The Lava Dwellers, Big Island, Hawaii

They come for the privacy, the views, the Pele energy and the rock-bottom real estate prices. Never mind that the volcano could torch their homes at any time.


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Bo Lozoff lives on the lava, exulting in the volcano’s “Divine Feminine” nature. “It’s a welcoming and wonderful force,” he says. “I feel like I’ve finally found the planet I’m from.”

That’s the recurrent theme of the lava tours that he leads to supplement his monthly retirement income. For $100 a head, he takes hikers out to the active flow to hot-foot it across cooling crusts and prod molten rock with walking sticks. He hikes in his shorts and sneakers, and he packs a cinnamon bun, which he toasts on the hot rocks—the irresistible aroma of toasted cinnamon bun only reinforcing his point about the Divine Feminine.

“You know those old guys on Social Security that Wal-Mart hires to make you feel welcome?” says Lozoff. “That’s who I am. I am the old guy on Social Security who lives on the lava, and I welcome people to Pele’s hospitality. I’m Pele’s Wal-Mart greeter.”

“We grew up mainstream,” says Kent Napper, pictured with his partner, Nancy Lowe. “But we are open to a new, alternative life out here on the lava.” The two-story house they built offers a front-row view of Kilauea’s ongoing eruption.

The Low-Cost Land Buyers

It was the affordable real estate more than the Pele energy that enticed Kent Napper and Nancy Lowe to become lava dwellers. A fifth of an acre in Kalapana Gardens goes for as little as $5,000. They paid twice that for their lot, because it’s on high ground, which offers a better view and, they hope, a measure of protection should the molten lava return.

They built a small, two-story house and moved in early this year. It’s rustic but comfortable, with bare wood walls, an outdoor shower and a kitchenette equipped with a mini fridge and a cast-iron camp stove. Like all of the houses in the neighborhood, it’s dependent on solar panels and rainwater catchment. It has just two rooms, a bright and airy upstairs living area, and a dark downstairs bedroom. Each story has a wrap-around deck, but Kent hadn’t gotten around yet to putting up railings during our visit, which added a new way to get hurt on the lava: falling on it from a deck.

Related links:

VIDEO: Living on Lava, Big Island, Hawaii
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