Recently on a trip to Hawaii, I had the privilege of stumbling upon Cheryl Adler. A native of Alaska, Cheryl relocated herself to The Big Island in 1982 where she later purchased her farm and planted 3,000 coconut trees. Unfortunately, in 1989, lava flowed across her property and took out 1500 of the trees, amounting to half of her property! Her love of the land coupled with her respect for the lava drove her to re-establish herself on the remaining property.
Her home is The Kalapana Lava Refuge; a breathtaking 21 acre coconut farm sitting at the edge of the most recent active lava flows from the Kilauea Volcano. When you pull up to the refuge you are absolutely amazed at how beautiful the quaint bungalows are as well as how each piece of the property is meticulously constructed. This outdoor home is frankly a lot nicer than many New York City apartments I have seen! Dotted around the property are trees with fresh fruit springing from the branches. Filled with a complete balance of sweet and sour, the oranges and ruby red grapefruits were the best I have tasted anywhere.
Almost every day, Cheryl takes eager lava seekers on a 10 mile hike to see actual flow. What set her apart from the many other Google searches I conducted looking for lava tours was the name, “Poke a Stick Lava Tours”. She explained to us that playing with the lava is what everyone truly wants to do, so why not name it after the ultimate goal. I think she is pretty genius! The hike began at 7:30AM and provided six and a half hours of one of the coolest adventures I have been on. Walking across lava is something you have to get used to. It is coarse and very brittle breaking into tiny shards of glass when stepped on. I ended up with miniscule bits of glass wedged in-between my toes and grazing my ankles. We went through several different temperatures on our hike, beginning with perfectly cool weather and transforming into summery heat and then finally into an extreme heat from the lava. We then went from rain smacking us in the face into to perfect weather as at the beginning to bring us to the end of our climb.
The hike is not extreme, but it is definitely for advanced hikers and people who are in good shape. It was exhilarating testing my own physical strength and pushing myself to walk faster and smarter over the uneven terrain. After hours of hiking we were able to spot the lava flow by visible heat waves surrounding the area. There were bubbles erupting and breaking into flowing molten gooiness. I still get chills thinking about poking a stick and stretching the liquid rock until it hardened. The hike back was even tougher then the hike out. The water was all used up, the sun had taken its toll on my skin, and exhaustion was slowly creeping up on me. When I felt like I hit a low point, Cheryl zipped open her backpack and pulled out a bag of her freshly picked home grown oranges. I had never been so happy to eat an orange in my life! After the quick surge of sugar the rest of the hike was quick and soon I was relaxing outside in the plush grass in front of Cheryl’s Tiki Hut.
Cheryl is a true expert on guided lava tours, but more importantly, her passion makes the experience truly one of a kind. When you experience something like this, physical tests combined with seeing one of our world’s truly wondrous elements, you feel a bond with whomever you share it with. To me, this is the only real way to see lava.
Thanks to Cheryl and her incredible knowledge and hospitality!