Let’s make the leap from throwing fire in Florida to flowing fire in Hawaii. Mount Kilauea, one of five volcanoes that have formed the Big Island of Hawaii, is erupting continuously now. Mauna Loa, northwest of Kilauea, the largest volcano on Earth, is still active as well. It has erupted 33 times, most recently in 1984. Curious visitors to Hawaii can charter a private plane or helicopter to fly over Volcano National Park for a closer look at the desolate lava covered landscape and perhaps catch a glimpse of glowing lava.
Our family bought four seats on Big Island Air out of Kona Airport on the West coast for the latest flight of the day on July 4, 2013. As a photographer with this unique opportunity, I had done some research, hoping to get some interesting photographs.
I planned to shoot at 1/500th of a second to take into account the movement of the airplane. Light conditions were such that I had to bump up the ISO to 1600. While I thought I would be using a wide-angle lens, I found myself in cramped quarters between my body and the window, so I used my Tamron 28-300 zoom (the most compact of my landscape lenses) on my Nikon 700D camera. I gave my Canon G10 to my daughter Courtney, asking her to take still photos or movies, whatever she wished, and she got some great shots, too. Erin shot from a third window with her iPhone. She’s a wizard with that device!
Shooting from an airplane is like shooting from a boat, in that the same shot never comes into view twice or for very long, so my approach is to shoot every frame that looks interesting and edit later. This makes for a very intense hour of shooting, and you just might get a little motion sickness from focusing and refocusing every few seconds.
The views were so different than I expected. The landscape changes abruptly from green pasture to black lava fields. You can see this sudden change in this view of a plateau where windmills along the edge take advantage of the wind on the south side of the island.
Lava fields were so vast, that I was glad we had chosen to fly over them rather than drive. You could drive for hours around this region, and it would look pretty much the same from the car window. You also run the risk of sulfur dioxide emissions from flowing lava at ground level, but naturalists try to cordon off these regions for our safety.
On July 4, there were no dramatic plumes of fire shooting into the air. I was disappointed about this. Orange hot lava was visible in two spots: flowing into the ocean on the east coast. See the steam rising here.
The other peak we got was through a “skylight” into a lava tube (lower left in photo), or underground river of lava, which is a common way for lava to flow. I was fascinated to learn that one underground lava tube from Kilauea continues under the Pacific floor and is forming a new island nine miles off the coast of the Big Island.
As our flight continued to the northeast quadrant of the island, the Hamakua Coast, we could see the gulches that we had driven over a few days before. A gulch is a steep valley that runs to the ocean, now richly covered in rainforest. Rhonda, our pilot explained that these are old lava tubes from Mauna Kea that have collapsed.
In closing, I’d like to share two more photos that show the random and merciless flow of the lava. In this photo, you can see the trees that look like match sticks and the little stretch of highway that missed the lava flow.
Here you see a neighborhood that was devastated by lava flow, but rebuilt more than once (according to Rhonda) by some persistent homeowners whose confidence in the future is greater than their fear of the past. Do you think they were able to buy homeowners insurance?