was Hawaiian and arranged for us to go explore what he called the “firehose” at a time when no other tour boats would be in the area. We followed the sea cliffs from east to west as dolphins surfed our wake and performed aerial acrobatics.
It was visible where the relentless ocean waters had eroded the sea cliffs, large jigsaw pieces had fallen into the depths below, and where past lava flows had reached the ocean to grow the island.
We saw a few locations where the lava flow had stopped and the lava tubes had sealed themselves. Then we were no longer looking at the shoreline.
Ahead of us, shooting thousands of feet into the sky was a massive billowing plume of white steam, the reaction of molten hot plasma meeting the cool ocean waters below. We urged the captain to drive quicker as we frantically moved to put our gear on. We rounded the final corner and laid eyes on the most incredible natural display of power I have ever had the pleasure of seeing.
The captain kindly gave us one hour to explore the area. We seal launched off the boat in a frenzy.
We spent the majority of our time hooting and hollering, paddling as close to the lava falls as we dared. The murky brown water was almost boiling.
Small porous rocks often exploded out of the base of the falls as the lava cooled, and after a particularly close call of lava rocks pelting my boat, I paddled back over to our ship, jumped in and pulled out my camera.
Nick and Rafa, lifelong friends, were still sitting together in the water, taking in the final moments of a once in a lifetime opportunity. I snapped this photo before the moment was lost forever.
Lava flows, earthquakes and slumping caused by Kilauea devastated Hawaii’s Big Island in the spring of 2018. At press time, some 6,100 acres were covered in lava and 700 homes destroyed.
You might caution that the steam contains an acid (hydrochloric acid, if I remember right) that can destroy your lungs if you breathe it.