Hidden Hawaii: The Haunted MacKenzie State Park

Updated on January 3, 2018
punacoast profile image

Part-time farmer, part-time traveler, Viet Doan lives in Puna on the Big Island of Hawaii with his partner and a lazy old cat.


MacKenzie State Park is located in Opihikao on the scenic Red Road that follows the rugged Puna coastline. This remote and beautiful 13-acre park is named after Albert J. MacKenzie, a dedicated forest ranger on the Big Island, who died in 1938. A forest of tall ironwood trees (many of them planted by MacKenzie himself) surrounds the park, and their fallen needles blanket the ground like a thick spongy carpet.

The park offers breathtaking views of the ocean front, with rock cliffs on the blue Pacific. Decades ago, lava from Kilauea volcano had flowed in underground channels (lava tubes) through the park and drained into the ocean. Today, a large lava tube cave can be seen near the park’s picnic pavilion, as well as numerous sea caves (lava tube openings) along the cliff’s edge.

During the day time, the park is a peaceful place where you can do a number of things, including the following:

  • Have a picnic
  • Go on a hike
  • Take in a round of disc golf with friends.
  • Nap. There is plenty of shade and the soft, cushiony ironwood needle-covered ground is just begging you to lay on it!
  • Overnight camping is also allowed, but you must obtain a permit from the Hawaii State Park Division.
  • Fish. Local fishermen also come to the park at night to fish along the low rocky shores.

MacKenzie State Park is never crowded, regardless of what time of day or night it is, and sometimes you might find yourself the only person in the entire park! This could be spooky, and this article will go more in depth on that and cover the following topics:

  • The park's dark history
  • The crimes that have occurred here
  • Its reputation for being haunted and ghost stories
  • Where exactly it is and how to get there
  • Travel tips for those planning on visiting


History: Built by Prison Convicts

  • MacKenzie State Park was built by prison convicts in the late 1850s. This was during the height of the sugar plantation era in Hawaii and the convicts — mostly plantation laborers who committed crimes — were shipped over from Honolulu’s prison camps.
  • Working under the unforgiving conditions of an isolated area, the convicts cleared the thick rainforest and removed large lava rocks to level the park’s ground. Many of them succumbed to the hot humid climate, did not have any sanitary water to drink, and suffered from an outbreak of diseases. There are no records of where their bodies are buried, but presumably it's somewhere in the park.
  • To this day, local residents believe the souls of the dead convicts are still wandering the park. Park visitors have occasionally reported seeing ghostly apparitions of emaciated and unshaven men carrying pick axes and hand tools at sunset time. Those who camp overnight have also reported seeing in a far off distance what looks like a large campfire with sounds of people cooking and talking. However, when they attempted to go toward the campfire, it seemed to shrink farther and farther away and then it would suddenly disappear altogether! In daylight, no evidence of any campfire or large camping group can be found.


The Historic and Haunted King's Highway

  • King’s Highway is an old coastal rock trail built by King Kamehameha the Great who ruled the Hawaiian islands from 1795 to 1819.
  • This trail circled the entire Big Island and, for many decades, served as a major travelling route for native Hawaiians to go from one end of the island to the other. A restored section of this historic trail passes through MacKenzie State Park. Local legends say that the ghosts of ancient Hawaiian warriors called the ‘night matchers,’ are still using this trail.
  • Over the years, people have witnessed eerie sights like a procession of disembodied flickering torches or heard haunting sounds of drumming, chanting and battle cries. These occurrences often happen during a windy rainstorm or on calm moonlit nights. Many local residents refuse to venture into MacKenzie State Park after sunset or on full moon nights for fear of an unwanted encounter with these fierce ancient spirits.


Crimes that Occurred at MacKenzie State Park

MacKenzie State Park has unfortunately been the scene of several terrible crimes:

  • In 1980, a young couple was camping in the park when they were attacked and severely beaten outside their tent during the night. Their bodies were found by other campers the next morning — the man was dead and the woman was barely alive. No arrest was ever made, and the crime remains a mystery to this day.
  • In 1993, a 16-year-old girl was kidnapped and raped by three men. After beating the victim unconscious, the three men disposed of her body over the cliff in the park. The men were arrested and, according to their confession, the victim was still alive when they threw her into the ocean. Her body was never found.
  • Most recently, in 2008, while filming the movie “The Tempest” (by Miramax, with Helen Miren and Djimon Hounsou) on location at the park, the film’s cast and crew discovered the bullet-riddled body of a well-known local surfer at the bottom of the sea cliff.

There are also many reports of drowning accidents at the park. Most victims were unprepared fishermen swept away by big waves and strong currents. During high surf periods, the crashing waves can rise to 30-40 feet high above the cliff, washing everything (including large chunks of rock and even a few ironwood trees!) into the ocean. The bodies of drowned victims are rarely recovered in these treacherous waters.


MacKenzie State Park Ghost Stories

For years, local residents have reported seeing ghosts or experienced strange unearthly phenomena at MacKenzie State Park.

  • Some of these occurrences have happened in broad daylight. For example, there have been stories of folks who have hiked on the trail along the park’s cliff who reportedly heard footsteps following them. Then, when they turned around to look, there was no one.
  • Native Hawaiians have long believed the park to be a spiritual place — a shadowy territory that belongs to the lost and restless ‘uhane (human souls). The eerily quiet ironwood forest always seems to possess some kind of unsettling energy or supernatural feeling to it. Many of the ironwood trees in the park are very old, and their exposed roots spread out over the ground like snakes or gnarly fingers!
  • One local resident recalled that as she was taking a walk in the park one afternoon, she saw someone ahead of her on the trail. Whoever that was then turned around, gave her a wave, and then vaporized into an ironwood tree right in front of her eyes!
  • People who take their dogs to the park have noticed that the dogs will sometimes appear and act nervously for no apparent reason. Or, they've barked hysterically up a tree at what appears to be nothing.
  • There are also reports of cries and whispers heard inside the many gaping holes in the ground (collapsed lava tubes) seen around the park.
  • Visitors who camp at the park for the first time — those completely unaware of the park’s reputation — usually have the creepiest stories to tell. Some have heard voices and footsteps around their tents all night with no apparent people in sight when this was further investigated. Others have claimed they were abruptly awakened in the middle of the night by bloodcurdling screams outside in the dark. A few have experienced frightening paranormal encounters, like being choked while sleeping by a presence inside their tent. Or, sleeping bags suddenly being unzipped and pulled away by invisible forces. There have also been reports of tents being shook up violently and repeatedly throughout the night without any explanation.
  • People who take pictures at the park are sometimes baffled at mysterious objects appearing out of nowhere in some of the shots.
  • Local fishermen who fish in the park at night have witnessed mysterious iridescent fireballs that bounce and roll along the surf, and then disappear into the sea caves at the bottom of the cliffs.
  • Overnight campers have also reported seeing similar flickering green fires dancing around the park. Some thought they were fireflies. But alas, this insect does not actually exist in tropical Hawaii!


How to Get to the Park

MacKenzie Park offers spectacular scenery and many recreation opportunities like picnicking, hiking, fishing, camping, and not to mention, ghost hunting! It is definitely worth a visit if you’re vacationing on the Big Island. Here's how to get there from Pahoa village:

  1. From Pahoa village, head east on Hwy 132 (Kapoho Road).
  2. Keep going straight as the road turns into Pahoa Pohoiki Road.
  3. Follow this narrow scenic road for about 5 miles and you will come to a stop sign.
  4. At the stop sign, turn right onto Hwy 137 (Kapoho Kalapana Road, also known as the Red Road).
  5. Drive for another two miles or so, until you see the MacKenzie Park sign and park entrance on the left side of the road.


Travel Tips When Visiting MacKenzie State Park

  • MacKenzie State Park is open year round with no entrance fee.
  • There are picnic areas and bathroom facilities available.
  • Overnight camping is allowed with a permit - but do so at your own risk.
  • No swimming is allowed!
  • Stay back from the unstable cliff’s edge. You can even feel the ground shake from the pounding waves!
  • Keep a good, respectful distance from the memorial shrines you may see along the cliff’s edge. There could be a cross or a plaque, often surrounded with flower leis and personal memorabilia placed there by the deceased’s family and friends.
  • This is an isolated area, with no cell phone service and limited police coverage. So, use your common sense and be safe while enjoying this amazingly beautiful park.


What's Your Experience?

Have You Been to MacKenzie State Park?

See results

Warm Aloha

When you visit MacKenzie State Park, whether you want to believe or not, you may be walking among the living and the dead. Please have respect for the unknown realm.

Thank you for visiting, and I hope you enjoyed this article! If you've been to the park, please share your experiences with us below.


About This Hub

The author experienced a spooky incident at this park one late afternoon when he was walking around taking photos for this hub: at one point he heard - faintly but distinctively - musical sounds (like from a guitar) right behind his back, but when he turned around, he saw nothing but the silent ironwood forest.

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

All Rights Reserved

Copyright © 2011 Viet Doan (punacoast)

Reference sources

Advertiser Staff. “Probation revoked in Big Isle murder.” Honolulu Advertiser 9 Oct. 2001 <http://the.honoluluadvertiser.com>

Daws, Gavan. Shoal of time: A history of the Hawaiian islands. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1974.

Edwards Hunt, Tiffany. “Puna News - MacKenzie Park’s dark past revisited.” Big Island Chronicle 1 Apr. 2009 <http://www.bigislandchronicle.com>

Thompson, Rod. “Body with gunshots found at Big Island beach park.” Honolulu Star-Bulletin13 Dec. 2008 <http://archives.starbulletin.com>

Thompson, Rod. “Justice near for brutally murdered Puna teen.” Honolulu Star-Bulletin 11 Sept. 1999 <http://archives.starbulletin.com>

© 2011 Viet Doan


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • profile image

      Carla Lynn 13 months ago

      I visited Mackenzie Park this Summer while staying a few miles away in Puna district on red road. I did not know the history, but was looking for things to do close by and maybe I could capture some good photos. As I entered the road leading to Mackenzie, I snapped a couple of photos of the amazing arched trees and such, which turned out to be very telling later. I entered the park, like others have said not many were there other than someone with a tent set up a little bit over to the left on top of a cliff. I felt an oppression as I took pics of the waves lapping the cliffs. I suddenly felt like I knew how someone died there and felt very emotional and cried. I never felt that kind of energy before. I started snapping pics all around like I needed to do this. The first was one I took directly behind me. The photo turned out to have a beautiful turquoise orb in it. You could see energy in the photo. Another I took in the woods behind had three orbs grouped together. I started walking to the trees on the right from where you pull in the entry and my battery drained on my camera, but not before I captured something odd behind a tree, like a hand. I left right before sunset. Less than a minute after pulling out something hard hit my windshield. It scared the crap out of me and surprised it didn't crack. I figured a coconut fell out of the tree. I didn't get out to look. Later, my photos taken going in show a ladder surrounded by mist being moved into the road by a hand in the tree. Two shots taken a couple of seconds apart show the tree changes shape. (Really!!) I can share these if you care to see I have several spirit photos taken around the big island. There is more... the next night I was driving back to cottage and GPS tried to take me back there. It never messed up before and when I got to the arched trees, I knew. I said out loud, hell no!

    • profile image

      Matt 17 months ago

      Great write up! Such a cool place, we have some pics of Mackenzie it if you're interested: https://lookintohawaii.com/hawaii/32704/mackenzie-...

    • GlennAnderson856 profile image

      Glenn Anderson 21 months ago from Airlie Beach

      Very well written hub. Interesting how it keeps getting updated though :)

    • profile image

      Paul 2 years ago

      My father in law and I fish at night for years there it always seemed to b a little creepy but after a few beers the loneliest felt. Like just one nice place to be at night but be aware. The Wales come very close to the Cliff and will scare the crap out of u if u never heard them before It a nice place

    • profile image

      kevc 2 years ago

      Funny how this article always seems to be republished almost every year at the end of October. Sure wish I could figure out why? Good story.

    • profile image

      kia'i 2 years ago

      I go there every week. Funny thing is that it ALWAYS seems to be empty. The whole area surrounding will be full of people, but not Mackenzie.

    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 2 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      this is a really scary place to visit even during the day!

    • Chriswillman90 profile image

      Krzysztof Willman 2 years ago from Parlin, New Jersey

      Although I don't believe in places being haunted, I'm still intrigued by their history and who wouldn't want to explore a piece of Hawaiian soil. Great hub and very interesting.

    • chuckandus6 profile image

      Nichol marie 2 years ago from The Country-Side

      well done i love ghost stories and i would love to go to HAWAII

    • profile image

      Neizman 2 years ago

      Been there when i was 13. I'm originally from Lahaina Maui. Did my history project about the Big Island went around the whole island. When I last visited my parents there. I felt like I was home. Aloha

    • Canita Pro profile image

      Canita Prough 2 years ago from Pompano Beach, Florida

      Sounds like a beautiful beach so sad it is haunted.

    • profile image

      Jeffspen 2 years ago

      Sounds awesome and looks so beautiful! I'm not sure i'd be brave enough to spend the night. Though I probably would if it was necessary, but I would stay wide awake all night!

    • melissae1963 profile image

      Melissa Reese Etheridge 2 years ago from Tennessee, United States

      This is such a well written and researched piece. You juxtaposed paradise with horror. Voted up aned interesting.

    • florypaula profile image

      Paula 2 years ago

      Even if I never been there I am in love with Hawaii, but I have to say that I never knew it has such a dark side. Kind of creepy

    • lyoness913 profile image

      Summer LeBlanc 2 years ago from H-Town

      Creepy! But, exactly the type of place I'd like to visit.. If I could only get to Hawaii first.. hmm.. :)

    • profile image

      joli 2 years ago

      yes I been to that park in the day time my father grew up in ophikau so I went to pretty much track his steps and learn more about the culture and his family.The park was empty my sister had to use the restroom,funny thing she went in and came out in a hurry and said that she could not use it and that we had to leave like now so we did.

    • Omeva profile image

      Omar Jackson 2 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      Great Article,

      Having lived in Hawaii for more than three years as I went to school I have come to see many of the beauties that that the Hawaiian Islands have to offer. I stayed on the Island of Oahu while living there, but I do want to visit the Big Island one day.

      Best Regards,

    • profile image

      Ka'eo 2 years ago

      Pretty cool article, I love to hear about ghost stories in Hawai'i.

      However, another side to this story is that I've spent many many summers there camping and fishing and I have to say I've never felt creeped out by the place.

    • profile image

      Tbone 2 years ago

      I lived very close by for 28 years.. Camped on many occasions. It is NOT haunted.....

    • profile image

      oneluvmaui 2 years ago

      In 2003 I visited the Big Island as I had done so many times before from Maui. I was with my mother on this trip. I decided to take her along red road from Kalapana as it is so beautiful. As we came upon MacKenzie state park I turned and drove inside. I knew nothing of its history at the time. It was sometime in the mid afternoon around say maybe 2pm. We got out of the car in the parking lot and noticed that no one was in the park. It was a beautiful sunny day, but the huge Ironwoods blocked out most of the sun and the needles did cover the floor like a carpet. I immediately felt a sense of uneasiness. Not so much a sense of dread, but more of great sadness, great loneliness. I attributed it to there being no one in the park. I went to use the bathroom and quickly changed my mind as it was well.. let me put it this way "unusable". We walked around briefly and mom asked me why no one was at the park. I had no answer for her. Mom said well it sure is a beautiful place. I said yes indeed, but lets head on down the road. We got in the car and the last thing I remember hearing was the sad sound of the wind blowing through the Ironwood trees and the waves crashing up against the lava rock. The energy is very heavy there...

    • profile image

      debbie 3 years ago

      Like everywhere you go you use common sense and respect the aina when i go there i take a plate of food as offering for visiting the park.

    • Say Yes To Life profile image

      Yoleen Lucas 3 years ago from Big Island of Hawaii

      Interesting! I've lived on the Big Island for 13 years, and have often heard of MacKenzie State park. I'm just now learning that it's haunted. I'll definitely have to pay it a visit!

    • Kathleen Johns profile image

      Kathleen Johns 3 years ago

      Thank you punacoast for this (and your other articles). I went to the forest today. I saw nothing supernatural but certainly felt it to be a sad place, probably knowing the history ahead of the visit contributed to this. A beautiful place, but I did not want to take any photos myself as I did not feel it to be the right thing (for me) to do. Did see some dogs - being walked by their owner. When two of the dogs saw me they charged over barking madly but once they made it to me they had wagging tales and let me pat them. Thank you again for doing this write up, otherwise I would never have know to go!

    • profile image

      BornNraised 3 years ago

      very nice article, I really like it. There was also more murder's that actually happened in this park!

    • punacoast profile image

      Viet Doan 4 years ago from Big Island, Hawaii

      Thank so much for your kind comments FlourishAnyway and Jeannieinabottle. It's really a beautiful place and the State just did a major renovation to the public restroom facility in the park so now it's clean and safe for everyone. Come visit soon! Aloha.

    • Jeannieinabottle profile image

      Jeannie InABottle 4 years ago from Baltimore, MD

      What a fascinating hub. I love ghost stories, and I've always wanted to go to Hawaii, so this is great. If I ever get to travel there, I definitely want to visit that park. Great hub and voted up!

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 4 years ago from USA

      I enjoyed reading this, as it is both engaging and well written. I liked your addition of the personal account at the end. Voted up and more, sharing.

    • profile image

      Small Paul 4 years ago

      I lived in Mackenzi Park for a year camping, never saw any supernatural events. Plenty of centipedes.

    • profile image

      mslaug5 4 years ago

      I'm the buddy mentioned above who had the unfortunate task of directing my friends car through the gnarly tangle of trees and roots while this terrifying blood curdling scream appeared to track us. We had actually stopped at this beautiful park earlier in the day while other people were there and it seemed like it would be a great place to camp along the sea side. We even mentally picked out a place to camp along the cliff to the right of entrance. When we came back later that evening around 11pm I remember thinking wow there's absolutely noone here. We will have the whole place to ourselves. Normally I seek out solitude on my camping trips but I guess somewhere in the back of my mind I also couldn't understand why noone else would want to camp here but didn't give it too much thought. I remember thinking then that we would park in the parking lot and grab our gear and hike the 30-40 yards to our pre-picked out spot. But my friend was like "Why don't I just drive over there? There's no one here afterall!" So I agreed to get out of the vehicle and help guide him between the tightly packed trees and gnarly roots over to the west. I think it took us a good 10 minutes to navigate a few of the trees and only got maybe 2/3rds of the way to where we wanted to be when I heard the most god awful eerie scream I’ve ever heard. I was frozen stiff. I couldn't believe what I just heard and just as I started to convince myself I was hearing things I heard it again clearly but still somewhat off in the distance in the direction we were heading. I approached my friend on the drivers side of the vehicle and asked him to shut off the car and listen. I think I must have been as white as a ghost because he knew I wasn't kidding. When we both heard it it was definitely louder than the first two times I heard it and it sounded like it was coming towards us though still a bit off in the distance. I remember thinking that maybe the locals are messing with us or maybe the waves are hitting a blowhole or making some weird reverberation. I also recall it sounding like it was as if someone tied a piece of wood with a slit in it to the end of a rope and was spinning the rope slow and then fast and then slow again. But it sounded way scarier than that typical noise. We waited again for it and once we heard it again and the interval was much shorter I knew I wasn't staying the night. I told my friend we got to get out of here. I mean I was ready to ditch the car and just make a run for the exit of the park and take my chances running down the road. That's how scared I was. But instead I stayed outside the vehicle while helping my friend to reverse guide his vehicle back over the roots and through the trees. The whole time I was doing this I heard the screams repeatedly and they were much more frequent and they seemed to be following us. While it seemed to me to take my friend an eternity to back up his car he actually made it back to the parking lot in a 3rd of the time it took us to get to where we first started hearing the noise. I jumped in the vehicle shaking like a leaf and we peeled the hell out of there.

    • profile image

      johnny5. 4 years ago

      My buddy and I tried to camp at McKenzie during a weeknight in February 2009. We had never been to the park before nor heard about its history. We pulled in about 11pm at night and the park was completely deserted. We wanted to camp right on the cliff edge, so my buddy got out of the car to direct me through the trees. He began hearing this terrible screeching sound about 30 yards away to our right along the cliffs. When I shut off the car and turned out the lights, I heard it too.. it was terrifying! (the sound reminded me of the crazy scream Obi-Wan made in the first Star Wars movie to scare off the Sand People) We stood there in the dark for a moment and as the screeching continued it came CLOSER to us.. moving from right to left along the cliff edge. I got back in the car and my buddy nervously directed me away and through the trees. The screeching continued every 20-30 seconds and moved right to the spot we had just been in and stopped there.. while the screeching continued as we drove out of the park. My buddy was shaking when he got into the car. We had no idea about McKenzie or these horror stories. When we got back to Hilo and got a hotel room, we asked the clerk about the park. We didn't tell him we had just been there, and he said, "Don't go there at night - that place is dangerous! People die there!" WHAT??! It was one of the freakiest things I have ever experienced.

    • profile image

      paul 4 years ago

      That whole area has a definite spooky energy I camped out with some Vietnam vets there for a number of years living off coconuts and avocados seen many unexplainable things including night marchers the Hawaiians would not go down there at night we just kept the place clean and dealt with all the insanity as it happened

    • profile image

      Brent 5 years ago

      needles from the iron wood trees make the rocks slippery on the edge of the cliffs. Easy for wind to blow you off.

    • punacoast profile image

      Viet Doan 5 years ago from Big Island, Hawaii

      I know, this is not a place to visit for everyone, even some locals stay away from it! But I hope you will have a chance to see it for yourself someday because it's such a beautiful park. Adventure tour groups are now bringing many visitors to this park everyday as part of their sightseeing tour of this remote part of the island. Aloha!

    • travel-O-grapher profile image

      travel-O-grapher 5 years ago from Dhaka, Bangladesh

      nice pictures! but the article really makes me nervous about wanting to go there! what with so may gruesome crimes and accidents taking place in there! i guess i'd rather spend time on the sunny side of Hawaii if i ever get lucky enough to go there! thanks for heads up!

    • punacoast profile image

      Viet Doan 6 years ago from Big Island, Hawaii

      Thanks so much for the comments nenytrindiana. Indonesia is a beautiful country, I had a chance to live in Tanjung Pinang many years ago, such an enchanted island with old fishing villages and sugar cane plantations. Wonderful people and culture! And yes, plenty of ghosts too!

    • nenytridiana profile image

      nenytridiana 6 years ago from Probolinggo - Jawa Timur - Indonesia

      Wow.. there are beautiful pictures! I loved them. I heard, in the ancient, some sugar mills in Indonesia also sacrifice some people in the manufacturing or production process.many sugar factories in my country, especially in the colonial era. Now some of the sugar mills are still haunted. Great job punacoast!

    • punacoast profile image

      Viet Doan 6 years ago from Big Island, Hawaii

      Thanks Brian! Glad you enjoyed the hub. Yeah, I still get "chicken skin" every time I think about that strange incident at the park...

    • Brian Burton profile image

      Brian Burton 6 years ago

      Gorgeous pictures and I love the end about the musical sounds. Spooky! Great hub all around.

    • punacoast profile image

      Viet Doan 6 years ago from Big Island, Hawaii

      Hi csjblogs! Thanks for your comment and I'm glad you enjoy the hub.

    • punacoast profile image

      Viet Doan 6 years ago from Big Island, Hawaii

      Aloha Elenin! Thank so much for your kind comments. I did have a lot of fun doing research on this park. It's such a wonderful place, only a few miles from our house and we enjoy going there for picnic and hike.

    • Elenin profile image

      Elenin 6 years ago from So Cal

      Excellent piece. Your love for this park shines throughout. Well researched, with personal insight as well. Up and interesting

    • csjblogs profile image

      csjblogs 6 years ago from elizabethton,tn

      great job on this. it was really insightful.