The largest island in Hawaii and the United States lent, in the original version, the name to the archipelago of the Pacific. To avoid confusion, it is now known as the Big Island.
The title is not misleading. With an area of 10.432 km2, its surface is twice that of the other islands together. The Big Island keeps getting bigger.
Five volcanoes connect it to the interior of the earth's crust. Two of them channel lava in overwhelming amounts and deposit it on the surface of the island and the adjoining sea.
dormant, the Mauna Kea it is the highest mountain in the world if measured from the seabed. Kilauea, on the other hand, is the most active on the planet and its overwhelming presence means that the other natural features of the island are subject to volcanic prominence.
The second city in the 50th US state, Hilo has the status of historic and tourist outpost. It welcomes visitors to the island and sends them to where it smokes most. As a rule, privileged places are sheltered by the Volcanoes National Park, which brings together lush and inhospitable areas on the slopes of Kilauea and Mauna Loa.
The latter shows infrequent signs of life, not least because, above 3.900 meters, its summit spends part of the winter covered by a blanket of snow, but appearances are deceiving. The interior of the wide cone shelters a lake of lava that, from time to time, overflows and releases incandescent rivers that sow destruction.
On these occasions, properly accredited scientists and photographers obtain the spectacular photographs and videos that renew one of the most dramatic images of Hawaii in the world.
Unfortunately, when we explore the Volcanoes National Park, all the lava flows through underground tunnels and is only visible near the sea, many kilometers to the southeast. We are thus temporarily limited to contemplating the smoldering and smoking crater of Kilauea and other lunar landscapes.
In Search of the Big Island Lava. The Unstoppable Kilauea
We follow the Chain of Craters Road that takes us along the southern slope of Kilauea and we proceed along a sea of solid lava with shifting patterns and textures, sometimes roped and sometimes cushioned.
The asphalt reaches the top of a cliff from which you can see a steeper extension of the slope, and black kilometers ahead, the dark blue of the ocean.
Isolated fragments of vegetation spared by lava or, in the view of Hawaiian mythology, by the fire goddess Pele are detected at spaces.
The road goes uphill and cuts through the lava carpet. In a short time, it approaches the smoky seashore, increasingly reeking with sulphur. We look for the trail that is supposed to take us to Pu'u Loa and its petroglyphs. Unexpectedly, at a certain point, the lava overlays the asphalt and a traffic sign dictates the end of the route: “Road Closed”.
The day is drawing to a close and the environment is unstable and inhospitable, not to mention dangerous. The park authorities themselves advise against walking beyond that limit.
As such, we returned to the car and Hilo, determined to find a way to observe the glowing lava better than the hundreds of meters of distance allowed by authorities in its area of jurisdiction.
Lava Roy's Ocean Adventures Desperate Solution
A simple brochure at the reception of the inn where we had stayed introduces us to Lava Roy's Tours, which has since been promoted to Lava Roy's Ocean Adventures. As both names indicate, he owns and manages the company Roy Carvalho, the owner of Portuguese descent, with a grandfather from Aveiro and the other half of the Japanese family.
Roy is helped by Kiko Freitas, descendant of Azorean emigrants but also others with blood already crossed, from Guam and the Philippines.
For some time now, this willful but calm duo had spotted a gap both in Hilo's tourism offer and in the legislation of the big island of Hawaii.
First approached by visitors frustrated by the prohibition to get closer to the lava, then by their initiative and promotion, the pair began to transport passengers in boats that manned up to the mouth of the tunnels.
We find them in their makeshift headquarters in the Isaac Hale Park car park, more precisely on Kalapana Kapoho Beach Road, which turns from a marginal to a semi-rocky public beach, little or not frequented due to strong currents and waves.
Roy Carvalho: The Name Wasn't Deceiving. A Hawaiian With Portuguese Blood
Fishermen use a corner of this place as a temporary anchorage for their boats. Before venturing into the new project, Roy Carvalho was one of them.
A tropical storm announces itself to Hawaii and generates waves with increasing dimensions. Roy doesn't seem impressed: “From what we've seen on the internet, it's expected to come but it's still a long way off. We have more than time to go back there without any hassle.”
His years of experience on those forays tell him that we are still far from the limits. Accordingly, we set sail without further delay, with the aim of reaching our destination at sunset.
We climbed miles along the wild coast and faced, with proactive navigation, the most problematic waves. Forty minutes later, we found a crowd of spectators gathered at the place designated by the park authorities for lateral observation of the phenomenon.
Finally, the Incandescent Lava, in one of Hawaii's Volcanic Waterfalls
We continued for a while longer to the vicinity of the lava. Roy advises that, in order to stay in close proximity, he has to circle in an “eight” in order to face the waves head on. But no one on board hears him anymore.
The helmsman carries out the plan, with extra care to avoid colliding with another launch on an identical mission, where enthusiastic passengers peer into the flurry of fire from binoculars, just like us, disturbed by the sea waves and the sulfurous smoke.
Columns of contaminated steam continue to rise into the air, dense and dark. They are renewed each time a new incandescent stream comes into contact with water.
Eight after eight, the twilight sets in and brings out the red of the lava and the natural effects of the explosions. It welcomes a Dantesque atmosphere that the waves and rising humidity reinforce.
At some point, a more powerful wave takes the boat sideways and partially invades the lower bow. We felt, on our skin, the warmest sea that had ever bathed us.
The expedition leader is apprehensive, hides his fright as much as he can and ponders the reasonableness of persisting with this increasingly unusual ritual.
However, it gets dark once and for all. Nature gives Roy a new signal and the ultimate pretext for waiting.
The Hawaiian submits to the evidence and gives a signal of retreat: “Sorry boys, it's getting too dangerous. It's time to go back!”