Guest Author - Annie Billups
The volcanic smog from Kilauea volcano on the Big Island drapes over Oahu like a sheet over a birdcage. I haven't seen blue sky or clouds for three days, just an ashy haze that seems to go on forever. This volcanic smog, or vog, will hang over the islands until the trade winds arrive and blow it away.
Vog, primarily sulfur dioxide, permeates homes and buildings, causing headaches, sore throats, watery eyes, and runny noses. It makes some people tired and can also induce asthma. Weathermen on local news channels warn us not to exercise too strenuously outside, and predict when the trade winds will rush in and save us all from our ailments.
But the source of the menacing vog is a beauty worth its pain. Since 1983, a hotspot 65 miles beneath the ocean floor has been pumping lava out of Kilauea volcano. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the volcano gushes out more lava than any other volcano on the East Rift Zone in five hundred years. The landscape near the volcano is ever-changing based on where the lava flows, and the Big Island continues to expand as lava pours into the sea. Visitors are welcome to witness this natural phenomenon.
The lava flows through Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, located in the southeastern portion of the Big Island. It constantly changes course, sometimes flowing into the ocean, and other times not. The lava has recently moved out of the park, coursing down the mountainside into the "lava delta" at the end of Highway 130. Visitors can drive here and walk along the delta to view the glowing lava in the dark.
The lava is most visible at night a couple hours after sunset. Flashlights in-hand and sturdy walking shoes laced-up, lava-thirsty travelers can walk to a designated viewing site near the coast to watch lava rivers wind downhill. The trek is about 15 minutes and flat, but it's imperative to wear tennis shoes since lava rocks are sharp enough to cut your feet. All shapes, sizes, and ages should be able to walk here. Bringing water and a snack is advisable since most people choose to stay and watch the lava for a while.
While I dread the arrival of vog on Oahu, it also reminds me of my own sweet experience of lava gazing. Watching the Big Island grow was like watching a miracle, and I hope all visitors to the Big Island get to do it, too.
Viewing sites and rules often change, so be sure to check volcano conditions on the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park web site, at the information center in the park, or by phone.