The recent and ongoing eruption of Kilauea Volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii has travelers all over the world rethinking their tropical Hawaiian vacation plans. Many people are wondering: is Hawaii safe to travel to? What will I experience when I’m visiting the Big Island?
Unfortunately, the aggrandizement of the Kilauea threat has scared many tourists away from Hawaii. To be sure, Kilauea’s eruption was indeed tragic for the 1,700 people who were displaced by the lava flow, and especially for those whose houses were engulfed in magma and flame. But Kilauea has yet to take any lives. You’re at a greater risk for injury getting in your car to drive to work in the morning than you are in visiting the Big Island.
So, is Hawaii safe? The answer is yes. In fact, right now may actually be one of the best times to travel to the Big Island.
Is Hawaii Safe? The Alleged Threat of Kilauea
Media coverage of the Kilauea eruption has struck terror into the mainland dwelling friends and family of Big Island residents. But most Big Islanders chuckle at the panic, as the eruption has had little impact on their daily lives.
1,700 of Big Island’s 200,000 residents were displaced by the eruptions; that’s less than 1%. It has affected only 10 of the Big Island’s 4,028 square miles, and these areas were efficiently and effectively evacuated by the authorities. Unlike other natural disasters like tornadoes or tsunami’s, these eruptions are predictable. Though no one could predict exactly where the lava would flow or how long it would continue, experts were aware that eruption was imminent long before it occurred thanks to comprehensive oversight of seismic activity on the Island.
Furthermore, lava travels at a speed of about five meters per hour. Even if the eruption had been totally unpredictable, lava flows so slowly that it would have been possible to avert the threat quickly. Though property damage is inevitable when lava flows toward residential areas, it rarely results in the loss of precious lives. With the Big Island’s modest population density, there is plenty of space and land for evacuees to occupy elsewhere.
Some prospective tourists have been extremely frightened by reports of hundreds of earthquakes a day. In reality, these earthquakes are so small that they are imperceptible to most people. Though frightening, even the most serious earthquakes the Island has witnessed so far have not proven dangerous to human life. Here on Kona side we have only felt one earthquake in the past two months. Though a bit unsettling, it did not cause any harm or damage. Historically speaking, it is highly unlikely that Hawaii would ever experience a dangerous earthquake.
In sum: is Hawaii safe? The answer is yes.
Is Hawaii Safe? What About Vog?
Here on the Kona side, over 70 miles away from the eruption, life is business as usual. Protected by Mauna Loa, the Kona side is completely shielded from the Kilauea eruption. The only adverse effect that we have felt in Kealakekua is the slight shift in air quality as levels of vog, a combination of water vapor, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and other compounds emitted from the volcano travel with the winds over to Kona side. Still, even though we have experienced a couple days of poor air quality, our air consistently ranks much higher in quality than the air in cities like Los Angeles and Orange County, which are also far more vulnerable to a wide array of natural disasters than Big Island.
The only populations that experience serious adverse effects from the vog are those with asthma and respiratory problems, and even so, no medical emergencies have been reported as a result of the shifting air quality. If you visit Hawaii and are feeling a bit tired from the vog, a day trip up north, where air and skies are clear, will restore your energy and bring you many adventures. Thankfully, though, that may not be necessary, as skies in Kona are growing clearer by the day.
The REAL Threat: A Slowing Economy
Kilauea has been erupting since 1983, so the occurrence of heavy vog is nothing new. However, the volcano poses an even more significant, invisible threat: the effect on our economy. Tourism has continued to decline since eruptions began, slowing down business all over the island. Here on Kona side, the prime tourist destination on the island, people are facing shift cuts, lower profits, and, if the trend continues, bankruptcy and unemployment.
The media coverage of the eruption is quite sensational. Images of bubbling, spurting red lava and magma creeping toward houses indeed paint an ominous picture of life on the island. But people forget that the Big Island received it’s name for a reason: it’s BIG. Many people envision lava slowly taking over the entirety of the island. But the reality is that its effects are completely limited to the lower east rift zone. Mainlanders envision the Island drowning in lava, when it is merely a tear on it’s beautiful face.
Why You Should Visit Hawaii Now
It is unfortunate that the eruption has led to so many trip cancellations. But the slowing of tourism on the island may actually make this one of the best times to travel to the Big Island in recent years.
Kona is the tourist capital of the Big Island. During the summer months, Kona’s tiny beaches become overwhelmingly crowded. It can even be hard to swim or surf in the waters. Restaurants are busy, service slows down, and last-minute reservations become tricky. If you don’t book a snorkeling, diving, or kayaking trip in time, you might end up missing an adventure. Big Island’s one-way highways are bumper to bumper in the afternoons. But none of that is true any longer. Kona is generally quiet and peaceful and traffic is light. You no longer have to compete for space on the beach or in the ocean. If you want an intimate, tranquil, stress-free vacation, now is absolutely the time to visit Hawaii.
As a result of the eruption, the Big Island community has rallied together to support the displaced. In the wake of disaster, the Aloha spirit is stronger than ever. If you want to experience true Hawaiian culture—the value of community, the meaning of Ohana, the dedication to our sacred Island—this is absolutely the time to be here. You will meet with locals and enjoy local experiences that you wouldn’t be able to during the hustle and bustle of peak tourist months, and you’ll be able to get a sense of what this beautiful Island is truly like for those that live here.