Eruptions in Hawaii: What you need to know before traveling to the islands


An ash-laden eruption Thursday may have prospective travelers to the Aloha State wondering what to expect this summer.

The answer in most cases is simple: the usual.

Flights to Hawaii’s six main islands remain unaffected. The current “code red” aviation advisory applies only to the immediate vicinity of the eruption, which is not in the flight path of interisland or trans-Pacific aircraft.


All lodgings, with a few exceptions in remote areas of the Big Island, where the eruption occurred, and a previously flood-damaged stretch of the North Shore of Kauai, remain open. Most of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park closed indefinitely May 11, along with its two hotels, “out of an abundance of caution,” according to park spokeswoman Jessica Ferracane.

To limit water use and ease evacuation efforts, Hawaii County officials have also called for the temporary closure of scores of vacation rentals in the lower Puna district, where a series of fissures in two residential neighborhoods began erupting May 3.

“Other than some very interesting and unique volcanic activity that we haven’t seen for many years, it’s still life as usual for most of us on the island, and we’re still welcoming all of our visitors to come to the island,” said Ross Birch, executive director of the Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau.

Although volcanic haze has been detected as far north as Oahu, air quality monitoring has reported “good” or “moderate” levels of sulfur dioxide and particulates across the state since the eruption began. Ashfall from Thursday’s eruption was expected to fall to the south and east of Kilauea, temporarily affecting residents in the area but with little or no impact on most visitors.

“If you do have health concerns or respiratory issues, stay to the more favorable sides of the island — the north, northeast and northwest,” Birch said.

All tours and activities are ongoing, with the exception of those that visit the national park or lower Puna, including the town of Kalapana, covered by lava in 1990. Visitors hoping to get close to the lava eruptions in Puna will definitely be disappointed, Birch said.

“Almost the entire corner of the island is shut down, and it’s monitored by National Guard and police to restrict it to residents,” Birch explained. “A visitor would also have a hard time wandering into a place they shouldn’t be.”

And despite the tragic loss of homes in Puna and the inconvenience to 2,000 residents who were evacuated, there is a positive note to the eruption for visitors, Birch said.

“The ashfall is going to make for some spectacular sunsets,” he said. “Anytime we have a little more ash in the air, and the further it goes southwest of us, we do get a little treat.”

Jeanne Cooper is a former Chronicle travel editor. Email: travel@sfchronicle.com



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