Everyone seems to be talking about seeing the Mauna Loa Eruption in Hawaii; however, most people have just been watching on the news…
My mom called the day it started erupting to see how far away we are at our home on Oahu. “Don’t worry, it’s hundreds of miles away,” I reassured her. Not 24 hours later I’d be asking my husband if we should book tickets to island hop over and see it in person!
The thing you should know about me is … I am always a little terrified when it comes to doing potentially dangerous things, but I will sign us up and then freak out. I just love nature and adventure more than I’m afraid of the risks, plus Buddy and I have both always wanted to see lava flow. So, after watching the updates on Mauna Loa for a few days and seeing some friends on the Big Island post about how easy it was to go see, I checked our calendar and realized we had one day open that we could swing it. In two days.
To be clear, we only went because the Mauna Loa eruption wasn’t causing destruction to property or threatening life and there was a way to see it without having to go overboard on the danger scale. It is extremely important to always be respectful of the locals in these situations, especially when an eruption is very symbolic and important to the Hawaiian people. We also had Southwest points that make island hopping very cheap for us and planned to sleep in the rental car to save even more (similar to our trip to see the Kilauea volcano glow!).
I was really nervous that we’d get there in the middle of the night, as planned, and I’d be too afraid to get closer to it once I caught a glimpse of the lava flow. But, it wasn’t scary at all. I was just so mesmerized by the absolute wonder of it … destruction and creation happening right before my eyes … I couldn’t be anything else but amazed. (Well, and tired … we never get any sleep when car camping). If you want to go, here are our tips:
[NOTE: Shortly after our visit, the eruption began to wane significantly. Please be sure to check before planning any trips.]
Tips for Seeing the Mauna Loa Eruption
We visited early morning of Monday, December 5, 2022. Please know that the eruption situation could change at any moment. And remember, this is a volcano … lava can and will kill you if you get too close. There is always a risk of new fissures opening up, earthquakes, vog or “Pele’s hair” (thin glass fibers created by the volcano) causing health issues, and other volcano-related threats. Just be aware.
1. Check Updates Before Going
Always check updates here before planning to visit the Mauna Loa eruption. The flow is slowly going toward the Saddle Road which is the main cut-through on the Big Island. If it impedes vehicle access a lot is going to change – including increased traffic on the north and south routes.
2. Pick the Best Side of the Plane
When leaving Honolulu, we sat on the right and then on the left coming back (although we somehow didn’t realize our row was THE ONLY ONE without a window – who knew that was even a thing?!?). The view won’t be as mesmerizing as up close, but may as well get your first glimpse. Getting to see the little puff of smoke beyond the snowy Mauna Kea was really nice!
3. Use the Designated Viewing Road
The day before our trip, they announced they were opening a one-way road to be used specifically for getting a view of the Mauna Loa eruption. A few miles after passing Mauna Kea’s access road, you will turn left (plenty of signs/cones, etc.). Then it comes out just after the Mauna Kea road (so, if coming from Hilo, you will pass the exit first). Just be sure to follow all of the rules and be respectful of this sacred area and event.
Note: This area is usually for military use, earlier on the day of our visit the military had to detonate an “unexploded object” that was found. Do not leave the area you are allowed in!
4. Plan to Go Between 12:30 a.m. and 4 a.m. for Less Traffic
We went on a Sunday night at about 2:00 a.m. and there was barely any traffic. However, I’ve seen videos of the road being absolutely packed! A lot of people seem to plan for sunrise or sunset. But, we really liked getting to see the bright red glow against complete darkness. And, most importantly, the peaceful silence!
5. Prepare for Changing Conditions
If the weather is clear, you are in luck! It will be perfect viewing. But, just know it is common to have clouds roll in to block the view for extended periods, rain, and wind. We actually had a big cloud roll through about an hour after we arrived.
It also gets cold in this area at night, so plan accordingly with what you pack also!
6. Don’t Forget About Kilauea!
About 1.5 hours away in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, you can still see the glow from the Big Island’s other active volcano – Kilauea! Granted, it’s not as epic as seeing the lava flow stream down a mountain and fissures bubbling. But, it is still worth a visit if you have time! If it is clear, you can also get a great view of both eruptions at once – there is a spot near the visitor center! (Unfortunately, it wasn’t clear enough for us to see both when we visited).
7. Plan Ahead for Food, Water, and Fuel
We loved getting to do the drive from Hilo because it is just so spectacular to all-of-a-sudden see a red sky and soon after be able to make out lava flow in the distance! You can even see it from the airport if it is clear! However, things in Hilo close early, so stock up on the necessities before leaving. Even Kona is very limited on late-night or early-morning options.