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Hawaii Road Trip: Isaac Hale Beach Park in Pohoiki on the Big Island

I go to the Hilo orchid show each year. There's hardly any more room for orchids in my house but I can’t help myself from getting more!

A new black sand beach.

A new black sand beach.

Isaac Hale Beach Park Before and After

Isaac Hale Beach Park sits on the shore of Pohoiki Bay in lower Puna. This beautiful park (also called Pohoiki Beach Park) became a big concern during the May-August 2018 volcanic eruption when a massive lava flow headed straight for it. The lava already destroyed some nearby iconic landmarks, including the beloved Ahalanui Warm Pond and Kapoho Tide Pools. Puna residents watched in horror as the lava slowly engulfed the north end of the park. Then, a miracle happened: the lava suddenly stopped, and Isaac Hale Beach Park was spared from total destruction!

After four months of closure during and after the volcanic disaster, Isaac Hale Beach Park reopened to the public on December 6, 2018.

A wall of lava and burnt trees blocking the road.

A wall of lava and burnt trees blocking the road.

Pre-Eruption

Before the eruption, Isaac Hale Beach Park was a mellow little park, filled with a fun and relaxing local vibe. Surrounded by groves of coconut palms and ancient tamanu trees, it was usually empty, except for the weekends and holidays. Fishermen often camped overnight in the park to fish along the rocky shoreline. Keikis (small kids) played in the well-equipped playground near the surfing beach. Families gathered under the picnic pavilions for barbecuing and celebrating birthdays. Surfers hung out and talked stories with each other before hitting the waves. The gorgeous blue lagoon by the boat ramp was a favorite spot for swimming and snorkeling.

Post-Eruption

Now, with half of the park buried under 40-feet of lava, the scenery has changed significantly. The surfing beach, the picnic pavilions area, and the mangrove tide pools at the north end of the park are all covered by lava. The children's playground is also gone! Luckily, the boat ramp and the swimming lagoon remain untouched but are now completely cut off from the ocean by a new large black sand beach! Some of the coconut palms survived the heat and toxic gases from the lava. Puna residents are planting young coconuts along the new shoreline, hoping they will grow and provide shade for future generations of beachgoers.

Pohoiki Bay BEFORE the eruption.

Pohoiki Bay BEFORE the eruption.

Pohoiki Bay AFTER the eruption - buried deep under thousands of tons of lava rocks and sands!  The sands also completely covered the pier.

Pohoiki Bay AFTER the eruption - buried deep under thousands of tons of lava rocks and sands! The sands also completely covered the pier.

To Get Here

From Hilo, take Hwy 130 south to Pahoa Village and continue downhill toward the lower Puna coastline. At the intersection of Hwy 137 (Kalapana-Kapoho Road), turn left and drive on the scenic Red Road for about 11 miles until you reach Isaac Hale Beach Park. You cannot go further because you will run into an enormous wall of lava blocking the road!

Parts of the Red Road were also covered by lava from the volcanic eruption, but it has been rebuilt and is now passable. It’s still very narrow and winding. Please drive with Aloha!

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Somewhere under that mountain of lava is the children playground!

Somewhere under that mountain of lava is the children playground!

Lava stopped short from swallowing this BBQ pit!

Lava stopped short from swallowing this BBQ pit!

A thermal pond created by the lava flow.

A thermal pond created by the lava flow.

Another thermal pond sits where the former shoreline was.

Another thermal pond sits where the former shoreline was.

Beach Park Visiting Tips

  • Isaac Hale Beach Park is currently open from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm daily. No entrance fees.
  • Lock your car and take all personal items (camera, backpack, passport) with you as a precaution.
  • There is no drinking water. Bring plenty of your own and some snacks.
  • Portable toilets are available.
  • There are two lifeguard stations on the new black sand beach. However, beware of the powerful waves and dangerous ocean currents. Swim at your own risk!
  • If you have cuts or open wounds, do not swim in the thermal ponds behind the beach or the lagoon by the boat ramp. County Health Department has posted signs at these places to warn the public about possible health risks as the water is stagnant and full of bacteria.
  • Do not attempt to climb or walk on the newly solidified lava field on the north side of the park. This lava is razor-sharp and might shatter like glass under your feet!
  • No overnight camping until further notice.
Young coconuts planted by local residents.

Young coconuts planted by local residents.

Looking north from the new beach toward where the lava flow solidified and formed a massive wall.  Behind it is an endless lava field!

Looking north from the new beach toward where the lava flow solidified and formed a massive wall. Behind it is an endless lava field!

All photos were taken by the author with an Olympus Stylus TG-630 iHS digital camera and iPhone6.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: What is the large cement building just outside of the Isaac Hale Beach Park? It has a huge smokestack.

Answer: It's the remnant of an old sugar mill. In the early 1900s, this area (and most of Puna) was covered with vast sugarcane fields and plantations.

© 2012 Viet Doan

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