East and south of Hilo is the Puna district and the funky little town of Pahoa (often called Hawai'i's outlaw town). This is an diverse area of rain forests, lava fields, and rugged coastline.
One of the major attractions in Puna is the Lava Tree State Park. In 1790 a lava flow passed through a forest of ohia trees and today the molds of these trees are all that remain; it's a very unique attraction to visit. Geothermal pools are another large attraction in the area.
Highway 137 on the coast is often compared to the Road to Hana on Maui. It's a stunningly beautiful drive along the 'red road' ending at the location of Kilaueas most recent destruction where the town of Kalapana once flourished. In 1990 Pele, the Volcano Goddess of Hawaii, changed the landscape of the Big Island dramatically. For nearly eight months lava flowed relentlessly, slowly burying much of the town under as much as 30 feet of molten rock. The Royal Garden Subdivision to the north and west was another victim of this devastating flow. One of Hawai'i's most beautiful black sand beaches was also lost to the molten rock during this flow. But alas, a new black sand beach is slowly forming in its place.
MAY 2018 ERUPTION UPDATE:
Beginning in May 2018, Pele again awoke within Puna along the East Rift Zone of Kilauea Volcano and has covered much (if not all) of the local communities of Leilani Estates and Kapoho, along with loss of Ahalanui Park and the local warm pools, in addition to new lava flows filling in Kapoho Bay. As of this writing, in mid-Summer 2018, the eruption was ongoing. To date, the amount of new land, formed by new lava flows into the Pacific ocean, extended for nearly a mile beyond the former coastline.
Visitors can check our Volcano Status Updates page for current information.