Puna Coast

Overview

Introduction

This is the easternmost point of the Big Island. You can get there by driving south out of Hilo, but first make a stop at Pana'ewa Rainforest Zoo & Gardens (off Highway 11—look for the signs). There, you can take a short drive into the rain forest, where you'll find a variety of tropical animals from around the world in the country's only rain-forest zoo.

Continuing south on Highway 11, turn onto Highway 130 at Keaau and head southeast to Pahoa, a great little one-street town that maintains an early-20th-century feel. Drive directly east from Pahoa along Highway 132, a tree-lined country road that takes you past Lava Tree State Monument, where a 1790 eruption of Mauna Loa turned a lehua forest into a stand of stone trees 12 ft/4 m tall. That road then branches northeast, intersecting Highway 137 and ending at Cape Kumukahi. On your way down Highway 137 toward Kaimu, look for the Isaac Hale Beach Park, a good spot for swimming and surfing, and MacKenzie State Park, an excellent choice for fishing, hiking and whale-watching (but stay out of the water—swimming in this area can be dangerous).

Kalapana, down Highway 130 from Kaimu, was destroyed by Kilauea's eruption, but you can still drive there. There's not much left of the once-bustling beach area: It's all covered by lava flows now. The community's historic Star of the Sea Catholic Church, better known as the Painted Church, was moved out of harm's way and now resides on a new foundation 1 mi/1.6 km up Highway 130 toward Pahoa. It has been renovated and restored by church members and sits near the road. It's now used as a community center but is often open for visitors to peek inside to admire the colorful detailed interior paintings and decor.

The Puna Coast starts 15 mi/24 km south of Hilo.

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