Living on Lava

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Living on lava in Hawaii

This post was originally published in 2008. It has since been updated for accuracy of links and content.

Living on lava landscape in this part of Hawaii is quite unique and different. Kapoho is located on hardened lava that flowed as recently as less than 20 years ago, and at some point will probably flow again. As a result landscapes change, as do towns, societies, roads, and flora.

It wasn’t until we showed somebody new to the area around that we remembered the sense of awe we felt for the area when we first arrived ourselves.

The closest approximation I can get to the lava fields in our area and right off our front porch is a moonscape. Through most of it nothing can grow, and vast areas of jagged dark rock loom, ebbing and flowing over the gentle slopes of the landscape that once lay underneath. What is interesting is that despite its foreboding and inhospitable nature, there is the occasional patch of moss or hardy ironwood tree or fern that actually sets roots among the cinder and manages to grow and prosper. It adds all the more to the mystery that is lava.

Walking on lava presents a whole new sensory experience. There are many different types and qualities of lava: razor sharp hard brown lava, black crumbly lava, water-worn grey lava stones, and red gravely lava. Some of it is “rock hard”, and some of it will tumble off its precarious pile and disintegrate as soon as you try to put weight on it. Some of the easiest to walk on is the sharp lava because once you have purchase your foot doesn’t go anywhere, but it is also the most dangerous to fall on as it tears skin to bits.

Walking along the edge of a lava cliff overlooking the ocean is a nerve-racking experience for me. Although in our area the lava is quite secure, there are many other areas on the island where people have died as similar lava benches have collapsed into the sea. There are areas around our cliffs where large cracks and crevasses open up, revealing a dark chasm of unknown depth to scramble over. Most of them are no more than 10 feet deep, but the inhospitable quality of the rock and large openings can be off-putting to say the least. I tend to ask myself: exactly what part of this cliff is attached to the island, if I am surrounded by large crevasses?

Closeup of different kinds of hardened lava - very colourful

Sitting (more sedately and safely) on our front porch offers an interesting microscopic view of lava. Pick up a handful and you will see brilliant iridescent blue stones, bright red ones, deep opaque black jagged pieces, and smooth grey ones. Walk a short way and you can see undersides of lava tubes which have broken open, and you can even imagine the molten lava flowing through it not so long ago.

It is the lava that blesses us with black sand beaches, wonderful surf, and beautiful scenery. It is also the lava that takes it away from us.

Such is the ever-changing and precious beauty of Hawaii, and living on lava.

See also:
Adventures in Volcano National Park
Milking Goats (video)

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