Puna Region Sights, Tours, & Information
Things to Do & Visitor Tips for Puna on Big Island Hawaii
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.
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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 unique attraction to visit. Geothermal pools are another significant 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 Kilauea's 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.
ERUPTION UPDATE FROM 2018:
Beginning in May 2018, Pele again awoke within Puna along the East Rift Zone of Kilauea Volcano and proceeded to cover 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. The eruption ended in the summer of 2018, but the amount of new land, formed by fresh lava flows into the Pacific ocean, extends for nearly a mile beyond the former coastline.
This area remains a geological work in progress; which is part of its appeal to visitors too. The recent eruption has destroyed old attractions but also given life to some new ones. We'll cover some of the best attractions, new and old, found in Puna below. We've also included maps (including Puna District) of the most recent eruption on our 'Where is the Lava Located' page, which will help provide some visualization as to where the newest eruption took place on the island.
Puna Top 5 Things to Do
Best Things to See & Do in the Puna Region
MacKenzie State Park
#5 Rated in Puna on the Big Island
People don't come to MacKenzie State Park for swimming, but instead, it's the dramatic scenery and excellent fishing make this attraction worth a quick visit.
This portion of Puna's coast is jagged lava fingers and leaning palms. The ocean often punishes these low cliffs, so steer clear of the edge. There is a picnic area perfect for a nice lunch.
Just north of the parking area are some old lava tubes which might be worth exploring. Wear sturdy shoes and bring a flashlight.
'New' Kaimu Black Sand Beach
#4 Rated in Puna on the Big Island
In 1990, a river of lava flowed from the volcano, reaching the shoreline, burying the original Kaimu Beach under 50-70 feet of lava and destroying the entire community of Kalapana and nearby subdivisions that were in its fiery, molten path.
For several months, a waterfall of lava flowed into the ocean, beginning the rebirth of new land as the lava-filled the bay close to the shoreline. Now, more than 20 years later, the slow sculpture of new land is, at last, forming a stretch of sand that may once again become the playground it used to be.
It’s quite astounding to see an entirely new beach forming here – New Kaimu Beach at Kalapana (coming up next).
#3 Rated in Puna on the Big Island
Sometimes it is very easy to forget amid the vast beauty of the Big Island that deep below the surface a primal force is at work. A force so powerful that it can create new land and new life while simultaneously destroying what humans have so carefully built.
Unfortunately for the residents of Kalapana and its neighboring villages in the Puna district, this was a very painful realization. In 1990, Pu'u O'o began sending rivers of molten earth their way until eventually the area was buried in 50-75 feet of lava, leaving only small pockets of land "kipukas" untouched. What used to be neighborhoods, schools, businesses and sacred places are now just a sea of jagged black lava.
Chain of Craters Road used to run along this coastline until Madame Pele took up a paving project of her own and wiped it out. Now the only portion of the road you will see will be from within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
Lava Tree State Park
#2 Rated in Puna on the Big Island
A loop trail will guide you through an impressive jungle of vining plants, orchids, and bamboo. Along the trail are bulbous black stumps partially covered in small green plants. These are the lava trees.
In 1790 a lava flow from Kilauea engulfed this rainforest with pahoehoe (smooth) lava over 10 feet deep. As the fast-flowing lava moved through the forest it completely surrounded the moist ohia trees. The lava cooled on the outside as the tree was incinerated on the inside leaving a lava shell in the shape of the tree. While some of the molds will reach several feet high, others will be merely stumps or even depressions.
The park has restroom facilities and a ragged-looking picnic pavilion.
Isaac Hale Beach Park & Pohoiki Black Sand Beach
#1 Rated in Puna on the Big Island
Just about a mile down the road from Ahalanui at the junction of Highway 137 and Pohoiki Road in Puna is one of the most popular beaches in the area.
Due to the most recent lava flow of Kilauea in 2018, the *new* Pohoiki Black Sand Beach (the area in front of the Pohoiki boat launch to be exact) was formed. This beach park was extremely fortunate to have survived the lava flow activity.
Pohoiki Bay was almost filled with lava, but the flow stopped just 230 ft. from the harbor.