Back From Paradise

June 19, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

I recently took some time off from the day job and spent 9 days on the big island of Hawaii. It was time off I really needed and I enjoyed spending all that uninterrupted time with my family and getting some time behind the camera are more artistic endeavours.  It had been four years since my last visit to our tropic state of Hawaii and when we were finally on our way the excitement set in. I was looking forward to the reactions of the girls as they experienced and saw things that they just can't here on the mainland. It's also nice to be someplace where things are way more relaxed and leisurely.

One shot I didn't get was Kilauea at night since the weather just wouldn't cooperate while we were out on that side of the island. But that was pretty much the only thing I didn't get to capture or do the entire trip. We took a long hike through Volcano National Park, and got really, really rain soaked.

Kiluea Iki CraterKiluea Iki Crater on a very windy and rainy day.

I know it looks bright and not raining in this photo but trust me on this one. It was windy and rainy. In fact, out in the middle of this crater the rain was pretty much blowing straight in your face, unless you were walking the opposite direction (which we weren't). Unfortunately we also discovered that we were not on the loop trail which added another 2 miles (for me to go fetch the car) to our 3.5 mile hike. Needless to say, we were exhausted wet and cold by the end of the day. But we hiked through a crater on an active volcano and it still had steam vents all over the place. It was a foreign looking terrain, I have to say.

Our second day on the east side of the island involved my catching a helicopter flight at 5AM to tag along a with a film and photo crew to capture actual flowing lava coming from Pu'u O'o crater on Kilauea's southeast rift zone. It was definitely the experience of a lifetime and I'm also hooked. While it was my first time actually riding in a helicopter (I'd been inside military choppers a few times, on the ground) it was actually seeing flowing lava, feeling the heat from it, and smelling molten rock that just blew me away. In some spots we were just a few feet off the ground. My fellow passengers go out once a week to document what's going on with the lava flows as a public service. While I was a paying passenger on their weekly documentation flight, I most certainly had an experience you wouldn't get on a regular helicopter tour. Many, many thanks to Bruce from Extreme Exposure for helping set this up! A huge thanks to Colin, our pilot, from Paradise Helicopters; what a great job of piloting in less than ideal weather.

The photos above are just a teaser for the many, many photos I have to edit and will start putting up on the site and on my 500px.com gallery.

In late May the June 27th (2014) flow came to an end but new break outs started on May 24th moving east-southeast of Pu'u O'o crater. The first photo in this blog shows a view (east to west) of Kilauea Iki crater which last erupted 56 years ago and has been "quiet" since. Pu'u O'o is where most (if not all) of the action has been over the last few years and was the reason for the state to begin re-building Chain of Craters road as a 1.5 lane gravel road in case communities like Pahoa were cut off in the event that highway 130 was breached by lava flows. If you're going to Volcano National Park and plan to go down to the "end" of Chain of Craters road to see where the lava crossed it and entered the ocean you'll be in for a disappointing surprise. The new gravel road has been built by crushing and levelling the lava into gravel (and probably adding more gravel) over top of where the original road was. There's no iconic spot to see any longer including the road sign buried in lava rock declaring the road was closed. Instead you'd have at least a 6-7 mile walk to see the old flow and any sign of the original road is completely gone now (at least within the park). I'm not sure if construction of a new gravel road was being done simultaneously from the Kalapana side or not. The new gravel road does not (yet) show up on any satellite images (e.g., Google Earth, etc.) and until I asked some locals I couldn't find out when the heck construction on it started. Honestly, unless you are going to specifically see the sea arch or petroplyphs there's pretty much no reason to bother driving down Chain of Craters Road anymore; at least not until they finish constructing the gravel road and actually reconnect it with Kalapana (which I doubt unless there's another imminent emergency).

In the meantime, Pu'u O'o is still venting lava and sulfur dioxide gas. In the second photo is a shot looking upslope generally in a northwest direction toward the crater (which is too far away to see). If you look closely you can see lava breaking out over a wide area (wider area than I could capture in a single shot) and moving downhill. The breakouts are covering ground already covered in flows from the 1983 and onward flows and thus pose no danger to anything other than the plant life that has, unfortunately, begun calling the area home again. We saw plenty of ferns get vaporised and many of the trees that had scratched out a place to root were on fire or surrounded and doomed. Further uphill is too inhospitable for plant life due to the concentration of gases, acid rain, and I suspect the extreme heat not far underground. As we moved uphill there seemed to be evidence of numerous lava tubes feeding the breakouts further downhill. In the final picture of this blog post we see, closer up, some Pahoehoe (pe-hoy-hoy) lava moving across older A'a lava flows. A'a lava isn't particularly photogenic so I'm glad it was the Pahoehoe variety due its more sculptural billowing, braiding, and pillowy "toes" that it forms. But as I learned over breakfast it's the ocean entry that everyone craves. Ocean entry completely stopped (for the time being) 3 or 4 years ago; but it's ocean entry that provides the most action due to the sometimes explosive reactions of lava hitting the water and the massive amounts of steam and gases.

To see lava freely flowing like this fulfilled a childhood dream and I was able to (finally) cross something off my bucket list. But as I said earlier, I'm hooked; I'm now a lava junky and I will be very eagerly looking forward to the next time I can shoot lava again. There will be much more to come in terms of photos for quite some time. In fact, if I only did one lava photo a month I'd have enough photos to edit and publish for over thirty years. So, yeah, lots more to come. I'm thinking about doing a couple new lava photos each month for a while -- we'll see.


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