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by Donald B. MacGowan

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand, available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Mysterious Puna Hawaii: Graphic from Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

There are many wondrous, enigmatic and fascinating attractions on the Big Island of Hawaii, some better known than others, many out of the way and generally off the beaten track.  Tour Guide Hawaii has produced an encyclopedic collection of the most up-to-date information, presented as short GPS-cued videos, in an app downloadable to iPhone and iPod Touch that covers the entire Big Island, highlighting the popular and the uncrowded, the famous and the secluded, the adventurous and the relaxing.

Unspoiled Puna

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand, available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Morning reflection in a hot spring near Ahalanui Hot Spring, Puna Hawaii. In Hawai'ian, "Puna" means "spring" and there are a fabulous array of hot, warm and cold springs in the Puna District: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

It is often said that “Every new day in Hawaii begins in Puna”.  In fact, it may very well be that Hawai’ian history itself begins in Puna, as well.  Many local legends and family oral traditions hold that the Tahitians first landed on Hawaii Island’s eastern most spot, Cape Kumukahi in Puna, arriving there from Molokai.

Puna is important in the history of European exploration of Hawaii, too. The first European vessel known to visit the Hawaiian Islands, Captain Cook’s vessel Resolution, raised Hawaii Island on December 19, 1778 and was nearly grounded on Cape Kumukahi. Countless other vessels encountered difficulties along this rocky stretch, as well, necessitating the placement of the Kumukahi Lighthouse on the Cape in 1934.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand, available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Kaimu Black Sand Beach, Puna Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Modern explorers of Puna will find it beautiful, mysterious, untraveled and undiscovered by the herds of tourists (see scenic drive guide for Puna District, here). Not on the usual tour bus routes, Puna District has so far managed to avoid the noxious overcrowding seen in Hilo and Kona. Puna District harks back to a simpler, less harried time—what residents call “Old Hawaii”–a true time capsule of aloha.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand, available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

The Malama Market sign is reflected ina rain puddle in downtown Pahoa, Puna Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Charming Pahoa Town is the gateway to the Puna District. Pahoa started off as a rough and tumble sawmill town, then became the center of the sugar industry.  A crossroad on the old island railroads, trade and commerce flourished in Pahoa at the turn of the 20th century. An agricultural center today, the papaya, commercial flower and visitor industries drive Pahoa’s economy.  Downtown Pahoa still shows off her history, with lovely turn-of-the century western and neo-Victorian architecture, false-front stores and wooden sidewalks, but with its own distinctive, Hawaii-style, panache.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand, available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Looking at a single lava tree cast, Lava Trees State Monument, Puna Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Puna is a magnificent wonderland; from incredible tree-tunneled roads, steaming landscapes of vents in geothermal fields, lovely black sand beach parks, snorkeling in volcanically-heated tide pools, raw lava flows and of course, Lava Trees State ParkA fascinating scenic tour of Puna following Highway 132 south from Pahoa past Lava Trees to the intersection with Hwy 137, then west past Isaac Hale Beach Park to the junction with HWY 130 at Kalapana give the visitors a fabulous glimpse of the raw, pulsing coastline, the fantastic volcanic landscapes—some so young they are still flowing—and the living jungle.  Be forewarned, however, the more time you spend in Puna, the more leaving becomes a very difficult task, indeed.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand, available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Modern Stone Carving at Kalapana Village in Puna, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan_edited-1

Of course, the visitor is reminded to leave no valuables in the car, even when locked, and to be watchful and careful. As with anywhere you travel, in Puna some residents can be frisky.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand, available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Pohoiki Bay at Isaac Hale Beach Park in Puna, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Physically, Puna District comprises the rainiest part of the island and its climate is best described as “mild tropical and rainy”—in fact, rain can often be quite intense.  A single storm in 2003 dumped 3 feet (90 cm) of water on Puna in just 4 hours. As an interesting observation about Puna District, which is itself the same size as the island of Molokai, is that is has but one lake and no rivers.  The volcanic landscape is so young, so gently sloping and so porous that the rain, once it hits the ground, percolates immediately through the surface layers of rock and soil into the subterranean aquifer.  This comprises a huge resource of fresh groundwater for agricultural and municipal use and also explains why flooding is rare in Puna District.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand, available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Coconut trees sprout near the newly formed Kaimu Black Sand Beach in Puna Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Vegetation zones range from coastal strand to desert scrub to deep tropical jungle. In Puna, large, intact areas of native forest can still be found, preserved from the eruptions of Mauna Loa and Kilauea, at Kahauala and Wao Kele o Puna. An extensive network of subterranean lava tubes runs throughout Puna and there are many opportunities to explore them with commercial guides, or for the experienced and prepared, on your own.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand, available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Ahahanui Hot Pond at Pu'ala'a County Park, Puna Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

The residents of Puna tend to be individualists, socially liberal, embracing of alternative culture and lifestyle; there are most certainly a lot more musicians, artists and poets in Puna than accountants, insurance agents and attorneys.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand, available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Eruption plume at Waikupanaha in Puna Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Also true is the fact that many native Hawai’ians living in Puna regard it as the last bastion of THEIR land and initially may not be as welcoming as you might hope.  However, the rewards of discovering Puna District’s secrets are very much worth the extra effort, and the people you meet in this piece of hidden Hawaii are certainly fascinating and overflowing with aloha.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand, available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Looking up at the tree canopy in Puna Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

To see the new iPhone/iPod Touch App, please visit http://www.tourguidehawaii.com/iphone.html. 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 www.tourguidehawaii.com and www.tourguidehawaii.blogspot.com.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand, available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Lava Watching at Waikupanaha in Puna, Hawaii: Photo By Donald B MacGowan_edited-1

At Tour Guide our goal is to insure you have the most fun, most interesting and enjoyable vacation here in Hawaii–that you are provided with all the information you need to decide where to go and what to see, and that you are not burdened with out-dated or incorrect information.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand, available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Puna is full of funny surprises, the unexplainable and the unexpected: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

For independent reviews of our product, written by some of our legions of satisfied customers, please check this out.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand, available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Lava flowing into the ocean at Waikupanaha in Puna Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

All media copyright 2009 by Donald B. MacGowan. All rights reserved.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand, available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

The Kalapana-Kapoho Road is the only road in the world named after two extinct towns buried by a volcano, Puna Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

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Frank’s Big Island Travel Hints #8: Mysterious Puna!
by Frank Burgess, brought to you by Tour Guide Hawaii

Frank Burgess lava surfing at Muliwai O Pele, Hawai Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Frank Burgess lava surfing at Muliwai O Pele, Hawai Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

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 south from Kona along the Hawaii Belt Road to Puna, the least visited and most mysterious part of the island…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 Kona to Puna District. Driving south along the Kona Coast, 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.

Exploring Mysterious Puna…

For your next day of driving, let’s go south on Highway 11 headed for the Puna District. Leave early and expect to get back just after dark because this area is furthest from Kona and contains some of the most beautiful, yet hidden, wonders on the Big Island. It is from Puna that, currently, the only up-close viewing of flowing lava is possible. You may want to pack a cooler for this day trip.

As you’re passing through Kainaliu, just south of Kona, a quick stop at Kona Joe’s Coffee Plantation, for some great Kona Coffee, will jump start your day. See their ad in the sponsors section in your Tour Guide. If you are driving straight to Puna, plan on about 3½ hrs drive time to get to the first sights in this discussion. If you have missed any sights that you wanted to see on the southern route, refer to Frank’s Travel Hints #1 and #2 and catch them on the way…just don’t forget to allow for extra time.

Along the way you will pass Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. This is a fascinating place and not to be missed, but we will reserve discsussing it for as a full day trip in a later post.

The first turn is about 20 minutes past the park entrance at the town of Kea’au. Look for the stop light on the highway and the Highway 130 sign. The Kea’au Shopping Center has some great places to eat, like Paradise Bar and Grill, and is a good restroom break.

The first stop, in the Puna district, is the town of Pahoa. You will think you have just stepped back into the Wild West as Pahoa has a unique atmosphere like nowhere else on the island. Cute shops, and a great farmer’s market on Sundays, lends to picture taking and shopping. Tour Guide will suggest that parking is easiest at the Community Pool just a block from downtown, and there are public restrooms here.

Continue driving further into Puna on Highway 132 through the lovely tree tunnels to a magical stop at Lava Trees State Park. This gorgeous rainforest park is filled with birds and tropical plants and flowers. What makes this park so intriguing is the lava trees. Tour Guide will tell you how old lava flows surrounded the trees, leaving spires of hardened lava, giving it an eerie look. There are trails for hiking and bird watching is spectacular. This is also a good place for a restroom break as it will be a good while before the next restrooms are available. Highway 132 leads you to Highway 137, the Kapoho-Kalapana Road–the only road in America that is named for two towns buried by a volcano.

Turning toward Kapoho on Highway 137, the next stop is the Kapoho Tide Pools where you can experience great shoreline shell collecting and fantastic snorkeling amongst vibrant corals and tropical fish in protected tidepools. Though hard to find on your own, Tour Guide again knows the way to this secluded sanctuary and ancient village. Port-a-potties and showers are the only facilities here.

Just a few miles down Highway 137 is Ahalanui Hot Pond. This tropical park is centered around a hot spring that mixes with ocean water to create one of the most relaxing and soul recharging oases anywhere. Tour Guide gives you the history of what this area meant to the ancient Hawaiians. Picnicking, hiking, swimming and “expert only” surfing are some of the things to do here. There are restrooms, showers and water available also.

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.

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.

Highway 137 used to become the Chain of Craters Road in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, but it has been cut by several miles of intervening lava flows. Today, it ultimately ends at Highway 130, the road back to Kea’au and the Hawaii Belt Highway. At the intersections of Highways 137 and 130 are the remnants of the town of Kalapana, buried in the 1960 eruption of Kilauea. Tour Guide will tell you all about the eruption, the heroic recovery efforts, and lead you on a brief hike to Kaimu Black Sand Beach, the newest beach on the Island of Hawaii. From the end of the road you can frequently see the both the eruption cloud over Pu’u O’o Vent and the steam plume where lava is entering the ocean, both several miles distant. At night, the glow from streams of lava pouring down the pali can sometimes be seen from here. Although hiking to the lava can be an experience to cherish, it is dangerous and hard work. The best, and most consistent, viewing is by taking an air tour, such as Big Island Air or Paradise Helicopter Tours.

Heading back from Kalapana, you will want to take Highway 130 toward Pahoa and Kea’au, you pass the famous “Painted Church”. Tour Guide can tell you the history of this fascinating place. Just a little farther north is the intersection of Highway 130 with the road to Royal Gardens Estates, which currently leads to the Hawaii County-maintained lava viewing area. Call the Lava Hotline at 808.961.8093 for current eruption updates, lava viewing information and times of road openings and closures. As you continue towards Kea’au you will pass the Steam Rooms–a field of steam vents in small craters where locals go to take steam baths. Tour Guide has information on finding these craters and how to safely enjoy the wonders of natural, volcanic steam baths.

Upon returning to the Hawaii Belt Highway at Kea’au, one can proceed in either direction back to Kona, north through Hilo, a bit shorter and faster, or west through Hawaii Volcanoes National Park which, though longer, is much more scenic. 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 as it is many times hard to find an open gas station in the rural part of Hawaii Island after dark. 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 http://www.tourguidehawaii.com/iphone.html.  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 www.tourguidehawaii.com and www.tourguidehawaii.blogspot.com.

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