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“Overland lava flow AND ocean entry flow -- ask before you pay!” 2 of 5 stars
Review of Kalapana Cultural Tours

Kalapana Cultural Tours
12-5038 Kalapana-Kapoho Rd, Pahoa, Island of Hawaii, HI 96778
+1 808-936-0456
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Ranked #1 of 11 Tours & Activities in Pahoa
Certificate of Excellence 2014
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Owner description: Proud pioneers as Hawaii's FIRST LAVA TOUR COMPANY, we HIKE & BOAT to WHALES, secret WATERFALLS, hot lava up-close, volcanic craters, rare birds, lava tubes, water-caved caves, & tropical valleys. OUR MISSION is to perpetuate Hawaiian CULTURE by sharing unwritten cultural details and hidden Hawaii. Your Native Hawaiian tour guide ONLY takes you to Hawaii's most unattainable & unknown areas that very few locals even know exist. WHALE sightings are 99% success and are accompanied by WATERFALLS only accessible by boat along Hawaii's most tropical coastline in Hilo. Or hike or boat with us to HOT LAVA in our devastated hometown of Kalapana, now buried under the volcanic eruption. LA TIMES features our event, "Commemorate Kalapana," *WHY choose KCT: Our well-rounded Native Hawaiian owned and operated team is made of our family who are professional musicians of Hawaiian music with performances worldwide, practice Hawaiian fishing and hunting the Old Hawaiian way, multilingual, hold Bachelor of Arts & Masters Degrees in Hawaiian Studies, Bachelor of Science in Marine Biology, Masters Degrees in Tropical Conservation Biology, PhDs in Geology and will show you that ALOHA is more than a greeting--ALOHA is our WAY OF LIFE.
1 review
1 helpful vote 1 helpful vote
“Overland lava flow AND ocean entry flow -- ask before you pay!”
2 of 5 stars Reviewed February 4, 2013

We booked the guided lava tour with Kalapana cultural tours. At $100 per person, it is a steep price to pay to hike 2.5 miles one way to see the lava. We were told we would observe several lava entries into the ocean. That we did, and it was impressive. However, we were also told that we would see the overland lava flow up close and personal. This was the part of the tour I was most looking forward to. Once we had hiked across the recent lava deposits to reach the ocean location, we were told there was no overland lava flow to view that evening. I was so disappointed! I did not feel I received the value for my money. I recommend you ask whether the tour will include views of both the lava flow on land and entry into the ocean, if this is important to you. I learned the hard way that this is not always the case (nature being what it is), and the company will not inform you of this, although I have asked them to inform participants of this from now on. Because I was falsely given certain expectations, I was very disillusioned with the tour company when they didn't deliver. As the lava is currently flowing outside Volcanoes National Park and is occurring on private land, this company may be making hay while the sun shines. I would suggest anyone who is interested in seeing the lava try to see if there are other companies offering similar tours at a better price and ask what they will show you on the tour. Observing flowing lava is one of the reasons many of us choose to visit the Big Island, it is a unique opportunity.

We noticed a boat tour come in for a viewing while we were observing the lava. Consider this another option, but be aware, the boat we observed was over to see the lava entries and then out again rather quickly, probably only about 5 minutes in the lava area. Another possibility is a helicopter tour, but I am uncertain as to cost. Or maybe wait until lava is once again flowing in the National Park or closer to a public road.

Visited January 2013
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This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Kalapana_CT, Manager at Kalapana Cultural Tours, responded to this review, February 8, 2013
Aloha and thank you for your comments. We are happy to hear that you safely took our guided tour to the active, flowing lava. Our business benefits local economy and is owned and operated by local Native Hawaiian families who were displaced from the lava flows over the last 30 years. Kalapana Cultural Tours aims to supply not merely a geographical hike, but also a glimpse into our people’s history and culture. We are thankful that living in this rugged environment allows us to share live flowing lava with others.

The $100 value of the tour is not itemized into a $50 ocean entry view and $50 surface flow view. Many guests assure us that the ocean flows alone are worth more than the full ticket price. (We can personally E-mail you details on ticket price if you wish, and are happy to inform others if they inquire about specifics). We apologize for the miscommunication, and to clarify, we guarantee seeing active, flowing lava from as close as safely possible—but do not guarantee a particular type of flow, either ocean entry or surface flow. Our reason to not guarantee a particular flow-type stems from what geologists understand about this dynamic system. When the lava ocean entry (a rare occurrence) pumps heavily, as it was for your tour, the surface flow may deflate because the majority of pressure is released through the multiple coastal entry points. The only consistent trait of this mountain is its dynamic, constantly changing nature, but we believe that any apparent flow is always spectacular, no matter where it is. Consider each hike, and moment, one of a kind. We encourage all guests to ask specific questions to better understand the area, and Kalapana Cultural Tours will always be 100% honest in response.

Actually, there is currently lava flowing in the National Park. This hike to the flow is 7+ miles one way (14+ miles round-trip). Rangers say it is “most likely the toughest hike in the park,” with a trail only marked to get you back to your car, but not out to the lava flow. There have been many ‘overnight stays’ where a ranger must hike out to find lost hikers in the middle of the night, stay with them, then hike them out in the morning. Also, the flow is “slow and sluggish” (Tyler, Ranger @ HAVO, February 5, 2013). Please feel free to call the National Park for more information.

Thank you for your comment as it will motivate us to be more clear in the future. Aloha and a hui hou!

--Kalapana Cultural Tours
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155 reviews from our community

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English first
Kapolei, Hawaii
3 reviews 3 reviews
Reviews in 3 cities Reviews in 3 cities
4 helpful votes 4 helpful votes
“The A-#1 lava tour in Hawaii”
5 of 5 stars Reviewed January 28, 2013

I feel compelled to submit my review in response to the negative review posted on January 25th. My friend and I had a GREAT experience with the tour guide, Koa, and the crew at Kalapana Cultural Tours.
One look at the landscape of Hawaii's youngest island will have you in awe of Mother Earth's amazing power. No one in their right mind would underestimate the challenges of navigating the natural terrain in and around Volcano National Park, day or night. Nor would those people compare this terrain to a rain-forest, a canoe trip, or a lava tube. Lava is inherently dangerous and cooled lava is not much more than silica (glass). The hike with Kalapana Cultural Tours is a marvelously unique experience!
In December 2012, a friend and I booked a tour with Kalapana Cultural Tours who, we were told by Big Island residents, is the only company permitted to hike through private property in order to reach the lava flow and view the sea entry. Though they were nearly booked up, the nice woman on the phone kindly offered us a few different tour departure times. We chose the last tour which left before sunset. Before setting out on the hike, Koa explained that the terrain would be challenging and the pace would be rather brisk. It will be dark on the return hike and there is no marked trail. All guests had ample opportunity to reassess the situation and opt out before departing. The hike distance fluctuates with the traveling river of lava. Koa explained that we would have to hike for an hour and a half before reaching the lava. If it rains, he has ponchos for everyone. After dark, he has flashlights and plenty of extra batteries for everyone. I feel as though all facts were disclosed before departing.
The hike was amazing! Walking on black glass...almost like obsidian...that had cooled in so many fascinating forms and shapes. And when we reached the lava flow, emotions i've never experienced filled me up. Seeing earth in this raw form was more than my mind could handle. Almost two months later, I'm still on a emotional high from this trip! Thank you Koa and Kalapana Cultural Tour.
Born and raised on Oahu, I've looked forward to meeting Pele face to fire since her reappearance in 1983. Yes, there are other companies that can take you to view the lava flow. You can buy tickets on airplanes, helicopters and boats...all of which come with risk of serious injury or death. Please read the rest of the reviews and then book your tour with Kalapana Cultural Tours!

Visited December 2012
Was this review helpful? Yes 1
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Los Angeles
5 reviews 5 reviews
Reviews in 5 cities Reviews in 5 cities
18 helpful votes 18 helpful votes
“Astonishing view of lava; Unnecessarily dangerous trip!”
1 of 5 stars Reviewed January 25, 2013

Kilauea's rushing lava was said to be at its most spectacular in a decade earlier this month. The well-regarded geologist Phillip Ong's hiking tour was booked so we took a chance on Kalapana Cultural Tours. Huge mistake!

To give some context for the following negative review, here's a little background about me, the reviewer. I'm a middle-aged female, very fit, and a veteran of some fairly exotic travel including two weeks of hiking through the rain forest in Borneo and a three-day canoe trip down the Zambezi River past (and close to) hippos and crocs. I spent a half-day prior to the Kalapana lava hike in a pitch-dark lava tube with the excellent guide Harry Schick to get a feel for the glassy, easily shattered surface we would be traversing.

The sole difference between these previous adventures which were thrilling and Kalapana's night lava hike which was an ordeal was the caliber of the guides. In Borneo, the Dayak tribesmen, though they spoke no English, expertly helped us navigate the slippery forest full of venomous snakes, insects the size of our fists and streams teeming with leeches. Though they could've done it with their eyes closed (in fact, one was blind though he had no trouble keeping up with his sighted colleagues), they understood that the environment was completely foreign to us. Ditto our Zambezi guide, who educated and watched over us from his canoe.

Our Kalapana guide, Koa (sp?), was a nice-enough guy, but immature and with no apparent appreciation of how difficult race-walking on crunchy, brittle lava is for the uninitiated. The first one down in our group of six (including the guide) was a male hiker from Canada. Minor injury to the hand. No big deal, but Koa was so far ahead of us as the night grew darker that most of the time we could not see him or the two young Hawaiian tourists for whom this was a third-time adventure. We slowed down our pace as crevasses in the lava big enough for a body to fall through were barely visible in the small, dim flashlights Kalapana provided.

Periodically, Koa would notice that my husband and I were lagging and wait the half-minute it took us to catch up. Each time, I asked him to slow it down just a little explaining that it wasn't a question of our fitness just our lack of experience in the environment. I also mentioned that my flashlight was all but useless and he helpfully explained that it was because they hadn't replaced the batteries since the last group of hikers had used them. (He did, however, replace them.)

Around half-way there, as we caught up once again, I was aghast to see that our guide's leg was badly lacerated in several places with blood literally streaming down it. It seems the pace was too much even for him. Shorts, by the way, are an ill-advised fashion choice on this hike. Once again, I asked him to slow down. Request ignored other than his suggestion that maybe I should stay behind because the hike was perhaps too much for me.

We passed another group of young and old hikers on their way back from the lava field. They seemed relaxed and enthusiastically reported the thrilling sight we were about to behold. With that, the race to get there was really on. My husband and I sped up to keep pace with Koa, who could hardly contain his excitement or his speed -- not to was to be left behind in a vast, unfamiliar terrain cloaked in darkness -- when it happened: I felt the hardened lava shattering beneath my hiking boots, lost my footing and fell, landing hard on my side. Another hiker helped me ascertain that my aching jaw was not broken though my face and ear were lacerated. I wouldn't know for another several hours that I had also suffered a serious subdural bleed in my thigh as well as bruises on my arm and knee. At that point, I kind of exploded and asked Koa if three out of six injured wasn't a sign that we should slow down especially since one of them was him. Apparently, it wasn't.

We finally got to the gushing lava without any further injuries and it was indeed a spectacular sight. "That was worth it, wasn't it?" Koa exclaimed as though lava that has been flowing since the eighties wouldn't have waited had we spent an extra 20-30 minutes getting to it. Koa then went about the business of cleaning up his bleeding leg. Didn't occur to him to ask if I needed any of the moistened tissues in his first aid kit to clean my face. I asked for some Neosporin, but he didn't have any.

We got very, very close to the lava. Close enough for Koa to toast a marshmallow. Close enough that we couldn't sit down on the hot rocks. Close enough that we could see liquid lava coursing beneath us through fissures on the surface. I have no idea whether this was safe. Our guide had demonstrated so little common sense that my confidence in his judgment was nil.

Obviously, I lived to tell and write about it. But I have little doubt that if Kalapana Cultural Tours doesn't do a much better job of training all of its guides and putting one at the back of the group as well as one at the front, it is only a matter of time before they will have a very serious injury -- a fractured skull or a broken hip -- or even a fatality to their discredit. When that happens, all the release forms in the world aren't going to help them. Hope they wise up before then. In the meantime, enjoy the lava but do it by boat or book early and go with Phillip Ong.

Visited January 2013
Was this review helpful? Yes 9
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Jose60713, Manager at Kalapana Cultural Tours, responded to this review, February 5, 2013
January 27, 2013
Thank you for your feedback in regards to your tour. As always, we appreciate customer feedback as it is essential to the improvement of our business. Customer satisfaction is our main priority here at Kalapana Cultural Tours. Thank you for helping us to better our company and ensuring that this will be a problem that can be avoided in the future. We also provide Private Tours for those wanting a more personalized tour that is based solely on their needs and not that of the general group.

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Los Angeles, California
Senior Contributor
38 reviews 38 reviews
17 attraction reviews
Reviews in 16 cities Reviews in 16 cities
35 helpful votes 35 helpful votes
“Great Lava Tour..stood less than 4ft away from the lava”
5 of 5 stars Reviewed January 20, 2013

Great Lava tour...the tour was given by Kahi and his cousin Jojo was giving the other tour...The walk to the lava took about 2hrs or maybe about 2miles...The pace to the lava is as fast as the slowest walker. Along the way we were given history, knowledge, as well as the future of the area where so many people lost their homes..Once we reached the lava flow, it was unbelievable..Stood less that 4ft from the lava as it came out of the ground....In the short distance you could see the lava as it hit the ocean, and that was an incredible sight to see, one that shouldnt be missed..Best to start the tour about 2hrs before sunset so u get to see the glowing lava flow at night...
Someone asked Kahi how long will we be there at the lava flow, his answer was as long as you want to stay. It was basically a group consensus as to when everyone wanted to leave.That was the greatest answer because there was no rush...
Kalapana Tour Company, Kahi, Jojo and family own the land that the lava flow sits on so what better group to give the tour..I have yet to figure out how they navigate back to the parking area with just a flashlight and no line of sight in front of you..Each guide has their own path back, if you were by yourself you could be stuck there all night...
For the Kamaaina's ask for the rate....
Be sure to bring atleast 2ltrs of water, and if you can, wear a pair of jeans, because if you fall in all that volcanic rock, its like getting cut on a piece of glass, and the land mass is very rocky...
I recommend kalapana cultural tours, you can make a reservation online, or i guess you can do what i did and just show up ;).....Give yourself plenty of time to get there, if you must get there GPS "kalapana village cafe"....the check in is located next door

Visited January 2013
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Larsen, Wisconsin
13 reviews 13 reviews
4 attraction reviews
Reviews in 8 cities Reviews in 8 cities
12 helpful votes 12 helpful votes
“Great lava viewing trip”
4 of 5 stars Reviewed January 20, 2013

A knowledgeable and friendly guide led a smallish group of us over old lava flows to the edge of where the lava is currently pouring into the ocean for sunset viewing. That spectacle is beyond words and we feel so fortunate for happening to be in the right place at the right time. While one can find a way there without a guide, this tour was much safer and certain. The only downside was that we didn't know beforehand how long a walk it was going to be (a little under 3 miles one-way). At $100 per person, it seems like a steep price too, but given the spectacle that we were able to see, it was worth it. This was a "life list" activity for us!

Visited January 2013
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