Eat, Pray, Lava: The Life-Changing Power Of Hawai’i and It’s Volcanoes

The top travel trends of 2023 are seeing Kiwi travellers looking for escapism as a top travel priority. Emma Clifton writes about her most extreme escapist trip yet – doing lava tours of Hawai’i and it’s volcanoes.

Planning a trip is the ultimate form of escapism – in that you get to leave your daily life behind but in that you also get to escape wherever you are living at the time. One of the biggest trends for 2023 travel is people looking to escape reality – a recent survey from Booking.Com found that 57% of people were looking for exactly this – and that’s truly not a surprise to anyone, because… have you MET reality? She can be extremely average!

As a Type A person, planning a spontaneous trip has never been my forte but it was during the end of one particularly bad year that my friend (and Capsule colleague!) Alice spotted a Grab-A-Seat deal to Hawaii. Very quickly, we planned to live out the dream itinerary of our 12-year-old selves and visit the famous Hawai’i volcanoes. And so began one of the greatest weeks of our lives, where we got to enter a world of oozing lava, supernatural scenery and feeling like God was speaking to us through a volcano.

The Big Island (also known as Hawai’i island) is a short flight from Honolulu, but it is a different world from the calm beaches of Waikiki. It’s rugged, raw and filled with extreme nature. There are six volcanoes on the small island – two of which are active, with Mauna Loa the largest active volcano in the world (currently it is EXTREMELY active).

As lava nerds, Alice & I decided to approach the Hawai’i volcanoes from two different viewpoints – by sea, via a boat tour, which would take us to where the lava spout shoots out directly into the ocean; and by foot, doing a walking tour of the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. All of which would take place in one action-packed 24 hours. So much lava! So little time!

Now, in a post-Whakaari world, it is important to tell you that touring the volcanoes of Hawai’i is not without its risks – particularly the national park, which is open to the public but I would 100% recommend you do not walk around by yourself, and join a tour instead. We also had to sign a long liability waver before boarding our lava tour ship and as we set sail, the locals swimming around the boat made lots of jokes about “hope you’ve updated your wills!” (*nervous laughter*)

The sun began to set as we made our way along the rough sea, following the rocky coast as we saw small plumes of smoke in the distance. As we got closer, the first bright sparks of the lava hitting the sea could be seen – rivulets of lava running down the cliff, before joining a neon spout of molten red that fizzed and steamed as it shot straight into the water.

You know the saying, ‘I couldn’t believe my eyes?’ That’s how it felt looking at this scene in front of us, that we had crossed over into another world. The whole boat was awestruck into silence at first, before the emotions spilled over and there was a combination of joyous shrieking, crying and whooping as the lava continued to pour into the sea. It remains one of the most otherworldly moments of my life and the only time when I felt like God was speaking to me through the lava (yes, I know EXACTLY how weird that sounds! And yet!)

Babbling like we were drunk (on NATURE), we then grabbed a few hours’ sleep before waking up at 3.30am to join the Epic Lava Tour that would see us hike into the National Park. This involved meeting at a nondescript parking lot at 4am – feeling absolutely like some kind of drug deal – and then bundling in our guide’s car.

Because the nature of lava is unpredictable, the starting location for the lava tour changes daily – but as a certified lava guide, John had a nose for lava and as we hiked along the hardened lava fields under the star-lit, early morning sky, we knew we had put our faith in the right man when he suddenly changed course and darted off quickly. His lava senses were tingling.

Sure enough, we were soon standing a few feet away from a steaming, viscous pool of lava. Even though ‘lava’ is the ubiquitous term for ‘hot’ in my world – “this coffee? It’s like lava” – I was still naively shocked at how, well, REALLY hot it was. The heat radiated out at us, like standing next to the hottest oven you could imagine, and between the lava surrounding us and the tropical morning sun beating overhead, the two litres of water we each had to carry in our backpacks started to make absolute sense. As it lurched and oozed around us, the lava crackled and fizzed. We were in awe.

Once the initial shock of realising our 12 year old dreams had calmed down a bit, John took a series of photos to capture our lava affair (!!!) and one of them still remains one of my most favourite, most deranged self-portraits of all time. Observe:

Me & My BFF, Lava

Fun fact: back when I was single, I would use the photo of me with lava on dating apps to create an adventurous persona I had absolutely no business in assuming. (Worked though!).

I’ve been back to Hawaii since for absolutely wonderful reasons but there was something about the other-worldliness of this trip that has stuck with me. In Aotearoa, we are blessed with some of the most extraordinary nature in the world but the sheer wow factor of seeing Mother Nature in all her terrifying, fiery glory remains a life highlight. The entire time we were on The Big Island, we kept commenting about how alive the island felt.

As tourists, you are only ever a very lucky guest on someone else’s land but this was one of the first times travelling where I felt the imposing energy of the land itself. It wasn’t so much scary as it was both powerful and very spiritual – putting the ‘natural’ in supernatural (but I really can’t stress enough, keep an eye on all the safety alerts). If you’re looking for an island holiday unlike any other, The Big Island will deliver.

Escapism & More: What Else Are Kiwi Travellers Looking For in 2023?

According to Booking.Com, here are some of the other big trends in travel.

1. Back to Nature

Over half of Kiwis (57%) are looking for ‘off-grid’ style vacations to escape from reality, and three in ten (32%) to switch off and experience life with only the bare necessities. Kiwis are also keen to use travel in 2023 as an opportunity to learn survival skills (56%) including how to source clean water (40%), light a fire from scratch (32%), forage for food in the wild (26%) and even prep for an apocalypse (29%).

2. Out of the Ordinary

One third (32%) of Kiwi travellers want to experience complete culture shock in 2023, diving into other cultures and new experiences head first. For some (37%), travelling somewhere with completely different cultural experiences and languages will tick the box, while others (28%) will be looking to explore lesser-known cities with hidden gems that aren’t already on the radar.

3. Journey into Wellness

Seeking to re-centre the mind, meditation and mindfulness getaways are ever popular with one third (35%) of Kiwi travellers, while one quarter (24%) aim to find peace at a silent retreat, and 31% are keen to go on a health hiatus that focuses on mental health, transformative health or that helps with life milestones. One quarter (27%) of Kiwis are keen to dabble in experimental wellness for a truly escapist getaway, with alternative substances such as cannabis or plant-based psychedelics like ayahuasca or mushrooms set to become a more mainstream offering.

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