The best way to tour the lava fields and Kilauea is by helicopter. The main reason a helicopter works so well is because there is no other way to get there apart from being beamed there, and I didn't see any Starship Enterprise nearby. This is an active crater, Pu`u Oo.
The streak of red that you see is a red hot lava flow. Yeah, some volcanoes on the Big Island are active. If you look very closely, you can see faces in the lava. Lava comes in many colors, from gray like this photo, to reddish brown and black.
I believe the helicopter pilot Joyce said this was a macadamia farm, but I could be wrong. This was about the time that somebody in the helicopter developed motion sickness and was glad to have a bag handy. I'm not supposed to tell you who that person is except to say it wasn't me.
Here is where the lava meets the sea. You can see the slightly lighter shade of blue of water, and below that surface is the new land created by the lava. Sometimes, these shelves break off and float away. I am betting at low tide though you can see the new land. It's how all of Hawaii was created. All of the islands are made out of lava.
Here you can see houses built on top of lava. Now, I don't care what you say about Californians who build homes on fault lines because these people seem to have it worse. Not only did lava burn down their existing homes, but 2 years later, after they rebuilt, lava flowed through and burned them down again. At some point, don't you think a Hawaiian would say, "Hey, maybe I should build somewhere else?" Insurance rates have got to be very high in this neighborhood. The people who have it worse are those whose homes were spared and did not burn down -- they can't get to them because there are no roads anymore. Think about that!
This is a nice aerial view of Hilo and Hilo bayfront. The bayfront is where you will find many of the hotels. Maybe the nicest is the Hilo Hawaiian if you don't mind horrible $40 buffets and screaming children runningamuck. I'm glad we opted not to stay there.
And yes, here I am sneaking behind Santa's back to show off my new helicopter hairdo. It will soon be all the rage among other Sacramento short sale agents. Merry Christmas, Everybody.
Photos: Elizabeth Weintraub