Skip to content

Trekking to the Ocean Flow…the Hard Way!

January 6, 2013
End of Trail

On Friday, January 4, 2013, three rangers from Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park trekked out to pinpoint the GPS coordinates, check signage, and measure the distance to the latest flows from Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō  to seep across the coastal plain and into the ocean – within park boundaries. These coastal flows are currently much closer to Kalapana, with some lobes entering the ocean outside of park boundaries, nevertheless, it’s important to know the distance of these flows in the park, so we can adequately inform park visitors.

Thus, we set out at 10:15 a.m. from the end of Chain of Craters Road. It was a grueling and difficult 13.6-mile roundtrip adventure over hardened lava, uneven and unforgiving terrain known as the flow field.  There isn’t a trail per se (lava from Kīlauea keeps covering up this section of the park), but there are reflective markers that lead from the end of Chain of Craters Road to beacons that number 0 through 7. It’s about three miles to beacon #7. The current flows are approximately another four miles past #7. We encountered 20 mph headwinds, with occasional higher gusts, and the sun was hot! But we made it, took GPS readings, and enjoyed Pele’s ocean entry from a safe distance. We managed to get back to our vehicle by 6:22 p.m. – just a fraction before darkness fell. Do the math: that’s a 10-hour trek for rangers who are accustomed to these conditions, and we didn’t linger long. Weigh the options carefully before you commit.

If you decide to go: you must be extremely prepared, and in good physical condition! You don’t need a permit, but we can’t emphasize preparedness enough! Carry at least three liters of water per person — that’s 3.17 quarts, almost one gallon. Wear long pants and durable hiking boots, bring a good flashlight, and extra batteries. Sunglasses, sunscreen and a hat are necessary, and be prepared for rain, too. Gloves are a good idea, as black lava is sharp as glass. Pack lots of snacks, you’ll be glad you did. And above all, watch where you’re going. There are earth cracks and lots of opportunities for injury.

Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park offers this short but informative lava safety video on its website:

Coincidentally, a team of USGS scientists from the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory also made the trek to the coastal flow at the same time, but from the Kalapana side, and their photos from “the other side” were blogged here earlier this weekend. They also uploaded a map of the new flow field on the USGS site:

Episode 61 (Peace Day) map

Large-scale map showing the mapped flow expansion on the coastal plain between December 14, 2012, and January 4, 2013 (in bright red). Light red represents the extent of the Peace Day flow from September 21, 2011, to December 14, 2012. Older flows are labeled with the years in which they were active. Changes to the perimeter of the flow farther upslope, from recent flows near the top of Royal Gardens subdivision,were not mapped and so are not shown here. Map courtesy of USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. This map shows that the flows are inside and outside the national park boundary.

And here’s a photo essay (from an iPhone) with captions from the park rangers’ long trek from the park side. We hope you enjoy and learn from it.


Lovely rainbow on the drive down Chain of Craters Rd. NPS Photo/J.Ferracane

End of Trail

The sign says it all. NPS photo/J.Ferracane

Beacon 1

Eruption crew rangers Kaikea Blakemore (L) and Arnold Nakata (R). NPS Photo/J.Ferracane

Beacon 6

Beacon 6 on the hardened lava from the 2003 flows. NPS Photo/J.Ferracane


What NOT to wear. Sturdy hiking boots are a must on the coastal plain! NPS Photo/J.Ferracane

Beacon 7

Beacon 7, the last one. Rises like this one are common. It’s another 4 difficult miles to the ocean entry from here, as of 1.4.13. NPS Photo/J.Ferracane

Spam Musubi

Local-style power bar: Spam musubi! NPS Photo/J.Ferracane

Royal Gardens mauka

The remnants of the Royal Gardens subdivision up mauka. The ocean entry is down slope from this small green kipuka. NPS Photo/J.Ferracane

typical view on the coastal plain

The hard hike offers a plethora of inspiring views. And plenty of soreness in the days to follow! NPS Photo/J.Ferracane

Ocean entry beyond new black sand beach

Our first glimpse of the ocean entry just beyond the newly formed black sand beach. NPS Photo/J.Ferracane

first glimpse

Our first glimpse of molten lava trickling to the sea. The flows were weak and narrow, but we didn’t mind! NPS Photo/J.Ferracane

see the heart shape?

The strong winds were in our favor. We were upwind of any dangerous fumes, VERY important! NPS Photo/J.Ferracane

ocean entry

An amazing sight to see. But ask yourself: can you handle the hike? NPS Photo/J.Ferracane


The temperatures are extremely hot near the flows, in excess of 100 degrees F. NPS photo/J.Ferracane

Beware: hot lava lies beneath!

Beneath this beautiful pattern is 2000 + degree-F lava. BE AWARE! NPS Photo/J.Ferracane

admiring the flows

We counted 9 people total during our 10-hour trek eager to see the flows from the park side. Five were prepared, four turned around (including the rubber slippah-wearer!) NPS Photo/J.Ferracane

Pele's rainbow

Pele is found at the end of this rainbow. NPS Photo/J.Ferracane


Your devoted author (hobbling two days later), thanks you for reading this post! Know Before You Go!

5 Comments leave one →
  1. szekelyse50 permalink
    January 6, 2013 11:48 pm

    Mindig megcsodálom ezeket a tájakat ,csodálatosak.Köszönöm.

  2. HAVO PAO permalink*
    January 7, 2013 10:00 am

    Anybody notice we wrote 2012 instead of 2013? That’s been fixed. ;)

  3. HAVO PAO permalink*
    January 8, 2013 12:07 pm

    Just updated this post to include the USGS map of the current flow field. Mahalo!

  4. Sara Green permalink
    January 8, 2013 7:17 pm

    I just wanted to thank you for taking photos of the lava flow for those of us who aren’t able to make the treck. Thank you and aloha!💛

  5. alojamiento rural rioja permalink
    July 4, 2013 5:17 am

    Trekking to the Ocean Flow…the Hard Way! | Pacific Island National Parks, aporte valioso. Me encanta vuestra web.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

Gravatar Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 232,880 other followers

Build a website with
%d bloggers like this: