"Lava viewing area" sounds like a feature of your favourite Super Mario game, but it's also a real thing in Hawaii, where you can watch the Kilauea shield volcano spew its fiery guts right into the ocean from a cliff. Or at least, you were able to do that, until the cliff in question crumbled into the ocean on New Years' Eve.
An enormous plume of gas, ash and steam resulted from a lava delta collapse at the Kamokuna ocean entry on New Years' Eve. Image: NPS Photo/Travis Delimont
Over the weekend, Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park was forced to close its popular Kamokuna ocean entry, after a 22-acre chunk of this lava delta collapsed into the sea, stirring up waves that eroded a cliffside viewing area. A new lava viewing area was roped off on Monday, and authorities hope to have it open for more (and safer!) lava watching by midday today.
Lava deltas are dangerous volcanic features that form where lava enters the ocean and cools, building up new land. Not only are lava deltas prone to collapse, they emit noxious plumes of hydrochloric acid and particles that can irritate the lungs, skin and eyes. They sound like a lot of fun, really!
As of yesterday, the Kamokuna ocean entry remained closed. Rangers on duty New Years' Day reported that the former viewing area is entirely gone. Loud, ominous cracking noises continue to be heard throughout the region.
But intrepid lava spectators are still finding ways to witness the action taking place at the ocean entry, which Epic Lava Tour company owner John Tarson describes as "absolutely stunning" right now. A video released by Epic Lava Tours yesterday certainly supports that view:
Watching lava from the safe distance of a boat one thing — but to anybody hoping to get a closer look, a Park Service press release offers this cautionary tale:
Although park rangers temporarily closed the Kamokuna lava viewing area last night, five visitors ducked beneath the white rope closure line and made a beeline for the coastal cliffs around 7 p.m. on New Year's Eve. Eruption Crew Ranger Travis Delimont and a co-worker had to chase after them before they turned around. Within 15 minutes, the section of cliff where the visitors were standing crashed into the ocean.
"It was a really close brush with death for them," Ranger Delimont said. "Luckily, they finally listened to us and turned around in time."
Just remember your Bowser's Castle lessons, people: Platforms overlooking lava are bad, bad places to loiter.