Living in the shadow of Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii

I can’t be everywhere to discover new things to do with my kids, no matter how much I wish I could. I’ve asked a few friends to jump in with stories from their own travels. Mary from is sharing what it is like on the ground on the Big Island of Hawaii as the lava flow moves across the island.

When we decided to live on the Big Island of Hawaii I have to admit that one of the driving factors was living near Kilauea volcano, one of the worlds most accessible and most active volcanoes.  I never imagined a year later that I would be facing the threat of a lava flow.


What is happening

On June 27, 2014 the Pu’u’o’o’ vent on the East Rift Zone of the volcano began erupting … again.  Now, this is not an explosive eruption, no pumice flying through the air or lava explosions but rather more a lava  river slowly flowing.  It stuck around for a few weeks in the same spot and then started to advance. At the same time, we were hit with a hurricane and all things became about those who had power helping those without, and clearing the damage done by the massive and invasive albezia tress. No one realized the lava was creeping onward.

Fast forward about two months and everyone started to notice.  As the lava inched closer and closer to the sleepy little hippie enclave of Pahoa it began to feel real. Lava is a tricky beast, though. It would sink into a ground crack and we would feel a little better only to discover, two days later, the lava had filled the crack and was moving, yet again, closer to town. It slows and speeds up and no matter how much forecasting is done by scientists at the volcano, no one can really predict when or where the flow will hit town. To say it is unsettling would be an understatement.

According to HVO, the people most closely monitoring the flow, the volcano is pumping out 1,500 gallons of lava per second, and although at times the flow rate at the front slows down there has been no reason to think the flow from its source will stop.  We can hope, and many people here do, but the reality is that Pele the Hawaiian volcano goddess, has a plan and seems to be seeing through with it.


What it’s like day to day 

  • On any given day you can smell sulphur or burning vegetation just about anyplace in town.
  • There is an omnipresent smoke plume over our town, it is large and unsettling.  Everyday it moves closer.
  • Civil defense messages come about every hour on any radio station on the island reminding us of the lava’s activity and what we should and shouldn’t do.
  • The front page of the paper every single day has something to do with the lava.
  • Questions abound in nearly every conversation in town; What about the schools? How will we maintain power? Can we divert the lava? How long until the highway is consumed? The list of what we do not know is long.
  • Our town is virtually at a standstill, no new projects, some shops closing down.
  • Signs in most store fronts explain what they are planning to do once the lava crosses the highway.
  • There are biweekly meetings in town with civil defense, the mayor of Hilo and the experts from the volcano park.
  • New roadways are under construction, old lava flows are being paved over, and portable classrooms are brought in to the schools on the safe side of the flow.
  • Moving vans are going in to town empty and leaving full with the possessions people can easily move, preparing to get out of the path.
  • As the landscape burns, it releases methane and can produce a small hiss or a very loud blast which can be heard when in close proximity.

There is a general level of anxiety present all the time.  We are bracing for an inevitable disaster and have no idea when it will be here or where exactly it will pass through.  More than 9,000 residents are about to lose their town and/or their access to town as the lava approaches and there is only one road into and out of town.  It is heartbreaking to see, but at the same time, since Kilauea has been erupting for decades, it has always been a matter of “when” the lava would affect Pahoa rather than “if.” Without a present flow, that fact is sort of easy to forget.

On the other hand, even with all the devastation coming, it has been incredibly beautiful. I have had the opportunity to explore the forest right up to the lava flow front, to watch it ooze out slowly destroying everything in its path with a graceful beauty. I know the damage that is coming, and I do not want to disrespect the people this will affect, but it truly is a site to see.  As if the Earth is bleeding, showing us her fury while at the same time creating new land. The volcano is the maker of this amazing island chain and seeing it in action is nothing short of awe inspiring.

People who can leave will, but so many others simply have no choice. Simple trips to the store will soon take some residents well over three hours round trip. Insurance is not available to many in the line of fire, making this all the more heartbreaking.

We do not own our home so the devastation for us is not so dire and for that we are incredibly thankful. We will wait and see what the access means for us and how the smoke and gases affect us. We will decide what to do from there. For now, we will help where we can, admire and respect Pele, and quietly admire her work as she cuts a new path and creates new land for the world to enjoy.


Mary and her family exited the rat race of life for a new life of adventure, experiences, and togetherness nearly eight years ago.  They chronicle their journey at  

3 thoughts on “Living in the shadow of Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii”

  1. Anne

    Wow, thanks for the up-close look! May you be safe.

  2. Mary

    Thanks for hosting this! It’s been quite a crazy ride!

  3. Suzaanne Fluhr

    When we visited the big island of Hawaii a few years ago, we went on a tour at night to the then most recent lava flow on the island that was (and maybe still is) flowing into the sea. Even on hardened lava you could walk on, if you put your hand down over a crack, you could feel the heat escaping. There were a few houses here and there that had been built on the new lava. (I guess they can’t buy homeowners’ insurance). As Mary described, Hawaii is a place where you can still see creation—which is fascinating, beautiful and terrifying—-all at once.

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