Puna

8/8/18 update: as most of the world now knows, Kilauea, which has gently flowed for more than 30 years, has now become more active.  Lava has destroyed numerous homes and displaced thousands of residents in the lower rift zone in Puna district, and the summit has had numerous ash eruptions and thousands of earthquakes have damaged the park and surrounding highways/roads. The park is currently closed due to the dangerous conditions, and all of the sites mentioned below are currently inaccessible or have been destroyed.

 

In the Puna (southeast) District of the island, lava flows have been not infrequent. The result of earlier flows is the Wai Opae tidepools in Kapoho-a series of interconnected pools with fish, turtles, eels and coral of many colors.

A large reef 1/4 mile offshore breaks all the waves, and so the pools are always glassy calm-allowing even novice swimmers and snorkelers safe paddling.

There is no beach, only stretches of lava rock on which to set your towel–but you’ll be in the water most of the time anyway! At night, you can see the glow of lava flow off to the southwest.  On our first trip to Big Island, we rented an ocean front (tidepool front) home for $100/night. What a bargain!  As the tide comes in, you can go out into one of the outer pools, and “ride” the flow inward  across a narrow channel. The seafloor drops away as you cross, and it feels like skydiving.  It’s a cheap thrill!

Further down the road toward Kalapana is the Ahalanui Beach Park. It is a geothermically heated pool of fresh and sea water.  Locals swear by its healing properties. The local doctors know that the warm waters are a perfect bacteria growing medium…….and having seen some NASTY skin infections on the users…..I won’t go in there…..

On your way to Kapoho, you’ll pass Lava Tree State Park–

no, those are not giant phallic symbols. They are trees burned  by lava flowing up from the ground and then cooling in place around the trunk. Near the park is this lovely tree tunnel:

After your snorkeling adventure, continue down the Kapoho-Kalapana Road (also known as The Red Road–because it used to be red from the clay used as building material. Alas, not “red” now– just asphalt…). You’ll pass Isaac Hale Beach-a local’s hangout, Mackenzie State Park, Kehena Beach (leave your inhibitions-and your clothing-at home….) and end up at Kalapana Village.  This is the end of the road because the lava has overrun it…..

On Wednesday evenings, the town of Kalapana is an open air market with music, food and craft booths. )

Get there early and hike out to the newest black sand beach on Big Island, created when the hot lava hit the cool seawater and exploded into new sand.

Just to the west, the few remaining homes are still threatened by the lava flow.
Update of 2/17: there is again surface flow and “over the cliff” ocean entry:
We finally made the hike to Kalapana to see the lava flow in February 2017. 4 miles in (and out)…but worth it!

We could have rented bikes, but we felt our skills to maintain upright status on gravel roads….in the dark while we were headed back….precluded such.
That red flow off the cliff is called “the fire hose” and is estimated at 15 meters diameter. We um….didn’t want to get any closer than we were.
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There are also new surface outbreaks on the pali (cliff) below Pu’u O’o crater, whence the flow…..flows. Looked to me like “Burning Man!”
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Head back toward Pahoa on Highway 130, but stop at Star of the Sea Painted Church.  This church was founded by Father Damien of Molokai Leper colony fame. The current church building was constructed in 1927.  Threatened by the lava flow of 1990, the local residents lifted it off its foundation and moved it 1/2 mile inland.

 

You’ve worked up an appetite, so head to  Pahoa, the nearest village. Some good, and some great…..and some barely passable…..restaurants.  We like Kaleo’s-pricey but very good.