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Where's the Lava?

On Jan. 3, 1983, Kilauea erupted, creating an unparalleled display of flowing lava inside Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The easy trip to view the lava flow–visitors simply drove to the end of a paved coastal park road at dusk and looked mauka–became the crowning moment for any park visit. There, the hill throbbed with oozing red and steam jetted out of the sea where the lava finally entered.

Not anymore.

Photo Courtesy:  U.S. Department of Interior,
U.S. Geological Survey

Nearly a quarter of a century later, Pele has shut off the tap. After a series of tremors on Father’s Day morning in June, Kilauea now erupts outside the park and the lava no longer flows to the sea. At the moment, lava is flowing inland through the Kahaualea and Wao Kele O Puna natural area reserves, owned by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources and Office of Hawaiian Affairs, respectively. For safety reasons, both areas are closed to the public. The only way to see the current eruption is from the air.

So what are people saying about the sudden disappearance of the lava equivalent of Old Faithful? Befuddled visitors have expressed disappointment when stopping at the park welcome center. But so far, they are still coming, says Jessica Ferracane, a spokeswoman for the Big Island Visitors Bureau. However, it’s too early to tell what the ultimate impact will be, with little media coverage to date of the lava shift.

In July, 321,217 people visited the park, up 14 percent from the same month last year. August showed a slight drop in visitor totals, but year-to-date visitor counts are slightly higher than 2006 totals. Besides the lava, visitors can see lava tubes, massive craters, steam vents, rain forests and ancient rock carvings. Visitors also can bike, camp and hike throughout the park.

“People are still having an incredible time,” says Mardie Lane, park ranger at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. And certain kinds of businesses, like helicopter tour companies, are experiencing a boon.

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