Laupahoehoe Point Beach Park Overview
Nestled along the emerald green sea cliffs along the Big Island’s Hamakua coastline sits Laupahoehoe Point Beach Park. Meaning “leaf of lava,”Laupahoehoe, refers to the angular lava tip or peninsula formed by ancient pāhoehoe (smooth lava) flowing to create the mantle on which this village of Laupahoehoe was built. This Beach Park has breathtaking ocean panoramas, crashing surf and craggy lava rocks surrounded by lush vegetation. Despite this picturesque splendor, Laupahoehoe is a treasured piece of Hawaiian history with an unfortunate past.
This beach park is situated along the Hamakua coastline north of Hilo, in a very scenic area, known for inspiring beautiful photos, that is well worth the drive. Once you arrive at the beach, you will find an inviting park, complete with pavilions, restrooms, and a sprawling lawn providing a big expanse for the keikis (kids) to run around and play. Laupahoehoe is relatively secluded, with not much traffic during the weekdays and locals have a special fondness for the area. Regardless of when you go, it is a perfect place to relax and unwind as it is often overcast and shaded.
Although the area is quite popular with fisherman, swimming or snorkeling is not advised given the very rough waters. Robust currents and dangerous surf make Laupahoehoe unsafe for swimming during much of the year, particularly during winter when ocean swells come from the north. Winter swells can be epic here, requiring an extensive understanding of surf swell and undercurrents. Summer surf is typically a little smaller. If you’re looking for a great swimming beach, visit our complete Big Island Beaches guide to learn more about other great beaches on Hawaii Island.
A manmade concrete breakwater shields a small boat launch within Laupahoehoe’s natural cove. A reasonable swell can rush up the ramp occasionally, so we strongly recommend parents keep a watchful eye. Chartered sport fishing companies take advantage of the bountiful waters off Laupahoehoe. Fishing can be very good from the beach all along the Laupahoehoe Point Beach Park and also directly from the breakwater.
Historical Significance of Laupahoehoe Point Beach Park
Laupahoeoe once thrived as a quiet Hawaiian fishing village untouched by missionaries and plantation life, and the valley and the sea provided the village community with a bounty of harvest. In the late 1800s one of the islands many sugar plantations was built here and the area soon developed to one of the Big Island’s deep harbor ports, where ships moored transporting goods and travelers who braved the seas just as they did with merchandise, sugar and cattle.
As both a plantation town and harbor port on the rise, the Laupahoehoe of old bragged restaurants, hotels, a coffee mill, soda works, livery stable and post office supporting the thriving community and visitors with everything they could need. In the 1920s the population grew to around 2000 full-time residents. From 1912 people traveled by rail and would stop at the Laupahoehoe station then travel down to the harbor point on foot or by horse.
In 1880, Theophilus H. Davies and William Lidgate formed a partnership incorporating the Laupahoehoe Sugar Company in 1883. The plantation fields extended approximately 10 miles along the Hamakua coast, rising to 1850 feet above sea level with 22 gulches splitting the company’s land. The new plantation employed 70 men, 50 mules and 70 oxen. Cane was flumed down the bluff to the mill from fields as far as four miles away. An effectual landing for interisland ships advantaging the port. The last mill in this area was forced to shut down in 1996. Today, eucalyptus trees are the alternative crop.
Between 1909 and 1913, the railroad was constructed to service the prosperous sugar mills north of Hilo and a combination of tunnels and distinctively curved trestles enabled the trains to negotiate the daunting topography. Dozens of steel trestles rising over 150 feet above streams and valleys linked the uneven geography of the Hamakua Coast. Over 3,100 feet of tunnels were constructed, one of which, the Maulua Tunnel, was over a half a mile in length.
Unfortunately, the cost of building the Hamakua extension essentially devastated the Hilo Railroad, which was sold to bondholders in 1916, and reorganized as the Hawaii Consolidated Railway. Originally named the Hilo Railway, it served much of the east coast of the Big Island until an important section of the line was destroyed by the devastating tsunami which struck on April 1, 1946. Today, a few remnants of the railway are still visible along the coast.
After an earthquake in Alaska’s Aelutian Islands on April 1st, 1946, a tsunami of three towering tidal waves hit the Big Island’s windward coast the hardest, ending the coastal rail and destroying much of Hilo killing 159 people, including 21 schoolchildren and three teachers in Laupahoehoe. Accounts recorded that the young students collected fish deposited from the huge, second wave on the school grounds while the teachers were in their cabin changing back into dry clothes when the final huge and deadly wave hit (estimated at 56 feet high moving 490 mph.)
No one had noticed all the water being sucked out of the bay until it was too late. The devastation of a tsunami was not fully understood, nor scientifically monitored as they are today, with no alert sirens (which are prevalent at the Laupahoehoe Point Beach Park now) were available to warn the residents. Only two children and one teacher survived. Other than one body recovered, the others were never found. A monument with the names and ages of the children and teachers has been erected on the school site for those lives lost in this catastrophic natural disaster. You will often see flowers or beaded shells placed in memoriam. The ominous remnant of the school’s stone chimney precariously rests along its weathered shore, hurled in testament to the sheer magic and daunting power of the ocean.
Other Area Activities
For more interesting history, a stop to the Laupahoehoe Train Museum has a prized collection of photographs documenting the history of the sugar era and the Hawaii Consolidated Railroad. The museum is funded by admissions, donations, memberships, and aloha. Approved planning proposal grants have allowed the community to restore the track, engine and caboose and design an improved walking path off the main highway along an old stretch of road down to Laupahoehoe Point. Laupahoehoe Train Museum is located overlooking Laupahoehoe’s picturesque vista on Mamalahoa Highway receiving visitors from 9 am to 4:30 pm on weekdays and 10 am to 2 pm on Saturdays and Sundays.
Laupahoehoe Harbor is managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Honolulu District and by the County of Hawaii Department of Parks & Recreation making for a beautifully engineered park. Despite its tragic past, Laupahoehoe Point Beach offers unique history with gorgeous views and coastal imagery promising a relaxing day at the park. Combine your day at Laupahoehoe Point Beach Park with a stop at the Botanical World Gardens or zip lining along the Hamakua Coast.
Laupahoehoe Point Beach Park Information
Camping Permit Required
Pavilion permits are available for Day Use Only and must to be purchased separately.
Call 808-961-8311 for more info.
Laupahoehoe is located about half way between Hilo & Honokaa on the Hamakua Coast of the Big Island. Once you arrive at the beach park entrance on Hwy 19 , you will navigate down a windy, mile-long road cut into the cliffs. At the bottom of the road, you will find the park.
Laupahoehoe, HI 96764