Visitors stream in as lava viewing area opens near Kalapana

Visitors stream in as lava viewing area opens near Kalapana

KALAPANA, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - It's a breathtaking sight, and one that requires a three-mile hike.

But visitors say seeing the lava flowing down the Pulama Pali near the abandoned Royal Gardens subdivision is worth it.

"It's gorgeous," said Big Island resident Leilani Wilcox. "I've never gotten to see a live lava flow 'til now, and I'm just beside myself right now. It's so beautiful."

The flow from the Pu'u 'O'o vent burned through the forest as a slow-moving pahoehoe flow, but then changed into a channelized 'a'a flow. It's now nearly five miles long and is just two miles from the ocean.

Hawaii County opened a parking lot and access road Thursday, which quickly filled up with people who wanted to see Madam Pele at work.

"We wanted to come see the lava and check out the smoke and look at all the people going over there," said Nick Sanchez of San Francisco, as he and his wife Mayela got ready to start the hike.

After parking, visitors hike through the Kalapana Gardens subdivision on the same road that was built for $8 million as an emergency bypass when another lava flow threatened to cut off the town of Pahoa in 2014.

The hike ends at the boundary with Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

The return of visible flowing lava means bookings for lava tours are up. Lavaland Hawaii is once again offering lava hikes, and reservations are starting to come in.

"We hiked but it was too far to take people when it first got there, but what a great show," said Hank Powers of Lavaland Hawaii. "Now it's getting close enough where we can take people because it's not too difficult."

Residents of the area have some mixed emotions about the onslaught of visitors.

"I live on a ranch close by, and I think it'll bring a little bit of chaos from the order we're used to," said Wilcox. "But for my community I think it will bring support."

And those visitors will be coming as long as they can see the flowing lava.

"You gotta come and see it for yourself to really get an idea," said Joel Buchin of Florida. "You can take so many pictures, but pictures don't do it justice."

The parking lot and viewing area at the end of Highway 130 is open daily from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Mobile users, click here for photos.

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