Current flow off limits by foot, but air tour demand is sky-high, and visitors continue to flock to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park

Hilo, Hawai’i’s Big Island (February 22, 2008) – Twenty five years never looked so hot. Kîlauea volcano, on Hawai’i’s Big Island, recently marked a quarter century of ongoing eruption, and visitors and residents alike are eager to experience the natural phenomenon of one of the world’s most active volcanoes.

The current flow has changed dramatically in recent months and is strictly off-limits by foot. Today’s eruption site is not gushing into the ocean but is higher up the volcano, discharging lava from a fissure northeast of Pu’u Ô’ô vent, in the Pu’u Kahauale’a Natural Area Reserve outside the boundaries of Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.

Since late January, the flow has continued to build itself vertically and laterally, forming a series of low shields that collapse and ooze, stall and gush on a continuously changing path. At press time, scientists at Hawaiian Volcanoes Observatory reported a narrow, slow-moving pâhoehoe (smooth) lava flow had entered the upper reaches of Royal Gardens Subdivision. Much of the subdivision was abandoned during the late 1980s and early 1990s when previous flows engulfed the region, but two homes remain under close watch.

Right now, the public can only observe the molten lava from the air. Helicopter and fixed-wing aircraft tour companies in Hilo and Kona are reporting a huge surge in demand – and some of the most spectacular flight-seeing imaginable.

“We are flying as much as we ever have,” said Dave Griffin, Chief Operating Officer and part-owner of Blue Hawaiian, a helicopter tour company with 10 Big Island-based aircraft. “We’re at full capacity every day.”

Blue Hawaiian pilot David Hoadley reports that passengers are ecstatic by what they see. “It’s a great big flow, something they don’t get to see back in Kansas,” he said.

At Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, the current flow conditions happening outside its boundaries haven’t deterred visitors from exploring the Park’s many attractions. Although the increased activity has elevated sulfur dioxide (SO2) levels at the summit of Kîlauea volcano, and prompted the closure of a four-mile stretch of Crater Rim Drive on Feb. 20, most of the park and plenty of its facilities remain open, including Kîlauea Visitor Center, Jaggar Museum, Volcano House Hotel, Kîlauea Military Camp, Volcano Art Center Gallery, Thurston Lava Tube, Devastation Trail, Kîlauea Iki Trail, Sulphur Banks Trail, Chain of Craters Road, Kulanaokuaiki Campground, and all backcountry campsites.

“SO2 is a hidden volcanic hazard,” said Mardie Lane, public information officer at Hawaii Volcanoes. “Exposure to the invisible gas can aggravate pre-existing heart and breathing problems such as asthma.” As soon as SO2 measurements drop back to acceptable levels, officials will reopen the four-mile stretch, she said.

Big Island Visitors Bureau Executive Director George Applegate encourages visitors to “go with the flow” and come to Hawai’i’s Big Island now to experience Hawai’i’s volcanoes from the air, and visit Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, Hawai’i’s only World Heritage Site.
Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, established in 1916, is Hawai’i’s most visited attraction. The 333,086-acre park reveals steam vents, lava flows, summits and rift zones of two of the world’s most active volcanoes, Kîlauea and Maunaloa. Extending from sea level to 13,677 feet, it also provides habitat to rare and endangered plant, bird, bat and sea turtle species.
“There’s never been a better time to explore our island,” Applegate said. “There are more airlines offering affordable direct flights into Hilo and Kona, many hotels are advertising attractive rates, but most of all, the lava action is really hot right now,” he said.

For more information on current conditions at Kîlauea volcano and Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, please visit:

http://hvo.wr.usgs.gov for daily Kîlauea eruption updates
http://www.nps.gov/havo for Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park information
http://www.lavainfo.us for Hawai’i County Civil Defense updates

For information on air tour companies offering Hawai’i Island flight-seeing tours, please visit http://www.bigisland.org/activities-air/175/flying-tours