VOLCANO, Hawaii — Bruce Polich is a regular visitor to Hawaii, but he says he's never seen anything like this.
"It's too great for words," the Chicago resident said as he watched a stream of glistening lava drop off the edge of the Big Island. "This is Mother Nature at her most beautiful and her most disastrous."
Even Polich's 15-year-old son, Chris, had to admit the sight of Kilauea at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park was "pretty cool."
Lava began flowing off a 20-foot cliff into the Pacific Ocean two weeks ago for the first time in nearly a year.
On Saturday, lava was flowing into the ocean at several points, providing a show from the air for helicopter tours, said scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey's Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.
The latest flow from Kilauea, dubbed the banana flow for a forested area near the top of the volcano where there were some banana trees, reached the coast along the Wilipea delta.
The spectacle has been drawing 2,000 visitors a day, said park spokeswoman Mardie Lane. Typically, park visitors number 300 to 500 a day.
Bernice Patrick gazed at the steam plumes Saturday as the lava hit the ocean. Her husband, Greg, bounced from rock to rock, peering at the red glow of the molten rock.
"It's amazing," he said. "It just goes where it wants. You can't get more natural than this."
The Dyersburg, Tenn., couple hiked along half a mile of road and then across three-quarters of a mile over lava from last year's flow.
A few visitors poked at the lava with sticks, which immediately burst into flames. The park spokeswoman cautioned against touching the lava, for geological, safety and cultural reasons.
"Visitors should resist the urge to test their strength and just discover how beautiful that creation of nature is unto itself," Lane said.
Getting that close to the lava also is potentially dangerous.
The extreme heat kicked up can be intense and lava picked up by a stick could be flicked onto those standing nearby, Lane said.
Some native Hawaiians believe lava is the goddess Pele in her body form, Lane said, and it is disrespectful to use rocks or sticks destructively.
"It really is the first time this lava sees daylight as it pushes up from inside the volcano," she said.