Is It Safe to Travel to Hawaii?
The eruption of the Kilauea Volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island began on May 3rd, leading to a “code red” warning from the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. Now, many visitors are questioning whether or not travel on the island is safe.
The prospect of being near an active volcano is stressful. However, we are here to give you some insight into what is happening on the Big Island, and address any potential safety concerns you may have.
Kilauea Volcano holds the title for being one of the most active volcanos on any of the Hawaiian Islands. In fact, it has been erupting nearly continuously since around 1983. The volcano is located in the lower Puna district on the Big Island. Eruptions from Kilauea have created over 500 new acres of Hawaiian land.
The media has been rife with imagery of glowing lava rivers, ash plumes soaring tens of thousands of feet into the air, and clouds of black smoke. But the eruption itself is isolated to one remote area of the Big Island. This area is largely residential. Although this has prompted evacuations in this area, there are not evacuations, nor earthquakes, in the tourist areas of the Big Island.
The eruptions of Kilauea are actually one reason for a large amount of tourism on the Big Island. Drawing thousands of visitors, lava tourists may take tours, hikes, or even helicopter rides to see the power of nature at work.
However, the Hawai’I Volcanoes National Park, which houses Kilaueau, and is one of the big draws for tourists, has been closed for visitors since May 11. Jessica Ferracane, the park’s PR specialist, stated that, “There’s no way to tell how long the park will be closed, but we will remain closed until it is safe to reopen.” Although around 2/3 of the park is closed, their Kahuku Unit is still open from 9am to 3pm from Friday to Sunday. Kahuku is about one hour south of the park’s main entrance.
Each year, around 1.7 million travelers visit the Big Island. Around 1.3 million, or 80% of travelers, end up staying hundreds of miles away from Kilauea. At this distance, there is no threat of harm from the lava itself. But volcanic smog, also known as “vog,” could cause problems for those downwind of the volcano or on other islands. This vog has reached as far as Micronesia and the Marshall Islands.
Vog can cause issues with visibility, but is also a health issue. This is particularly true for those with respiratory problems. Those who have respiratory problems should try to avoid breathing in the vog as much as possible. It is recommended that they stay indoors as much as they can. Vog inhalation symptoms include sore throats, headaches, and burning eyes.
Tradewinds have generally been blowing vog away from the island. However, slow tradewinds mean more vog. However, although it can travel, it does not necessarily mean that everyone will feel the effects. Steven Businger, the chairman of the University of Hawaii’s atmospheric sciences department, states that there are plenty of areas on the Big Island and other Hawaiian islands that will not be heavily affected by vog.
Cruise lines such as Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line, and Princess Cruises have canceled port stops on the Big Island. Many airlines have also seen large-scale seat cancellations to Hawaii, particularly those that fly to Kona, the resort area.
Travelers heading to any of Hawaii’s other islands of Kauai, Lanai, Oahu, Maui, and Molokai are not at threat from any volcanic activity. However, they may see some vog in the air. Hawaiian Governor David Ige noted:
Travel is safe to the Hawaiian Islands. We have a skilled contingent of scientists, geologists, meteorologists, and health experts…the experts are telling us there is no danger from the eruptions to anyone outside of the areas that have been evacuated. There is no threat of tsunami. All of Hawaii is open for business.
Overall, Hawaii is still safe to visit so long as people take the proper precautions. If traveling to the Big Island, avoid any travel to the Puna area, which is approximately 10 square miles on the southeastern side of the island. In the past few days, lava flow has covered at least one well at a geothermal power plant in the area. Safety precautions were taken ahead of time, and Ige states that the plant is “sufficiently safe” and being monitored. Should the lava breach the power plant in any way, travel is no longer advised to the Big Island.
Do not travel to the Big Island if you are suffering from respiratory issues. Those worried about vog – and how it might affect their travels – may check out the Vog Measurement and Prediction Project. This shows observed conditions, air quality, air trends, and more. This real-time vog tracker can help travelers feel more comfortable with what conditions may be like during their trip.
For those who are interested in adventure travel, check with any helicopter tours before flying to find out what safety issues may be present, and what no-fly zones are in place.
A ranger from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park also advises people to be safe and stay out of any closed areas. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) also tried to lighten the mood by giving a little safety advice of their own.
Overall, it is understandable why traveling to the site of an active volcano may be frightening. However, taking safety precautions and traveling to tourist-based areas – or other Hawaiian Islands – will lead to a safe, fulfilling vacation.