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Secret Hawaii: Kalapana's New Kaimu Black Sand Beach

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High Surf at New Kaimu Black Sand Beach

High Surf at New Kaimu Black Sand Beach

Kapalana's Black Sand Beach

Have you ever walked on sand younger than you? Probably not. Most natural places on this planet are thousands or millions of years older than you, but here at the New Kaimu Black Sand Beach, the sand under your feet is no more than 27 years old!

History of Kaimu Beach

Kalapana used to be a small fishing village with a world-famous black sand beach nestled in picturesque Kaimu Bay. Lush groves of coconut palms and a serene seaside park lined its shore. For many years, surfers and tourists flocked to Kaimu Beach to enjoy its high surf and fine black sand. But in 1990, Kilauea erupted, leaving Kalapana village in the direct path of a massive lava flow. The lava completely destroyed the village and buried everything—including beautiful Kaimu Beach—under 60 feet of lava. For several months, lava continued to flow into the ocean, filling the bay and adding acres of new land to the shoreline.

Now, 27 years later, an awe-inspiring marvel is under way; a new black sand beach is forming where the lava-extended land meets the ocean. This ongoing transformation is the result of ocean waves crashing relentlessly against the rocky shoreline and gradually breaking large chunks of lava into smaller and smaller grains of sand. The young beach not only has a sweeping view of the Puna coastline but also of a stunning volcanic landscape where a looming crater still smolders on the mountainside. Standing in this spot, you can’t help but feel like you’re at the edge of the world!

Ocean Waves at Sunset

Ocean Waves at Sunset

Follow the red cinder trail to the beach.

Follow the red cinder trail to the beach.

Hiking to the Beach

From the parking lot, a red cinder gravel trail will take you to the new black sand beach. It’s an easy 15-minute hike. At the trailhead, be sure to read the interpretive sign; it provides some interesting background information about the trail. You may also make a donation (in the donation box) to help maintain the trail.

The mesmerizing lava landscape along the trail is a stark reminder of the devastating event that happened there a mere 27 years ago. It also serves as a warning that the same thing could happen again. In fact, it is not unusual to see a plume of billowing smoke on the pali (mountain ridge) where the forest is burning due to a minor lava flow from Kilauea's Pu‘U ‘Ō‘Ō crater.

Along the trail, take note of the different types of lava formations, whose fascinating shapes and colors are frozen in time. As you walk along, try to imagine the old fishing village—houses, roads, beach, park, and all—buried deep beneath your feet.

Not much vegetation grows in this area, except for some clumps of grass and ferns thriving inside the lava cracks, some of which are quite large and appear to be bottomless. After walking through this Mars-like lavascape, you will be delighted to see hundreds of young coconut trees growing along the new beach. Several years ago, local residents started a crusade to replant the beautiful coconut groves destroyed by the lava flow. Today, people still occasionally bring coconut keikis from their backyard to plant here. Some of the young coconuts may look stunted or struggling, but don’t worry—coconuts are slow-growing and very resilient.

Clockwise from top left: young coconut tree; trail leading to the beach; new coconut groves planted by local residents.

Clockwise from top left: young coconut tree; trail leading to the beach; new coconut groves planted by local residents.

Tips for Visiting New Kaimu

  • Hiking shoes are not necessary, but bring plenty of sunscreen and a hat.
  • Stay on the trail and watch your step, as there are cracks and jagged lava rocks along the way.
  • Please do not take a shortcut through the new planting area to get to the beach. You might inadvertently step on a young coconut!
  • Swimming is NOT recommended at the beach. The waves are extremely dangerous, and the strong current can pull you out into the open sea. Unfortunately, there have been several drowning accidents here.
  • Look for spinner dolphins and humpback whales (during the winter months) as they often swim quite close to the beach.
  • If there is a significant lava flow from Pu‘U ‘Ō‘Ō crater, you will see a giant column of steam and smoke rising from where the lava drains into the ocean. Don’t panic! It may look like it's right nearby, but it's actually several miles away down the coast.
  • For the latest eruption update of Kilauea volcano, check the USGS Hawaii Volcano Observatory website.
  • Do not miss the fascinating display inside the little hut at the trailhead. There, you will find photos of the old Kalapana village before and after the 1990 volcanic eruption, as well as compelling information regarding Hawaii’s history and sovereignty.
  • There’s a store across the trail’s parking lot where you can get bottled water, sandwiches, and snacks, or walk over to the Uncle’s Awa Bar next door and order a kava drink.
  • A lively Night Farmers' Market is held every Wednesday at Uncle Robert’s compound next to the store, with food vendors, arts & crafts, fruits, vegetables, and live entertainment. Visit new Kaimu Black Sands Beach on a Wednesday afternoon so you can combine your visit with a trip to the market.
Clockwise from top left: Hawaiian mural along the trail; steam plume where lava enters the ocean miles away; vegetation growing out of a lava rock crack.

Clockwise from top left: Hawaiian mural along the trail; steam plume where lava enters the ocean miles away; vegetation growing out of a lava rock crack.

Wildflower Thriving on Old Lava Flow

Wildflower Thriving on Old Lava Flow

UFO Landing Area

In June 2014, a Star Visitor Sanctuary was established on the lava field next to the New Kaimu Beach hiking trail, complete with a UFO landing pad with an 80-foot diameter. The purpose of this sanctuary is to invite extraterrestrials to land on earth or make contact with human beings and to promote peaceful relations with them. You can see this special place on your hike to the new black sand beach; just look for the sign and the rock circle outlining the UFO landing pad.

Note: The Star Visitor Sanctuary is a sacred area, so take care not to step inside the rock circle. For more information, check out the Hawaii Star Visitor Sanctuary website.

Designated UFO Landing Space

Designated UFO Landing Space

Respect Your Surroundings

When visiting the New Kaimu Black Sand Beach, or any other destination on your Hawaiian vacation, please always be respectful to the kama'aina (local people) and the aina (land).

High tides strip sand off the beach and expose rocks.

High tides strip sand off the beach and expose rocks.

How to Get There

  1. From Pahoa village, head south on Hwy 130 (Pahoa Kalapana Road).
  2. Drive about 10 miles down the hill toward the ocean.
  3. After passing a small, white church on the left, look for a highway sign that says Kalapana.
  4. Turn left at the sign, then follow the curve to the right and continue toward the ocean.
  5. At the next stop sign, turn right onto Kapoho Kalapana Road, also known as the Red Road.
  6. Drive a little further and you will see a parking lot where you can park your car.

All photos were taken with a Samsung Digimax 301 3.2MP Digital Camera.

Questions & Answers

Question: Can you see green sea turtles at Kalapana's New Kaimu Black Sand beach?

Answer: I have not seen honu or green sea turtles at this beach. The waves are often huge here, too rough for the turtles! Your best chance to see turtles in Puna is along the Red Road which follows the shoreline. There's a spot where an old section of the road is just a few feet away from the water. I always see plenty of honu swimming and grazing on algae there.

Question: Are dogs allowed at Kalapana's New Kaimu Black Sand Beach?

Answer: I have seen dogs at this beach. Some surfers take their dogs here to play in the water. Not really a swimming beach, it's very rocky with huge waves and strong currents! And there is no lifeguard. Great spot for tourists to make a quick stop, snap some selfies and move on.