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How the Mauna Loa Eruption Could Impact Your Trip to Hawaii

What you should know if you’re planning a trip to the Big Island

A view from Mauna Loa, the world's largest active volcano, began to erupt overnight, prompting authorities to open shelters "as a precaution" on November 29, 2022 in Hawaii, United States.
Photo by United States Geological Survey/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Heading to the island of Hawaii? Officials say the Mauna Loa eruption is not affecting air travel or accommodations; however, other factors like air quality may change the way you spend your time on the island.

There were rumblings of Mauna Loa reawakening a few weeks ago. It had lain dormant for nearly 40 years — it last erupted in 1984 — and volcanologists started detecting movement within the world’s largest active volcano in early October.

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​The Mauna Loa eruption began just before midnight on Nov. 27. By 6:30 a.m. the next day, lava could be seen flowing down the 13,681-foot volcano toward the center of the island on the volcano’s northeastern side. Thankfully, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority, this area is not populated and the eruption does not pose a threat to any communities at this time. In an interview with ABC News, Gov. David Ige said that there’s no reason to change travel plans to the island and that the eruption is happening in an isolated area. 

​The lava flow is “on the best path it could be on,” says T. Ilihia Gionson, public affairs officer with the tourism authority. “The area it’s flowing towards, there’s not a whole lot there. There’s not currently a threat to any of the resort areas in Kailua-Kona, Hualalai, Waikoloa or Hilo.” He adds that visitors staying outside of resort areas in rentals through such services as VRBO should check with their hosts to learn where they are on the island in relation to the lava flow. 

​Daniel K. Inouye Highway, also known as the Saddle Road, traverses the inland area the lava is flowing toward — the road runs east and west — but Gionson says there’s not a threat to the road itself and state authorities are monitoring the situation. Gionson notes that the highway offers one of the best vantage points to see the lava flow, but warns against pulling over and parking for a better view. He says that the county may set up parking areas to view the lava flow, but that visitors should check the tourism authority’s website for guidance.

​The eruption caused Southwest Airlines to pause its operations in Hilo, canceling nine inter-island flights between Honolulu and Hilo. Southwest’s inter-island flights resumed as scheduled Tuesday, and for travelers arriving to or departing from the island’s two main airports — Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole (KOA) and Hilo International Airport (ITO). However, it’s best to check with your specific airline for updates before heading to the airport. Hawaiian Airlines, for example, is offering a travel waiver for customers with flights through Dec. 4 who want to reschedule at no additional cost or cancel their flight and receive a credit due to the volcanic activity.

Air quality concerns 

The Hawaii Department of Health issued a warning for sensitive groups — older adults, individuals with preexisting respiratory conditions and children — that the eruption may have an impact on air quality. 

​If potential vog conditions (when the air contains volcanic ash and gases) have you reconsidering outdoor activities, here are a few interesting indoor ideas: 

Hulihee Palace: Once a summer home for Hawaiian royalty in Kailua-Kona, Hulihee Palace was built in 1838 out of lava rock. Today, it’s a museum with six oceanfront rooms filled with artifacts from the time King Kalakaua and Queen Kapiolani reigned, including koa wood furniture, Hawaiian quilts, portraits and traditional feather work ($22 for adults; $16 for seniors 62 and older).

Imiloa Astronomy Center: “Imiloa” means “to seek far” and is the Hawaiian word for both “explore” and “explorer” — so what better name for an astronomy center that reaches far into the galaxies above? A highlight at Imiloa in Hilo is Na Ohana Hoku Eha, the Four Star Families, an introduction to a Hawaiian wayfinder’s night sky and a different perspective of the stars ($19 for adults; $17 for seniors).

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Lyman Museum and Mission House: Take a self-guided tour of the Lyman Museum in Hilo and learn about the history of Hawaii, from Polynesian settlement through today, in the Island Heritage Gallery, and the natural history of Hawaii in the Earth Heritage Gallery. Each provides different, fascinating perspectives of the islands. A docent-led tour of the Mission House, the oldest standing wood structure on the island of Hawaii and one of the oldest in the state, highlights what life was like 5,000 miles and a six-month voyage away from your original home and family … in the 1830s. Individual reservations are required for both the museum and the house ($7 for adults; $5 for seniors, $3 for docent-led tours).​

Two volcanoes erupting at once

Mauna Loa’s eruption makes it the second volcano with lava flow on the island of Hawaii. Kilauea, the youngest and most active volcano on the island, began erupting again at the end of September 2021 and has been flowing since. The Kilauea lava flow can be seen within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which also includes Mauna Loa. 

​The park is open, but visitors should be prepared and stay informed.

​“Volcanic eruptions are dynamic, and things could change,” Gionson says. “Be mindful of where you’re going and what you’re doing, and you’ll be fine.”

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