Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Volcanic activity, a part of history that makes it fun too

Warren Costa knows the sights, sounds and smells of a dying forest.

On a clear night in 1973, he and his parents went to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to see the dramatic eruption of Mauna Ulu vent in Kilauea Volcano's east rift zone.

Just 8 years old at the time, he watched, mesmerized, as bright orange streams of molten lava consumed plants, shrubs and trees in a spectacle that was at once magnificent and terrifying.
"Two distinct smells came from the flow," Costa says. "One was the smell of the forest burning; it was very similar to the smell from a campfire. Then there was the smell of the lava itself, kind of sulfury and organic.

"As the forest burned, there was a crackling sound that interrupted the otherwise quiet night. There were also explosions in the distance. Methane gas accumulates under the flow and ignites when it comes into contact with the hot lava or burning vegetation."


Native Guide Hawaii Volcano Adventures leads visitors to a vantage, conditions permitting, where red-orange lava flows on to coastal flats.

The Volcano region has captivated Costa, owner of Native Guide Hawaii, ever since. One of his most popular eco-tours, the Volcano Adventure, takes you on a day-long hike in HVNP where you'll examine petroglyphs and the remains of an ancient Hawaiian village, explore centuries-old lava tubes and learn about the area's legends, geology and natural history from his perspective as a native Hawaiian.

"I feel people out to see where their interest lies," Costa says. "I believe in 'place-based learning,' and I'll take them to see specific things if I feel that will deepen their understanding of the subjects being discussed."

For instance, at massive Halemaumau Crater, purportedly the home of Pele, the tempestuous volcano goddess, Costa shares the story about her migration from Kahiki (Tahiti) to Hawaii.
He also discusses tectonics and the Hawaiian hot spots where magma bursts through Earth's mantle as volcanic eruptions.

The current eruption of Kilauea, which began on Jan. 2, 1983, is the longest and most voluminous rift zone eruption in Hawaii's recorded history.

Conditions permitting, Costa will lead you to a lookout where you'll see rivers of molten lava from Kilauea's Puu Oo vent flowing onto the coastal flats. At times, these rivers enter the ocean, where they add acres of new land amid spectacular explosions of steam, rocks and spatters of liquid fire.
"Without a doubt, the most fascinating thing people will see during the Volcano Adventure is the creation of new land," Costa says. "The beauty and complexity of the many different 'lavascapes' is indescribable. You have to personally see it to get a sense of the awesome scope of it all."


Unusual rocks, lava tubes and the sharing of information on geology provide an educational, yet fun, experience for keiki.


in Hilo, Costa has a multifaceted background. He earned his bachelor's degree in anthropology at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, and has worked as a ranger at the observatory complexes atop Mauna Kea; a plant caretaker at UH-Hilo's experimental nursery in Panaewa; and a teacher at Waiakea Elementary School in Hilo, Napua Noeau: the Center for Gifted and Talented Native Hawaiian Children on the campus of UH-Hilo, and Kua O Ka La Public Charter School in Puna, whose curriculum is based on Hawaiian culture.

If you go ...

What: Volcano Adventure

Place: Pickups in Hilo and the Volcano area

Offered: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. by appointment

Cost: $125 for a single party, $225 for two, $275 for three and $325 for four, including the use of gloves, walking sticks and a day pack; snacks; and a lunch of sandwiches, fruit, vegetables and beverages. Special dietary needs can be accommodated. Participants must be at least 6 years old, and there is a maximum of four people per tour.
Call: 808-982-7575

Notes: Wear long pants, hiking boots or sturdy covered shoes with good traction, sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat. Bring your camera, binoculars and a jacket. The weather at the lava flows usually is hot, dry, windy and sunny, but occasional downpours are not unusual. Native Guide Hawaii also offers tours of the Puna coast, Waipio Valley and Saddle Road. Check the Web site for details. Customized photography, bird-watching and sightseeing tours to other parts of the Big Island can be arranged.

According to Costa, "Native Guide Hawaii is not just a tour company; it is a means of gaining insights into Hawaii that you can only get from someone who's a knowledgeable cultural practitioner. Other tour companies may have 'local' guides, but they may not be well versed in the culture, history and geological features of Hawaii. My goal is for people to come away from their experience with me thinking that they've participated in something real and fulfilling."

Costa doesn't stick to rigid itineraries. For example, the Volcano Adventure might include a detour to steam vents, sulfur banks or kipuka, oases of greenery that have miraculously been left untouched by flowing lava.

He rates the tour's hikes as moderate. Their lengths vary from one to eight miles, depending on the ability and desires of the group. He's hosted everyone from elderly guests who didn't want to walk at all to fit and hardy athletes who've wanted to hike all day.

"My usual tour is a mix of driving and short hikes to key features," Costa says. "All of my tours are personalized, so when people book me for the day, it's just them and me. That's why I can be flexible."


is a key component of Costa's tours.

"I'm a voracious reader and researcher, and a lifelong student," he says. "I present accurate information. If I don't know the answer to a question, I'll say, 'I don't know but I'll find out for you.' I never make things up for entertainment value, and I am uncompromising in presenting Hawaiian culture and history in a truthful and positive way. I work hard to ensure that my clients have a good time and learn something they didn't know before they met me."

Two months ago, Costa received a call from a woman who had just undergone chemotherapy for breast cancer. On a visit to the Big Island four years prior, she had hiked to an active lava flow that was easily accessible from the road.

On this trip, however, the flow was far from the road. Also, because of her treatment, she was prone to overheating and could not be out in the sun for long periods. Still, she hoped she could repeat her previous adventure in Volcano.

"This presented a dilemma," Costa recalls. "I couldn't take her during the day because it gets hot in the coastal area where the flow is. I also didn't want to take her out at night because of the dangers associated with walking to and from the flow in complete darkness. I told her the only way to do it would be if we went before sunrise. That way, it would be cool and dark on the hike out to the lava flow, and the sun would be rising just in time to light our way back to the van."

That's exactly what they did. Afterward, Costa says, "She told me that experience was the highlight of her vacation and that she'd thought she wouldn't get to see flowing lava that close again. She recently called to say that she would be back next year to do the tour with me a third time, cancer-free!"

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