Although you can hike out unguided to the surface lava flows on Hawaii's Big Island, my wife and I were very happy we booked the tour with Poke A Stick - without the experience of their guides we would NOT have felt safe enough to get so close to the flowing molten rock.
Chelsea and her father Jerry were our guides for the evening. They knew exactly were to go. Upon arriving at the surface flow, they kept our group at a safe distance while they did a recon around the flow to determine the very best - and safest - approach angle.
We were able to do exactly what the tour offers - poke a stick into the hot lava. With a little care, we were able to extract a small small sample which cooled quickly (about 20 minutes) for a wonderful souvenir.
Standing on the very hot basalt, seeing the red-hot glow through multiple cracks and fissures was a thrill. Yes, we could smell the soles of our hiking boots melting and after the tour upon inspection we could see the evidence of the heat. Don't wear the wrong shoes out for this adventure! (Don't wear Keen or other 'hiking' sandals - you'll spend too much time emptying rocks from your shoes!)
There were families with younger children - parents must be able to judge the stamina of their children and decide if the hike is appropriate. The distance to the flow changes nightly. For us, it was about 1.5 hours each way over rugged terrain.
They provided us with flashlights for the return hike. About half-way back my battery died, Chelsea had a spare in her pocket, a quick switch and we didn't miss a step.
Yes, you can make this journey by yourself - but why take the risks? When you pay the $100 tour fee, you're not only getting the fun guide showing you the way but more importantly, you're paying for the experience that knows where to walk - and where NOT to walk. :)
On our return hike, we were blessed with a full, rising moon. This coincidence of astronomy was perfect magic to cap our evening.
For an extreme adventure, for a memory of a lifetime, for a check mark on the ol' bucket list, call Cheryl and book a spot for the Poke A Stick lava tour. Very, very, well worth the time and money.
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