Just south of Hilo on the easternmost area of the Big Island is Puna. No area has been affected more by the volcanic activity of recent years. Entire towns have been buried by flowing lava, lives lost and property forever taken away. Plan on this being a long day if you are staying over in the Kailua-Kona area.
For us, we made it a fuller day by starting with the Saddle Road ride from Kona to Hilo! (We do not suggest that.) Going south from Hilo, take Highway 130 to 132 and then on to 137. This will put you right along the ocean, driving through lush forest and some rather amazing homes. You will also see some of the poorest areas of the Big Island. Be careful, as there are a lot of throwback hippie types living off the land, hitchhiking to get to wherever they need to be. Quoting from "Hawaii The Big Island Revealed" about the town of Pahoa: "Known as the Big Island's outlaw town, this is where guerrilla gardeners (pakololo farmers), dreadlock enthusiasts, FBI fugitives and the never-bathe crowd coexist . . ." With that being said, the road trip is not to be missed!!!! If you drive down 137 along the ocean, you'll see beautiful black-sand beaches that are accessible if you can find a place to park the car, small lava tidal pools that are warmer than bath water, and some huge coconuts that are free for the picking up along the roadside.
At the very end of the 137 road, you will literally dead-end into where a lava flow took out the town and road. There are a couple of small vendors set up there with gift shops. You can park your car and hike up on the lava flows. It is safe so long as you don't go too far. There are signs warning hikers of where the land maybe too fragile to walk. From this point, we were able to see the steam plume rising from the current flow into the ocean. Even during the daylight this is an amazing thing to witness.