Cruising Hawaii: After the Volcano

The record-setting 2018 volcano eruption in Hawaii has stopped.* And this means cruise travel in Hawaii has never been better. Things are changing quickly in Hawaii, and for the better. Here’s why now is a great time to book a Hawaii cruise—whether on NCL’s Pride of America which circles through the island weekly, or on a trans-Pacific cruise originating on the US mainland or in Australia, or the unique UnCruise product. Cruising Hawaii is an outstanding experience.

For cruise travelers, the end of the eruption means

  • The clearest, cleanest, bluest, sunniest skies you can imagine. After 35 years of some degree of volcanic smoke (locally called “vog”) hanging in the air—sometimes even on Maui and Oahu—the volcano goddess is taking a long break and when there are no rain clouds, Hawaii’s air is currently crystal clear.

    Spectacular clear air greets cruise ship visitors to Kona, on the Big Island of Hawaii, August 2018. Photo: Randall Shirley

    Cruising Hawaii: Spectacular clear air greets cruise ship visitors to Kona, on the Big Island of Hawaii, August 2018. Photo: Randall Shirley

  • Volcanoes National Park is re-opening—the Park is a favorite cruise shore excursion from Hilo. National parks rarely close, but the sensational events of 2018 caused Volcanoes to be closed for nearly four months, during which time tens-of-thousands of (mostly) localized earthquakes rocked the park, day after day, while the magma reservoir drained leaving a giant empty cavern below the summit of Kilauea Volcano, where most park facilities are located. On September 22, 2018, portions of the park will reopen, and visitors will be able to see the unbelievable change that has occurred through hikes and viewing areas. Note that there is currently no “hot” or “red” lava flowing anywhere on the Big Island. If you decide to spend a night near the Park and catch your ship on the other side of the island (assuming you have a day in Hilo and a day in Kona), Volcano Men’s Retreat is an excellent option.

    Courtesy: USGS

    The three above photos show a sequence of change at the main crater atop Kilauea, the main visitor area of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The change is due to 10,000+ localized earthquakes that occurred as the ground collapsed into a giant underground chamber, which is normally filled with magma. That magma drained out into the Leiliani Estates "Fissure 8" eruption which ran from early May to early August, 2018. All 3 photos courtesy USGS.

    The three above photos show a sequence of change at the main crater atop Kilauea, the main visitor area of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The change is due to 10,000+ localized earthquakes that occurred as the ground collapsed into a giant underground chamber, which is normally filled with magma. That magma drained out into the Leiliani Estates “Fissure 8” eruption which ran from early May to early August, 2018. All 3 photos courtesy USGS.

  • Black sand continues on Big Island’s most popular nude-ish, gay-ish hang-out: Kehena Beach. The recent eruption pumped out unimaginable quantities of lava—much of it flowing into the ocean where it created 800+ acres of new land. But much of the lava that hit the ocean has already turned into new black sand, and is collecting and creating new beaches on the East side of the island. Whether or not “new” sand has ended up on old faves Kehana Beach in the gay-popular Puna region is impossible to know (some locals say yes, some aren’t sure), but the beach is gorgeous and black as ever. With a rental car, this would be a doable shore excursion from Hilo.

    Kehena Black Sand Beach in the Puna region of the Big Island is gay-popular, and often clothing-optional (although that's legally questionable, we've never heard of a sting). You could make your own shore excursion by renting a car from port of Hilo. Photo: Randall Shirley

    Kehena Black Sand Beach in the Puna region of the Big Island is gay-popular, and often clothing-optional (although that’s legally questionable, we’ve never heard of a sting). You could make your own shore excursion by renting a car from port of Hilo. Photo: Randall Shirley

  • Opened people’s eyes: The whole Big Island could be Volcanoes National Park. While the Park was closed, many visitors felt they were being shortchanged on seeing lava. In fact, there are outstanding lava landscapes, lava tubes, and experiences all around the Big Island. Here are a few.**

    Near Kona Airport is an exquisite lava tube that can be explored (as my brother and I are doing here). To me it is as good as anything inside Volcanoes National Park. Photo: Randall Shirley

    Near Kona Airport is an exquisite lava tube that can be explored (as my brother and I are doing here). To me it is as good as anything inside Volcanoes National Park. Photo: Randall Shirley

  • Sad news for Kalani fans: the legendary, gay-popular retreat in the Lower Puna region was reportedly not able to weather the financial problems caused when the recent eruption cut the facility off from visitors. There are currently no announced plans for this facility reopening in any form, and their website has vanished. Someone will likely see opportunity for the property, but it may never be a gay-popular retreat again. We will watch for updates as this was certainly a popular spot, especially for gay men.
  • Meanwhile on Kona side, gay bar and more: the region long-known for hazy skies now boasts crystal clear air, making it extra scenic on your shore excursion to one of the magnificent coffee farms or legendary snorkeling spots. And gays looking for something gay during shore time will find it at Mask-querade Bar; the only truly LGBTQ bar in all Hawaii outside of Honolulu. And when you’re cruising Hawaii, an extra mai tai is rarely a bad thing!

* What…your local news (and CNN) didn’t tell you the volcano has stopped? No surprise—the media loves to talk about the sensational beginnings of anything they can paint as a disaster—not the boring ends. But the end of Hawaii’s record-setting volcanic eruption happened in early August, and 50 days later all continues to be quiet. Geologists don’t yet dare call it “over,” rather they are saying the volcano has “paused.” But at this writing there continue to be zero signs of the eruption restarting.

**Disclosure: The author, MeetMeOnBoard’s Founding Editor, lives on the Big Island of Hawaii, where he runs an Airbnb/Misterbnb business. He has created this list of volcano options to help all island visitors discover more than most tourist guides provide.

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