A trip through Puna.
Puna is a district on the Big Island of
Hawaii located in the southeast part
of the island. Being on the windward side of the island it receives quite
a bit more rain that some of the other districts of the island. As a
result there is an explosion of vegetation year round. Most of Puna is
thick lush jungle and the first time you enter it you get a very eerie feeling
and you have to keep reminding yourself that you are still in the United States.
The wife and I have driven through Puna many times. Our first trip started by
going to the end of the road that used to loop around to the Chain Of Craters
Road in the Volcanoes National Park. The 1983 to present lava flow of
Kilauea volcano has consumed the road at a village called
at the end of the seaside road is a Hawaiian home that was spared the wrath of
the lava by a mere few feet! The remainder of the village was destroyed
with only a few homes left in the few places where the lava parted. Only
residences were allowed past the end of the highway.
At the end of the road the state highway department had erected a memorial of
sorts to the lava flow that no longer exists, but it told the story in text and
photos of the destructive path of the lava.
Star of the Sea Painted
Just prior to the road that goes off to the left toward the sea at Kalapana
resides the Star of the Sea Painted Church. There are two of these
Painted Churches on the Big Island and each has a very interesting
history. The other, located all the way across the island, is St.
Benedict's in Honaunau near the Kealakekua Bay of the song "Little Grass
Shack" fame. It also was the church of Father Damian who later
went to the famous leper colony on the island of Moloka'i.
Painted churches came into being because the early priests used paintings on
the walls as props for their sermons. Since the Hawaiians had no written
language, the pictures formed a record of the major events in Jesus' life and
What makes the Star of the Sea Painted Church unique is it used to sit
on a site that was consumed by the lava flow. The people of Puna moved the
church some half mile inland to the site where it is now on the Kalapana-Pahoa
highway. It is no longer a sanctioned Catholic church and the ownership
has been turned over to the local historical society, the Kalapana Ohana
Association. Having seen both Painted Churches, I must say this one is far
and away the prettier of the two.
If you have a chance to visit this gem, I would highly recommend a
stop. And be sure to bring your camera.
that earlier picture was taken, the church has received a new paint job on the
outside and looks quite different in 2006.
Now as we travel northeast on highway
137 we enter a dense lush jungle. Depending on the particular year the
road varied from excellent to poor with poor being quite bumpy. Combine a
poor road with a coverage from the trees that almost blocks out the sun, and you
have eerie. At this point I would recommend a fairly slow pace which is
fine as you will want to drink in the beauty of this part of the island.
The road is not far from the sea, but you would not know it except for a few
breathless breaks where the road runs right beside the ocean.
Not too far from Kalapana you will come
to Kehena Beach, a black sand beach. We've never been to the beach due to its
reputation of being a clothing optional beach, but I understand it is a
beautiful and secluded beach. A little ways further you will come to
MacKenzie State Park. This park is a favorite pit stop for us and it would
be an excellent place for a picnic. The restroom facilities here are more
like outhouses, but it always seems to be pretty decent otherwise. There are
many ironwood trees at the park which provides complete cover from the
sun. Everywhere on the ground is the needles from the trees. The
trees keep any ground cover from growing so when it is raining it can get quite
muddy. But then who picnics in the rain?
Just after MacKenzie State Park on the
right you will come to a small cemetery on the right side of the road.
Here some of the Hale family are buried. They seem to be above ground
tombs like those you see in New Orleans, although I'm not sure why other than
just a monument. There is a paved area between the road and the tombs
where you can pull off. Often on each grave there will be fruit which is
the local custom rather than flowers, although many times there are flowers as
Just a little further the road joins
highway 132 and with a turn to the right you will find the Pohoiki boat
ramp. There are very few places to launch a boat on the island and this is
the only place in Puna, so it is always busy. The boat ramp is part of the
Isaac Hale Beach Park and is a favorite place for local fishermen and surfers.
Just a little further down the road you
will come to a unique place called Pu’ala’a. This is a spring and ocean fed
pool that has a man-made wall making a barrier to the ocean. Puna in Hawaiian
means spring and this is one of many springs in the Puna District although this
one is a little different. The water comes out hot! The pool is heated by the
spring to a very warm 90 degrees or so. There is usually a lifeguard at the
site, so it is a very safe place to swim. This will be a swim you will remember
the rest of your life. Well worth stopping.
Continuing on the road toward the northeast, which is only relevant if you have
a compass or are following a map, you come to route 132. Turning to the left you
will go to the town of Pahoa and turning to the right you will go to the Cape
At this point it is really a beacon, but is very important
to the fishermen in the area as it marks the east most point on the island.
According to local lore during one of the recent lava flows in this area, the
lava threatened the beacon. A Kahuna came down to the beacon and made some
sacrifices to Pele, the Hawaiian Volcano Goddess, and did some chanting and
caused the lava to change course sparing the beacon. Now when you see the
beacon, you realize it looks like that actually happened. The lava flow stops
right at the slab for the beacon and continues to the sea on the far side. A
word of warning: the road down to the beacon is dirt and can be very washboardy
so bear this in mind. A picture of the beacon with the lava wrapped around it
makes a great backup for repeating the story.