Puna Coast and East Point Drive

Trip Start Dec 27, 2008
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Flag of United States  , Hawaii
Sunday, December 23, 2007

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The Puna Coast and East Point Drive


After our visit to the Imiloa Astronomy Center, we still had plenty of time to explore the area around Hilo.

I don't pretend to pass this off as any great stroke of genius, but finding nothing in our pamphlets or guide book that caught our imagination, I turned to the map for inspiration.

There was one obvious point south-east of Hilo that seemed like a natural destination and that was the eastern-most point of Hawaii around the village of Kapoho.

There is a certain fascination in visiting a destination which is described by the superlative "most". Just one example of many that comes to mind, would be spectacular Capo São Vincente. It is the most westerly point of Europe located at the western end of the Algarve in Portugal.

I remember it for more than its superb scenery. Hitch hiking there in the '70's earned me the privilege getting a ride in one of my favourite cars at the time, a Citroen - no, not a 2cv (the "ugly duckling") - but the sleek top of the line SM . Advanced beyond its years, it was characterized by aerodynamic design and hydraulics which allowed for the car to be raised or lowered according to the terrain or speed. The other features of this were the living-room-comfort seats and the quirky steering wheel which only had one supporting arm extending from the steering column.

It is amazing how the mind works. Almost forty years ago, someone stopped to pick up a hitch hiker on the way to Capo São Vincente and I am writing about it today (April 2, 2008) as this wonderful spot and "the ride in the Citroen MS" have been welded in the travel memory web.

Getting back to Hawaii, I thought it would also be interesting to approach Chain of Craters Road from the eastern side of the lava fields which had cut off the part of the road we had visited yesterday.

That was the vague plan for the rest of the day and unbeknown to us, this would lead us to the Puna Coast and the best photos yet.

Shortly after leaving Hilo we came to Macadamia Drive.

The word "macadamia" is huge in Hawaii because it is used to identify perhaps the world's best tasting nuts - the Macadamia Nuts.

Mention macadamia nuts and the name Mauna Loa comes to mind. They are the largest growers of macadamia nuts in the world. (my mouth is starting to water as I write this)

The first macadamia nuts from Australia were brought for planting in Hawaii in 1881. The first plantation was established in 1921.

Mauna Loa planted their first macadamia nut trees in 1946 on the slopes of Mauna Loa volcano. From there they have grown into the world's largest processor of macadamia nuts.

The volcanic soil, warm climate and ample rain have provided the perfect conditions for the growth of this industry near Keaau, just south of Hilo.

In 2004, Mona Loa was acquired by the Hershey Chocolate Company.

I really didn't care about any of that as we toured exhibits at the Mauna Loa processing plant. My main concern, I to admit this, was to get my hands on the free sample of these delicious morsels at the company store. I tried to be as discreet as possible, but Barbara still expressed embarrassment at my frequent trips to the samples.

If you have never tried macadamia nuts, they are irresistible. If you have, you know what I'm talking about.

Near the end of our trip we found the best prices for the nuts at Costco on the island of Kauai.

After our visit to Mona Loa we headed further south another kilometer on Highway 11 before taking the Keaau - Pahoa Road no. 130 to the village of Pahoa.

Once again my "modus operandi" of not doing research in advance came up short as we failed to explore this village. It is described as a throw back to the charm of the old Hawaii and it pains me when I read about a main street with western-style store fronts and wooden sidewalks. That is what I came to see in Hawaii - the "old Hawaii".

I think the village itself must have been situated out of sight from the highway and I know we were preoccupied with finding the route which would lead us to the eastern end of the lava flow.

Reaching the end of Highway 30 we were confronted by a barrier marking the end of the former highway, now covered by hardened lava.

My first inclination was to park the car and walk on the one-lane paved road that extended over the black igneous rock of the lava field. We quickly threw caution to the wind and decided to "go for it" and drive this "road" to its unknown end. We were rewarded with incredible vistas over lunar landscape and the odd signs of life. We noticed grasses along the side of the pavement, the odd shack which appeared to be home, sweet home for someone and even chickens and roosters running around looking for that special kernel that would make their day.

As we proceeded further onto the lava fields, we even saw isolated home construction and in one case, a large mobile home parked at the end of a long red crushed stone driveway. We concluded that the wheels on the mobile home trailer may be the perfect solution to evacuating in a hurry should the need arise.

After the volcano fields, our path towards Kapoho, a small, rural village located near Cape Kumukahi on the eastern tip of Big Island, took us along the coastal
Kalapana - Kapoho Road.

The seven kilometer stretch to Pohiki left us in awe as we were repeatedly presented with a dream-like coast straight out of a National Geographic magazine.

After Pohiki, the road turned out to be no more than a one lane dirt road through thick remote rain forest. All the indoor tropical plants we had ever seen back home were growing here in the wild in much larger versions.

We were somewhat intimidated by the sense of remoteness and uncertainty as to where this adventure road would lead. The total lack of any sign of life only heightened our sense of apprehension.

At the end of the rain forest we indeed came upon a neat village of paved streets with lovely homes on huge lots.

We were puzzled at how access to this village could be confined to the road we had just driven. It was later that we discovered the map that we were using had omitted the main road leading to Kumkahi. That explained a lot of things.

Back in Hilo, it was with great satisfaction that we enjoyed a "nice" cup of Hawaiian coffee at the Borders bookstore in the Waiakia Shopping Center. It was a chance to relax and go over the amazing things we had seen on this memorable day.

Ouch - it still hurts that we somehow missed the historic town of Pahoa. If you go there, please drop me a line and tell me what we missed!

Coming Soon:

North to the Hamakua Coast
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