Up Close and Personal with Molten Lava


When I was growing up I thought that there was a high likelihood that I would die from lava  based on all the cartoons I watched like Transformers, GI Joe, and M.A.S.K.  Quicksand and piranhas were also on the list of things I feared dying from.

It was pretty awesome to come face to face with one of these threats from my childhood.  I came within 10 feet of it and it was one of the most beautiful and amazing things I’ve ever seen.

The BJJ Cavewife and I visited the Big Island of Hawaii to see lava.  Unfortunately the BJJ Cavewife was under the weather during the trip.

Being the thoughtful and considerate husband I am, I told her that out of solidarity, I’d skip it out on our planned lava tour. Being the thoughtful and pragmatic wife that the BJJ Cavewife is, she told me it was pointless for both of us to have come all this way and not see any lava, so she instructed me to go on my own.

Who was I to disobey a direct order from the missus?

I took the early morning ocean tour, meaning I woke up at 3:30 am to get to the meeting point by 5 am.  It was pitch black when I arrived at the parking lot and the sky was filled with stars.


This is a long exposure shot I took from the parking lot. The red glow on the trees is from the reflector lights of the boat.


After a brief introduction and safety orientation, we were on the water by 5:30 and approaching the lava flows within 20 minutes. The sky was still dark with just a hint of the early morning sunlight peeking through the horizon.

I was filled with anticipation and excitement once I saw a gigantic plume of smoke in the distance emanating from a red glow. My first thought was that this reminded me of the many brush fires I’ve seen in southern California… except that the billowing smoke wasn’t the black of burning shrubs and tinder, but was the pure white steam of boiling water.

As our boat approached I made out the lava in the distance, glowing red against the black of the early morning sky. As the sun rose and the sky brightened, the lava became a pulsating yellow and gold streaked with orange.

Molten lava oozed and dripped from cracks in the land, as if the land were bleeding. I kept trying to wrap my head around the fact that this viscous, glowing liquid was actually melted rock!

The captain of the boat pointed out the fact that this was literally the youngest beach on Earth since it was being formed right in front of our very eyes. The lava flowed from the bowels of the earth, cooled and solidified into black rock that was then deposited along the shoreline, creating a black sand beach.

There’s nothing like the creation of new land that didn’t exist moments before to make you feel small.


The black sand beach immediately next to the lava flow where the rocks are formed.

I’m not sure what sounds I was expecting to hear, but I imagined there would be a low rumbling or something. The sort of sound effects you hear in the movies when there is an earthquake or erupting volcano. That wasn’t what I heard at all.

Instead I heard sizzling and crackling and popping of frying bacon. When I looked closely I saw that this came from the cooling of lava as it encountered ocean water and the sizzling and steaming of the lava rocks that were created.

I noticed that many of these lava rocks were floating and crackling on the surface of the ocean and was puzzled by this, I mean what the heck were rocks doing FLOATING on water?!

The captain explained that there was still active lava within these rocks that was emitting gas as it cooled. The gas is what made them so buoyant. Fascinating stuff.

When someone asked how hot the water around us was, the first mate dipped a bucket into the ocean and filled it with water. He then walked around having us dip our hands in it and explained that it felt like the water in a hot tub. When I dipped my hand in it was hot enough that I couldn’t keep it there for more than a few seconds. It felt hotter than any hot tube I’ve ever been in… and I like my hot tubs piping hot.

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The ocean air was filled with a pungent smell that was at once foreign and familiar. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it smelled like, but I knew I had smelled it before. Then I overheard someone next to me say the word sulfur and it all clicked into place. The last time I smelled this was in my chemistry class in high school when we were learning about sulfuric acid. It smelled just like that.

At times when the wind blew the smoke in our direction the smell of sulfur became so strong that it was difficult to breathe.  My glasses fogged from the steam.

As my eyes took in the sight of the glowing melted rock, my ears heard the sizzle, my skin felt the heat and humidity, and my nose filled with sulfur, I couldn’t help thinking of the words “fire and brimstone.”

While I’ve only seen the term in literature, my senses told me that this must’ve been what they were referring to.

Since I didn’t really know what brimstone is I looked it up later and discovered that it’s another word for sulfur, which made it all the more appropriate.

I was in the midst of literal fire and brimstone.




I can’t recommend this experience enough. This was truly one of the most awesome sights I’ve ever seen.

We will definitely be back so that the BJJ Cavewife can see it on with her own eyes.  She was amazed at my pictures and so sorry she missed out.

The tour company I went with was Lava Ocean Tours and I won’t hesitate to go with them again the next time around.

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What layers and layers of hardened lava rock looks like. That hole in the middle of it is a ‘lava tube’ and is where lava used to flow out in this particular cliff.

You can see the silhouette of a group of hikers standing on the edge of the cliff. Our captain said that what they were doing was extremely dangerous because the cliffs are unstable. Just recently a 7 acre area of the cliff face collapsed and lives were lost.

If you look closely you can see the silhouette of a group of hikers standing on the edge of the cliff. Our captain said that what they were doing was extremely dangerous because the cliffs are unstable. Just recently a 7 acre area of the cliff face collapsed and lives were lost.

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