A November 2006 trip
to Hawaii (Big Island) by rubylu
Quote: The Puna district, south of Hilo and east of the active volcano, is a rural area with lush jungle vegetation, rugged coastline, and other attractions.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on December 28, 2006
Carson's Kapoho Cottage
Hawaii, Big Island, Hawaii
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on December 15, 2006
Ning's Thai Cuisine
2955 Pahoa Road
Pahoa, Hawaii 96778
Attraction | "Lava Tree State Park"
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on December 15, 2006
Lava Tree State Monument
Off Pahoa-Pohoiki Road Highway 132
Attraction | "MacKenzie Park"
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on December 15, 2006
Mackenzie State Recreation Area
Kalapana-Kapono Beach Road-Highway 137
We stayed for three nights in a house right down the street from the Kapoho tidepools. It was a good base for exploring the area. Combined with a later visit, I had five or six days in Puna. It was time enough to revisit places that made a big impression, but not near enough time to check out all the places I’d have liked to see. Still, with that much time, I was able to take things at a relaxed pace that was just right for the area. We spent time at the Ahalanui warm pond, at Kalapana, and in Pahoa town, and visited Lava Tree Park, MacKenzie Park, and some volcanic steam vents (see reviews).The first morning we took our snorkel gear over to the tidepools. I’d never been there before and was excited about snorkeling in them. I walked around on the lava rock and looked at pools that were beautiful but didn’t seem big enough. As we were about to leave, a woman parked next to us. She’d also come to snorkel, though she hadn’t done it there before. I walked with her over to a bigger pool that she’d heard about. It still wasn’t something I’d like to swim or snorkel in - not big or deep enough or open to the sea - but I could see coral and fishes. I left her to snorkel alone. I don’t know if I’m too picky or if the tide was too low or what, but it seemed odd that people say that it’s a such a great place. Maybe it’s because there are so few snorkeling places on that side of the island.The next morning, following directions in our guidebook, we drove a few miles down a dirt road to the coast, parked at a tall beacon light, and walked to the Champagne warm pond. It’s in a gated community, with many no trespassing signs for the houses and yards, but the pool is public. I very much enjoyed the 1-mile walk across the lava rock to get there. We had a good swim. Where we went in, the water wasn’t all that warm, but as we swam closer in to the houses, it got warmer. The water was clear, mostly about six feet deep, and with barely a ripple—it is a very protected cove. We swam further in among the houses to the end of the pool, lingered a while treading water, swam back, and sat on the shore to dry off. Nobody else was there when we got there, soon after noon. But after we got out of the water, a guy drove up on a mountain bike and went into the water; then a family in two four-wheel-drive vehicles, one towing a dirt bike, set up next to the shore with a canopy, table, and provisions for the whole afternoon. The kids went into the water in the slightly cooler area closer to the ocean. Waves were breaking on the rocks out a little farther, but this area looked very safe for kids. A young man walked past us toward the water. He was carrying the same guide book that we were using, and we talked for a few minutes. We were ready to leave when he finished his swim, and he offered us a drive back in his rented jeep. We accepted. He drove on the lava rock road a little fast, and it was kind of thrilling - especially when he took a wrong turn and went across a rough pile of lava rocks to get back to the road.The same guide book extolled a lava rock pool that you could swim in, The guy who gave us a ride across the lava had gone to it and said it was worth a trip. The next day we drove north on a dirt road looking for it. The road was rutted and bumpy in places, slow driving, but through a very beautiful area, wooded and with a few driveways. We stopped and took a path in some kind of government-owned area that led to a black sand cinder-cone area with pine trees and a walk along a cliff above rocky and stunning coastline. But it wasn’t the pool, so after our walk, we kept going.We finally realized we’d passed the place, and went back and forth a couple of times before finding a path that had to be the right one. We parked and walked to the ocean. The path (passable by four-wheel-drive vehicles) went though the jungle, with ferns and vines all around and dozens of stunningly beautiful flowers fallen on the ground. (We looked but couldn’t see the trees or vines they grew on.) We came out to lava seashore where big waves broke on the rocks with giant thundering sprays. It was a great place to see. There was even a pool there, but the waves crashed right into it and it was definitely not swimmable.
One afternoon we drove along the coast to Kehena Beach, a clothing-optional black sand beach frequented by hippies and other locals. The path down is steep but not long. The beach itself is beautiful, with plenty of shade even at midday. The waves are biggish. Plenty of people were in the water, including some kids. But we stood there on the shore and felt the current of the outgoing waves and neither of us wanted to go in. We sat next to a more sheltered pool and got a little wet, and lay on out on our towels in the sand for maybe an hour and a half. Kids played around us, and it was very relaxing.Back at our rental that evening, we decided to go out and look for shooting stars—two people had mentioned a meteor shower. Unfortunately, it was a bad idea. As soon as we got on the street, a young guy walked up to us, smelling of alcohol, with a story about how he was here from Oahu, was staying at some cabins with his girlfriend, they had a fight and he was out walking and got lost and could we let him use our phone and call to find out where he was, and all he wanted was for someone to kill him. We told him we didn’t have a phone, and it took a while to get him to walk away from us. In a few minutes, two SUVs with small blue lights in their back windows came around the corner and stopped to talk with him. I think he’d been wandering around for a while and someone had called the cops.The economy on this island is not good at all. There are a lot of service jobs but not many jobs that pay well. A lot of people live near or below poverty level, most of them nonwhite and including a large percentage of ethnic Hawaiians. In Pahoa, a tiny town, we saw information about a number of programs combating domestic violence and alcohol and drug abuse. Crime is a big problem. We never left valuables in the car, including the trunk, because theft is so common. Accidents caused by drunk drivers cause far too many deaths; one such accident a couple days before we got here killed five people, including a Canadian tourist couple. Yet you definitely see the spirit of aloha. The clerk at the Pahoa 7-11 had such a sweet smile as she rang up our purchases. The young mother at Kalapana was open and mellow. One day we were standing at the top of the path to Kehena Beach, admiring the view. A guy who was about to take the path stopped to chat with us. He pointed us to a small road a few hundred feet away that leads to a place with a great view of Kehena and the whole coast. We checked it out. The road was too narrow and rocky for the car, but we noted it as a nice place to take a walk another time.Another day we visited a friend, not far from where we’d looked for the lava pool. Her place is typical bohemian Puna. Three or four buildings, very nonstandard, on a piece of land owned in common by four people. An outhouse was built over a vertical lava tube, so it never needed to be pumped out. Our friend has put a lot of effort into landscaping the cleared areas of the land. We admired some lovely flowers and she said, "Oh, that’s the ugly ginger. Here, look at the pretty ginger". The mosquitoes were intense, though, so we didn’t stay long. She took us to a private warm-ish pond in a gated community, which was sheltered and great to swim in. There are a lot of these small ponds around, and some of the vacation rentals come with access to one or another of them.