ROD THOMPSON / RTHOMPSON@STARBULLETIN.COM
Crowds flocked to the lava viewing area on the Big Island yesterday. Lava is flowing into the sea for the first time since June.
Spectators love the lava
HILO» Corrine Collins always hoped one day she would be able to see an eruption in person. Yesterday she got her wish.
"This is so incredible. Oh my God, I can't believe this," Collins said.
Collins, who moved to Honolulu just two weeks ago, flew to the Big Island, rented a car and drove to yesterday's 2 p.m. opening of the new Hawaii County lava viewing site.
The opening ceremony started about 10 minutes early and featured Auntie Minnie Kaawaloa, who grew up in nearby Kapoho village, which was destroyed by lava in 1960.
Kaawaloa said in a prayer that the present lava flow area was and is a place of beauty for all to enjoy. She said the prayer in Hawaiian, noting that she knew her ancestors were listening.
Hundreds of cars parked along Highway 130, waiting for the road and trail to open.
With officials letting just 20 cars at a time drive the final two miles to the trailhead, Collins had to wait an hour before she was allowed to drive forward. By then the parking places closest to the trail were full, and she had to park a mile back.
Advancing lava cut off a shorter half-mile trail yesterday. Undaunted, Collins walked the 1 1/2 miles from her car to the lava site, past the open-air roadside shelter of Michael Pai, who has had a homestead there since before lava flows began in 1983.
Pai said some people were literally walking through his backyard, failing to show respect.
One man, his face red from exertion of walking from his car, started treading down Pai's driveway. Pai had to send him back to the road and show him where the trail started. But Pai's friend, Dana Keawe, making the best of the situation, started charging weary hikers $10 to drive them back to their cars.
Most people marveled at the rare, if hot and sweaty experience. Lava hasn't entered the sea since last June and access to the viewing area hasn't always been simple.
Officials plan to monitor the lava flow daily and will meet each morning to decide whether to close the trail if the lava advances too close.