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

Updated on March 2, 2019
punacoast profile image

The author lives in a quiet seaside community in lower Puna on the Big Island. He's an avid gardener, traveler and photographer.

A new black sand beach.
A new black sand beach. | Source

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. | Source

Before and After

Before the eruption, Isaac Hale Beach Park was a mellow little park, filled with 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 story with each other before hitting the waves. The gorgeous blue lagoon by the boat ramp was a favorite spot for swimming and snorkeling.

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 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. | Source
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. | Source

A Black Sand Beach Is Born

During the eruption, a river of lava drained into the ocean near the park. When hot lava hit cold seawater, it exploded into millions of small fragments which further grounded into fine “sand” grains by the waves. An astounding amount of sands generated from the eruption, they eventually filled in the entire bay and created a new beach!

Boat ramp BEFORE the eruption.
Boat ramp BEFORE the eruption. | Source
Boat ramp AFTER the eruption.  No more access to the open sea!
Boat ramp AFTER the eruption. No more access to the open sea! | Source
Swimming lagoon BEFORE the eruption, with clear blue water and happy swimmers.
Swimming lagoon BEFORE the eruption, with clear blue water and happy swimmers. | Source
Swimming lagoon AFTER the eruption. Cut off from the ocean, the water becomes stagnant and turns green!
Swimming lagoon AFTER the eruption. Cut off from the ocean, the water becomes stagnant and turns green! | Source

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!


Somewhere under that mountain of lava is the children playground!
Somewhere under that mountain of lava is the children playground! | Source
Lava stopped short from swallowing this BBQ pit!
Lava stopped short from swallowing this BBQ pit! | Source

This park was named in honor of Isaac Kepo'okalani Hale, a local hero who served in the U.S. Army and died in the Korean War. For decades, it was a great popular surfing beach – and the only one! – in lower Puna, known for consistent swells and long rolling shore breaks. Many suffers learned how to surf here when they were just young kids.

A thermal pond created by the lava flow.
A thermal pond created by the lava flow. | Source
Another thermal pond sits where the former shoreline was.
Another thermal pond sits where the former shoreline was. | Source

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. | Source
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! | Source

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

    © 2012 Viet Doan

    Comments

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      • profile image

        bob 

        15 months ago

        does this beach have staph infection

      • punacoast profile imageAUTHOR

        Viet Doan 

        7 years ago from Big Island, Hawaii

        Thanks sgbrown for the vote! Visit the Big Island soon and come see this park in person, it's much more beautiful than in my photos. Aloha!

      • sgbrown profile image

        Sheila Brown 

        7 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

        What a wonderful hub! Beautiful scenery and wonderful descriptions. I hope to travel there someday! Voted up and beautiful!

      • punacoast profile imageAUTHOR

        Viet Doan 

        7 years ago from Big Island, Hawaii

        Aloha hush4444! Good to see you again. I have a colleague that goes surfing at this beach park early in the morning before heading to the office!!!

      • punacoast profile imageAUTHOR

        Viet Doan 

        7 years ago from Big Island, Hawaii

        Aloha brittanytodd! Thanks so much for your wonderful comments. Yes, I'm always in awe of the surfers at Pohoiki. They're da bomb!

      • punacoast profile imageAUTHOR

        Viet Doan 

        7 years ago from Big Island, Hawaii

        Aloha Farmer Brown, mahalo for your kind comments and votes. Come visit this park, we'll go pick limu (seaweed) in the tidal pool and wild mango in the forest to make a very yummy salad!

        I make the copyright mark in the Text capsule and copy/paste it into the source box in the Photo capsule, voila`! Not sure if this will do anything though...plenty of photo/video pirates out there on the web!

      • Farmer Brown profile image

        Farmer Brown 

        7 years ago

        I hope that I can use your "Beach Park Tips" on a visit to Isaac Hale Beach Park one day!

        Also, I noticed the copyright mark on your photos - good idea...I took note and plan to do the same with my photos - although your photos are much more beautiful than my veggie pics! Voted up, useful, and beautiful.

      • hush4444 profile image

        hush4444 

        7 years ago from Hawaii

        Another beautiful hub, punacoast. It makes me sorry that I have to go to work today and I can't go to the beach.

      • brittanytodd profile image

        Brittany Kennedy 

        7 years ago from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii

        What a wonderful hub showing the beauty of Hale Beach! Thank you for posting this. Hale's where I learned to surf! It brings back such pleasant memories. Great hub! Have a wonderful day.

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