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  • Writer's pictureJyothi Vummiti

Sunrise Lava Boat Tour - An Amazing Experience in Hawaii

An amazing way to witness the dramatic spectacle of steam, boiling water and explosive lava as red hot lava enters the water is by taking a boat tour. This incredible trip comes with an expensive price tag. Despite the price tag, early wake-up and a rough boat ride, there is no guarantee that you will see the lava flow because it is unpredictable. But if you are lucky to witness it then this will be the most epic experience of your life worth every penny. 

Lava Boat Tour, Hawaii

Kilauea Volcano on the island of Hawaii is one of the most active volcanoes in the world. It has been erupting continuously sending molten lava downhill through tubes, fissures, cracks and into the sea. People from all over the world travel to Hawaii for an up-close experience with the red hot lava. A helicopter tour, a boat tour, a long hike and a bike tour are some of the ways to get a look at the lava. In this post we are talking about our sunrise boat tour experience in Hawaii.

Stream of lava

Our tour company: Kalapana Cultural Tours was our first and only choice mainly for their small 6 seater boats. We booked the combined boat and bike/hike tour with them. It was an expensive trip but in the end completely worth the money we paid. 

Read about our Lava bike/hike tour here.

Small 6 passenger boat

Boat launch: We arrived at Isaac Hale Beach Park at 4:15am, 30 mins before our tour departure time. That meant we had to wake up around 2 am to be able to make it on time from Volcano. Most of the boat tours depart from the pohoiki boat ramp at the park. Once all 6 tourists had assembled we took our seats on the boat along with our captain and guide. We were given some instructions and lifevests (optional) before we were on our way into the open dark ocean. Not gonna lie, it was scary.

Note: Check for illegal boat tour operators before you book your tour. Also these tours are very dangerous and have potentially life threatening risks. 

Boat launch area / View from park

Cliff views from the boat ramp

Cruising the ocean: According to our guide the sea was calm that morning. If that was calm we can't imagine what it is like when its rough and we have no desire to find out either. Since it was an open boat we felt very unsafe the whole time. We were on a rollercoaster ride with no seat belts to keep us secured. The ocean rocked us back and forth, threw us up and about. We did dose up on Dramamine before our tour and the night before, which didn't seem to be helping much at that point. Fortunately for us and our company on the boat, we didn't have any hurling accidents. 

Views: Sun slowly rose behind us somewhat hidden under the clouds. The views of golden sunrise, eerie looking volcanic cliffs and the endless dark ocean was simply breathtaking. Our guide was very knowledgable about the volcano and island's history in general, about the cliffs and which year they were formed, old lava tubes and the beaches we came across. They were all more clearly visible on our way back.

Other tour boats

Lava tube / Our first view of the lava

Lava ocean entry: After 45 mins of rough cruising we arrived at the most dramatic lava ocean entry scene. It was magical. Lighting was just perfect for the lava to glow. The red hot lava exploded and puffed up steam upon contact with the ocean water. Lava instantly solidified and formed what the locals call "Hawaiian icebergs" that slowly sank into the ocean. We were pretty close to the lava, may be only few 100 ft away, so we could feel the heat. Our guide urged us to bend over the boat and feel the water (after he checked first), it was around 90 degrees. We couldn't smell the sulphur may be because of the direction of the wind. There were only 3 other boats at the spot so there was no rush in giving way.

Lava ocean entry / Hawaiian Icebergs - Lava chunks

Red hot molten lava

Bonus on our way back: We spent 30mins at the site before turning around. Our ride back was 10 times rougher than on our way in. We got splashed a few times but not so much to be soaking wet. The views were more clear and beautiful. We saw not one not two but 3 rainbows, at the same time. That doesn't happen very often. Suddenly our boat came to a halt and voila... Dolphins!!! A school of dolphins played around our boat and entertained us. Unfortunately, we couldn't get pictures of the rainbows nor dolphins because of the rough ride.


Conclusion: Besides the fact that we could have been severely sea sick or could have possibly returned with a broken back, this is one of the most unforgettable experiences of our lives. It is so worth the risks taken and the money spent as this could be our once in a lifetime trip.

Useful information:

Where to stay: We stayed in a vacation rental in Volcano town close to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Check out other options. For accommodations closer check here. Getting there: The boat ramp is located in Isaac Hale Beach Park in Pahoa on the southeast side of BIg Island. It is better to follow the directions given by the tour company as that is more precise than following a GPS. Tour operator: Kalapana Cultural Tours company offers different tours and combinations. Check their website for accurate information. Cost and times: Ours was a combined boat and bike tour - $280 + tax/person. Sunrise tours are generally more than the day tours. Please check their website for information. Precautions: It can be somewhat chilly in the early hours of the day, so dress in layers. Take your sea sickness meds. If you have any health issues it is better to consult your doctor before planning this trip. Facilities: There are restrooms at the park but none on the boat. There is no food at the park but there are many options in Pahoa. Things to do in the area: Lava Tree State Monument, Kehena Beach, Kaimu Beach Park and Lava hikes.



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