More than anything else, the town of Kalapana is a town that was, not a town that is. It is a sad, black, graveyard of homes where dreams, memories and material possessions were incinerated by nature’s fury. Prior to the eruption of Kilauea volcano, Kalapana was a sleepy town along the Big Island’s eastern coastline. All of that changed in 1990 when Kilauea literally rolled through town. By the time the molten carnage was through, over 100 homes had been burned and swallowed by the shifting orange magma.
Today there are still about 35 homes remaining in Kalapana, although the main highlight is where visitors can hike to watch lava spill into the sea. Ever since Kilauea began erupting in 1983, over 500 acres of new land has been created along the coastline, and even though it isn't officially a part of the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Kalapana is often the best place to watch the drama unfold.
The town of Kalapana is 32 miles from Hilo and 40 miles from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The lava viewing area is at the end of Highway 130, and the hike to reach the lava flows can vary from 20 minutes to a couple of hours depending on the exact location of the flow. The hike to the lava is across rocky terrain, so closed–toe shoes are needed, and the best time to view the lava is at night when it glows a fiery bright orange.