Rob and I were lucky enough to visit the Big Island of Hawaii for a few days. We were even more lucky because Kīlauea had resumed erupting a few days before, and had a lovely lava lake in the crater!

We got up well before dawn to see it before dawn, and it was well worth the effort. It truly felt like looking into the heart of the earth.

Glowing lava lake, with brilliant lines of incandescent red split by black
Kīlauea lava lake, taken from the Kīlauea overlook

Note that we didn’t have a good camera, so this was taken with my iPhone. It gives the right impression, but doesn’t do it justice. In reality, the “cracks” in the cooled surface lava are crisper and cleaner, but the incandescent light tends to overwhelm even a decent camera.

It probably takes a really good camera and maybe some filters to really capture it. As dawn broke, it was easier to catch a somewhat representative picture.

Dawn over the Kīlauea crater. The crater is still vivid.
Kīlauea crater at dawn. The level of incandescence is more accurate at this point. The bright points are lava fountains.

This was at 6:42 a.m., well into dawn. I’m really glad we arrived in full dark, but people arriving at this point still got a good show.

However, people arriving after full light got a completely different experience!

Kīlauea crater, the inner crater steaming and black. There is one visible spot of red, which is a lava fountain.
Kīlauea crater at full light. The inner crater that is steaming is the lava lake. The temperature hasn’t changed, but the liquid lava is no longer clearly visible. One lava fountain is visible at the top/center of the crater.

It was still amazing, but not nearly as awe-inspiring as clearly seeing the liquid lava.

Highly recommended, if you are lucky enough to get the chance!

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