Puna, Hawaii Reviews
Puna: Hawaii's Less-Traveled Gem Jan 14, 2011
The Lower Puna district on the Hawaii's Big Island is an ever-changing land. Here, spellbinding tree canopies are crisscrossed by lava flows, and black sand beaches beckon enthusiastic travelers and locals alike. Despite the unique beauty of this dynamic place, it is surprisingly uncrowded on most days. Whether it is a walk on the wild side, a drive through a towering tropical forest, or a lazy day on the beach that you crave, Puna delivers.
Some of Puna's (free) sites of interest include:
Lava Tree State Monument: After a scenic, tree-canopied drive along Hwy 132, Lava Tree State Monument is a wonderful place to stop and see a rare geologic-biological hybrid up close. The lava trees found here are the direct result of a volcanic eruption that occured in 1790. Back then, erupted lava flowed over the present-day park and overtook the native forest. Ohia lehua evergreen trees took a last stand, and their moisture-laden trees caused the lava to cool and harden before the ohia lehua trees were consumed by fire. As the lava later drained away, solid casts of the ohia lehua trees remained. Lava Tree State Monument is a wonderful place to see these natural relics up close in a safe environment.
In addition to lava trees, Lava Tree State Monument has a plethora of flora and birds that will delight visitors. Impressive elephant ear plants provide a great background for photos, with leaves that are comparable to the size of a small child. Immense monkeypod trees will leave visitors in awe. Just be careful to stay on the paved walking path, as volcanic fissures from the 1790 eruption remain open today, and are a potential hazard for uninformed visitors. (Yes, there are signs warning you about this threat--please heed them.)
Pahoa-Pohoiki Road: Just beyond Lava Tree State Park, you will encounter Pahoa-Pohoiki Road. This one-lane road is an absolutely gorgeous rustic route to the ocean. Slow speeds are a must when traveling along Pahoa-Pohoiki, but I promise that the views along the way are breath-taking. Towering tree canopies will leave you awestruck during the entire road. Turnouts along the way provide the perfect opportunity to stop for photos, but please be couteous to other drivers.
Issac Hale Beach Park: Pahoa-Pohoiki Road literally takes you directly into the parking lot for Issac Hale Beach Park. Although this isn't a beach in the traditional sense--basalt rock and tidal pools reign supreme here--it's a great place to take a stroll along the waterfront and see what kind of marine life is lingering in the pools. During weekends, however, it overfills with the party crowd. If solace is what you seek, skip this one.
Ahalanui: Heading south on Hwy 137 (or north from Issac Hale), you'll encounter a place called Ahalanui between mile markers 10 and 11. Ahalanui is a brackish water pool of surprising clarity. There is a manmade wall and inlet that allows seawater in, while concurrently keeping swimmers safe from potentially rough surf. What makes Ahalanui especially amazing is that it is naturally heated to a balmy 90 degrees by geothermal activity. Think of this place as a natural, palm-tree studded hot tub for all to enjoy. Restrooms, picnic tables, BBQ grills, and lifeguards make this a great place to take the family for a day of leisurely fun.
Hwy 137 South: If you continue south from Ahalanui, you will encounter another series of breathtaking tree canopies, interspersed by lava flows that occured from 1790 to 1955. This is known as the "lonely Puna Road" and is great for seeing Hawaii at its native best. This land is continually changing. In fact, Hwy 137 ultimately dead-ends rather abruptly near mile marker 22 on account of one of these dynamic events...
(What remains of) Kalapana: Just past mile marker 22 on Hwy 137 you'll encounter the remains of the former fishing village of Kalapana. In 1990, a vent from Kilauea Volcano sent lava flowing directly through the villages of Kalapana and Kaimu, destoying and subsequently burying almost everything in its path. Amazingly, some determined locals in Kalapana continue to reside in this area despite the imminent threat, and actually do so without electricity or running water. Today, what remains of Kalapana at the end of Hwy 137 is mostly there for the benefit of the tourists who come to see the devastation. Here you can get a cold beverage and a snack, and then climb up onto the 1990 basalt flow and wander along the path to the Kaimu Black Sand Beach.
Kaimu Black Sand Beach: The original Kaimu Black Sand Beach was one of the world's finest beaches. In 1990, lava from Kilauea began pouring over the beach until it was inundated with a 50-75 foot thick lava flow. In 2008, the lava began to flow in the area again, destroying much of what was spared by the 1990 flow.
From the Kalapana parking area, hop right up onto the basalt flow in front of you and follow the 1/3 mile path towards the ocean. (If you're not sure where to start, chances are that there will be people selling photos from a booth at the head of the trail.) As you stroll along, prepare to be humbled by what you see--it's a grand testament to the fact that we are here by nature's consent, subject to change without notice. Along the way, you'll encounter eye-catching expanses of pahoehoe (ropey lava) that has been beautifully sculpted by Kilauea's power.
As you approach the ocean, you'll start seeing a large number of coconut palm trees sprouting from the lava field. This project began when a determined local resident refused to let her favorite beach be destroyed and forgotton. She eventually lost her battle with cancer, but locals have continued to plant these coconut palms in her honor. The trees have added substantial beauty to an otherwise black, desolate landscape.
As you reach the ocean, you'll see that the black sands of Kaimu Beach are once again returning, thanks to the relentless action of the surf. Since you eyes have adjusted to the black expanse around you, the ocean water will appear to be the most beautiful blue. If you turn backwards to where you came from and look to the left, chances are that you will see smoke and steam rising from the lava field to the south, where Kilauea's power continues to remold the landscape. Feel free to sit and linger here as long as you would like. The land that you are standing on is some of the youngest land on the planet.
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