Hidden Hawaii: The New Kaimu Black Sand Beach in Kalapana on the Big Island
REBIRTH OF A BEACH
Have you ever walked on some dirt that might be younger than you? Most wilderness places you visit on this planet are usually thousands or millions of years older than you. But here at the new Kaimu black sand beach in Kalapana on the Big Island, the sand under your feet is only 20 years old or less! Kalapana used to be a small fishing village with a world famous black sand beach nestling in the picturesque Kaimu bay. Lush grove of coconut palms and a serene seaside park lined along its shore. For many years, surfers and tourists flocked to Kaimu beach to enjoy the high surfs and the incredible fine black sands. But in 1990, Kilauea volcano erupted and Kalapana village was in the direct path of a massive lava flow. The lava completely destroyed the village and buried everything - including the beautiful Kaimu beach - under 80 feet of lava! For several months, the lava continued to flow into the ocean, filling the bay and adding new acres of land to the shoreline. Now, twenty years later, an awe-inspiring miracle is taking place: 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, breaking large chunks of lava into smaller and smaller grains of sand over time. The young beach not only has a sweeping view of the Puna coastline, but also a stunning volcanic landscape where a looming crater is still smoldering on the mountainside. Standing at this spot, you can’t help but feel like you’re at the edge of the world!
TO GET THERE
From Pahoa village, head south on Hwy 130 (Pahoa Kalapana Road) and drive about 10 miles down the hill toward the ocean. After passing a historic small white church on the left, look for a highway sign that says Kalapana. Turn left at the sign, then follow the curve to the right and continue toward the ocean. At the next stop sign, turn right onto Kapoho Kalapana Road, also known as the Red Road. Drive a little further and you will see a parking lot where you can park your car.
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 20 years ago. It also serves as a warning that the same thing could happen again. In fact, you may see a line of billowing smoke on the pali (mountain ridge) where the forest might be burning due to a current minor lava flow from Pu’u O’o crater. Along the trail, take note of the different types of lava formations, their fascinating shapes and colors are frozen in time. Not much vegetation grows here, except for some clumps of grass and ferns thriving inside the lava cracks. Some of the cracks are quite large and appear to be bottomless! As you walk along, try to imagine the old fishing village - houses, roads, beach, park - all buried deep underneath your feet. The former Kaimu beach was only a few yards from the parking lot where you begin the hike. The new beach is more than 1/4 of mile further ahead where the trail ends at the new shoreline. After walking through the Mars-like lava landscape, 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 look stunted or struggling, but don’t worry, coconuts are slow growing and very resilient.
- 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 shortcut through the new planting area to get to the beach as 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 to the open sea. Unfortunately, there have been several drowning accidents here.
- Listen for the sound of rocks tumbling against each other (making new sand!) under water when a wave rolls in and out.
- Look for spinner dolphins and humpback whales (during the winter months) as they often swim quite close to the beach.
- If there is a major lava flow from Pu’u O’o 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 close but it’s actually several miles away down the coastline.
- 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 trail head: photos showing the old Kalapana village before and after the 1990 volcanic eruption, as well as interesting 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 huge, lively Night Farmers Market is held every Wednesday at Uncle Robert’s compound next to the store. Food vendors, arts & crafts, fruits, vegetables, live entertainment. It’s a must visit!
UFO LANDING AREA
In June 2014, a Star Visitor Sanctuary was established on the lava field next to the hiking trail, complete with an 80-foot diameter UFO landing pad. The purpose of this dedicated sanctuary is to invite extraterrestrial visitors to land or to make contact with human beings, and to promote peaceful relation with them. You may see this special place on your hike to the black sand beach, just look for the sign and the rock circle outlining the UFO landing pad. Note: It’s a sacred area, do not step inside the rock circle! For more information, check out the Hawaii Star Visitor Sanctuary website.
When you visit the new Kaimu black sand beach on the Big Island, or travel to any islands on your Hawaii vacation, please always be respectful to the kama'aina (local people) and the aina (land).
ABOUT THIS HUB
The author lives not very far from the new Kaimu black sand beach. He likes going there with his partner on early evening hikes to catch the famous Puna sunsets. All photos were taken with a Samsung Digimax 301 3.2MP Digital Camera.
All Rights Reserved
Copyright © 2011 Viet Doan (punacoast)
(Updated November 2014)
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