Yes, the Kilauea volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island is erupting. The lava started flowing in early May, and last week, the U.S. Geological Survey changed the advisory warning on Kilauea to red status, warning that a major eruption is imminent or underway.
But here’s the good news: You don’t need to cancel your upcoming vacation to the Aloha State. The rest of the island chain is untouched by lava, ash, and poor air quality, and of the Big Island’s 4,028 square miles, less than ten are currently affected by the eruption. In fact, if you didn’t have a trip booked, now might be a good time to plan one, thanks to reduced visitor numbers, killer last-minute deals on flights, and a chance to help out relief efforts.
Here’s what you need to know about visiting Hawaii right now.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Is Closed
You can’t visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park right now, which is closed indefinitely as a safety precaution. But if you were set on seeing a national park during your trip, Haleakalā on Maui is a fine substitute, and flights there from the Big Island run daily. Haleakala means House of the Sun, and watching the day break from atop the 10,023-foot summit is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Be sure to reserve a spot, as it can get crowded.
Kona and Hilo Remain Unaffected
If you’ve already planned a trip to the Big Island, chances are you’re staying on the Kona Coast, the isle’s most popular tourist spot. About 100 miles away by road and literally on the opposite side of the island from the eruption, the region has reported no change in air quality. Hilo, another popular tourist town, is closer to the volcano—approximately 40 miles away—but there’s still no impact from the volcano as of now.
You Can Get a Glimpse of the Eruption
The air space over the volcano is closed, so scenic helicopter tours are a no-go, and you can’t get close enough on the ground for a good look due to safety issues. But if you’re a lava chaser, you’re in luck. You can see the glow of lava splatter from the sea. Lava Ocean Tours departs from Hilo twice daily in a high-speed boat for 90-minute dawn and dusk tours of the volcanic coast on the easternmost tip of the island. Plus, the company is currently offering discounted rates of $150.
Getting There Is Cheap
All airports on the island of Hawaii are open and operating with no interruption. Plus, airlines have stellar discounts right now to remind people that the islands are open for business. Alaska Airlines has flights from Oakland or San Jose, California, to Kona for just $219 each way, and Hawaiian Airlines has deals from the mainland to the whole chain. If you already booked a ticket with them and want to reschedule or reroute, they're also offering a one-time reservation change without extra fees.
Nearly All Lodging Remains Open
Those who rented a vacation home in the Puna area near the volcano or were planning to stay at Aqua-Aston Hospitality’s Volcano House, located within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, will need to make alternative plans. Aqua-Aston will happily offer a refund or transfer you to one of more than 40 other properties, including three on the Big Island, like the beachfront condos at Aston Kona by the Sea (from $180). Otherwise, hotels around the Big Island would all love to have you.
You Can Help Relief Efforts
More than 1,800 residents of the Big Island have been evacuated from their homes, and local businesses are doing their part to help. You can chip in, too. At Merriman’s Waimea, a restaurant in the quiet town of Waimea, $2 from every dessert sold goes to the local nonprofit spearheading relief efforts. And if you book a tour online with Sky-Line Eco Adventures, which offers a zip-line over a 250-foot waterfall in Hawaii’s Akaka Falls State Park, you can add a donation that will go directly to a relief fund.