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Frank’s Big Island Travel Hints #9: Made for Adventure: The Jungles, Volcanoes, Hot Springs and Tidepools of Puna!
by Frank Burgess, brought to you by Tour Guide Hawaii

Tour Guide Hawaii is proud to announce the release of their new iPhone and iPod Touch App available at iTunes…this App will help you plan your trip to Hawaii, help you decide what you want to see, how you want to see it and help you get there with GPS, interactive maps and on-board driving instructions.  The Tour Guide App presents hours of interesting videos and information about places of historical, cultural and recreational interest, giving you a sense of the people, the natural history and the unique specialness of each destination.  The information is so comprehensive and complete they even tell you where all the public restrooms are!  What else will Tour Guide help you find?  Let’s look at a trip around the south coast of Puna…Tour Guide will not only help you find many amazing sights along the way, it will tell you all about them, what to take and what to expect.

Today’s hints cover the area from McKenzie State Park in Puna District back to Kona. Driving along the Puna Coast, through recent lava flows and ageless jungle, through Ka’u and into Puna there several fantastic places to stop and explore, but there is also a lot of lovely, open countryside for several miles, so enjoy the panoramic views. Your Tour Guide download from iTunes will give you more detailed information about this area.

Deeper into mysterious Puna!

As you continue along the coast road, you will next encounter McKenzie State Park. Here the Ironwood trees create an unusual ambience of a pine tree forest. The sheer cliffs and majesty of the ocean beg for photographing. Swimming would be near impossible here, but the hiking is spectacular. Tour Guide will give more information about this other- worldly park. A permit is required for camping and the facilities are a bit run down, but it is secluded, private andbeautiful.

Not far away is Kahena Beach. This beautiful black sand beach involves a bit of a scamper to get down the cliff, but is well worth the effort. Tour Guide will give you the easiest path to take. You may notice that this beach is “clothing optional”, thus it’s popularity. Swimming here is good, but currents can be strong if you get too far from shore.

Drive just a few miles further and you come to what used to be the town of Kalapana. Kalapana and Royal Gardens were destroyed in the lava flows during the late1980’s.

What remain are a few homes and businesses where the road now ends. From here one can see the plume of smoke coming from the vent upslope. Sometimes the lava reaches the ocean about 2 miles from this spot.

A short five minute hike will bring you to Kaimu Beach, the newest black sand beach on the island. Tour Guide will give you the rich history of the ancient fishing villages that were here and the touching stories about the palms at Kaimu Beach.

Heading back from Kalapana, you will want to take Highway 130 toward Pahoa. This is your best chance of watching Kilauea erupt. Just a few hundred yards north of Kalapana, is the old turn off to Royal Gardens. This is now the official County of Hawaii Lava Viewing Site. Drive as far as the attendants will allow you, park and walk into where you can safely view the lava flowing into the ocean. Daily updates on the volcano and conditions at site are available at the Hawaii County Lava Viewing Desk, phone number 808.961.8093; more information is here and here.

Farther along the highway to Pahoa, you will see a “scenic turnout” where you can view the Puna Geothermal Vents. Here a company has tapped the natural steam to create electricity from these fumaroles. Tour Guide will show you how, with a short hike off the road, and you can sit in one of these natural sauna vents for some real relaxation.

Now you’re ready to head back to Kona. Take Highway 130 to Highway 11 and go south. If time permits, you may want to stop in Volcano Village, just off the highway, for some food, gasoline, shopping or maybe even some wine tasting. This may be the last gasoline available until you get back to Kona. Find your hotel in your Tour Guide and get turn-by-turn directions right to the door.

To see the new iPhone/iPod Touch App, please visit  The best of Tour Guide Hawaii’s free content about traveling to, and exploring, the Big island, can be found here.  For more information on traveling to Hawaii in general and on touring the Big Island in particular, please also visit and

Copyright 2009
by Frank Burgess; photography copyright 2009 by Donald B. MacGowan. All rights reserved.


  1. Nice travels around the Puna District.

    One clarification on the geothermal project.

    Geothermal energy is not from the shallow vents or “fumaroles” that create natural hot springs such as those near Puna Geothermal Venture.

    The deep thermal heat tapped by PGV to produce electricity comes from wells that reach 4,000 to 8,000 feet within the Earth. Extensive geological surveys are undertaken to determine just where such subterranean “hot spots” might be located.

    Surface activity such as vents of hot springs may be indicators of hidden reservoirs of liquid and steam, but in the end, only drilling will reveal the resource.

    Barbara Hastings for PGV

    • Barbara-

      Thanks for the comment–we certainly didn’t mean to make any confusion–many of our readers are geologically unsophisticated and when he wrote this, Frank tried to make things as simple as possible–and your clarification certainly helps anybody who wanted more information.

      As a young PhD candidate, I did a lot of consulting work on the geopressured-geothermal energy rescources off the Texas/Louisiana/Alabama Gulf Coast and I had often wondered why more isn’t made of such a spectacular resource as exists on the Big Island–until I lived there for a decade or so and the political realities became clear. You guys do a tremendous and important job…hopefully you will be able to do a much larger job in the future.

      Dr. Donald B. MacGowan
      Owner, Tour Guide Hawaii

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