By Donnie MacGowan
Here in the Department of Research and Eternal Spring Break at the Galactic Headquarters of Tour Guide Hawaii, we have been waiting for a break in the Spring Monsoon on the east side of the island so we could run around Puna, visit, film and photograph all our favorite places and then spend a (relatively) dry evening watching the pyrotechnics as Madam Pele marches into the sea at the lava ocean entry at Waikupanaha.
Well, as wet as Puna and Hilo are, we could have waited an eternity, so we decided to just pack everybody up and hit the highway. We tore down the west side of the island, past South Point, Punalu’u and the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, making our first stop (for coffee) at Pahoa, the cultural and mercantile center of Puna.
From Pahoa, we drove sedately down through the magnificent Tree Tunnels on Hwy 132 to Lava Trees State Monument.
Here, a long-ago lava flow swept through a wet ohi’a tree forest. The wet, cold trees chilled the lava, which coated the trees.
As the lava drained away downhill and through numerous cracks in the earth, the lava coating the trees cooled, leaving these basalt towers with hollow insides…the lava trees have casts of the ohi’a, bark and all, in their middles…an amazing place!
We took highway 137, named the Kapoho-Kalapana Road–I imagine this is the only road in America–perhaps the world–that is named for two towns destroyed by the same volcano.
Driving through the jungles and beaches of Puna we came to Ahalanui Hot Pond. This man-made pool was first constructed to retain the refreshing waters of a cold spring.
During eruptions in the early 1960s, however, the plumbing on Kilauea changed and the spring became hot…and the pool became even more refreshing. Continuing on we stopped in at Isaac Hale Beach Park, which has recently had a complete makeover and is now one of Hawaii County’s first rate facilities.
Once run down, decrepit and populated by social undesirables, it’s now a vibrant, safe and enjoyable place to have a picnic, snorkel and just enjoy exploring where jungle meets ocean.
Next stop was McKenzie State Park, a real rustic gem with not much going on but miles of hiking trails, a copse of beautiful ironwood trees and some amazing, huge boulders hurled 60 feet up the sea cliffs by tsunamis past.
Makes you think twice about camping here!
The next part of Puna we drove through along Highway 137 is undergoing intense development–once a land of rolling jungle punctuated with lava flows and crossed by red cinder roads, civilization is finally finding Puna–too bad. Of course, Madame Pele decrees that any human settlement on this part of Hawaii Island is an “at will tenancy”–at her will–and she may reclaim the land as wild lava at any time.
We came into what’s left of Kalapana and hiked out to the new black sand beach at Kaimu. There is an amazing story of love and rebirth centered around this tiny village which I have previously told elsewhere, but it’s a moving and gorgeous spot.
After getting our toes wet in the ocean at Kaimu, we turned north towards the Hawaii County Lava Viewing platform near what used to be Waikupanaha. We parked and hiked in to await dusk and see the eruptions (see video here).
Then, with full on dark enveloping us, we packed the car, adjusted the mirrors, and sat back for the 3 1/2 hour drive back to Kailua Kona…we timed it perfectly to arrive in time to have coffee and ice cream at Lava Java and to watch the evening surf pound against the seawall in Old Kailua Town and told ourselves, in the local pidgin, the same thing residents of Kona tell eachother at least twice a day…”Hey, lucky we live Hawaii, eh?”
All media copyright 2009 by Donald B. MacGowan; all rights reserved.