A Guide to Puna Hawaii
Relatively sheltered from the tourist action throughout the rest of the Big Island, the eastern region known as Puna is a massive, rural region that provides easy access to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and the natural beauty that comes along with it. Along with the frequent lava activity in that area, it’s also extremely rugged, largely undeveloped, and ripe with incredible sightseeing that only newly-formed land masses can provide.
Puna Hawaii Facts
- Puna’s land area is just under 500 sq. miles (almost the size of Kaua’i)
- Cape Kumukahi, the easternmost point in Hawaii is in Puna
- Puna is entirely made up of land designated as Lava Zones 1-3, the most active zones
- The climate is mild tropical with abundant rainfall
- Ohia Lehua trees are among the most prevalent trees in the region
- Prominent agricultural crops in the area include macadamia nuts, papayas and coffee
- Puna has several large black sand beaches, including Pohoiki, Kehena, and Kaimu
- Pahoa is the primary town in the region and one of the main social hubs
About Puna’s Volcanic Nature
First and foremost, Puna is known as Pele’s Workshop for a reason, it contains 1-3 of the 9 Lava Flow Hazard Zones on the Big Island. These are the most active zones in the category system. This makes travel (and life) difficult in Puna, as frequent eruptions and sudden lava flows can occur with little to no notice, affecting transportation, travel, and daily life. Recently, Puna Hawaii was the primary location of the volcanic activity that occurred from the east rift zone during the 2018 Kilauea eruption.
Since 1983, nearly 900 structures have been destroyed as a result of lava flows and more than 60 square miles (over one-tenth the total area of Puna) has been covered at one point in the last 35 years. This makes the real estate costs lower than in most other areas of Hawaii, however it makes it difficult to acquire homeowners insurance, and the reality of having to evacuate your home due to volcanic activity is a strong possibility.
Puna Hawaii Transportation and Lodging
Very few established tour companies cover the Puna area well, instead choosing to take advantage of the greater tourist population in Hilo and focus their tours on Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and a few surrounding attractions. Because of this, you will most likely be on your own to do a DIY tour of the Puna region. For first time visitors to Puna, we’d recommend exploring the region during a few day trips to see if it fits your style, renting a car is a must. Because many of the roads are built around the lava flows, many are in poor condition and are single-lane, so visitors unfamiliar with the area are encouraged to drive with extra caution. Also, while we encourage exploring the area, be respectful of private property signs and stay safe by staying out of restricted areas.
Same goes for lodging – the majority of hotels are located in Hilo, though many vacation rentals and smaller options exist throughout the Puna area that you may want to explore. Visit our Puna Accommodations page to find out more about the lodging options in this rugged region.
What to do in Puna Hawaii
Fortunately, Madame Pele offers plenty to do and see while visiting Puna. Towering albizia trees and foliage arch over the country roadways, expansive fields of fresh, still-cooling lava rock cut between the overgrowth and stunning seaside cliffs make up much of the coastline. For those with an adventurous tilt, Puna will satisfy any and all exploration based inclinations. As far as attractions to the area go, Puna has been the hub for visiting active and past lava flows for decades and the natural inclination is to think of the region as a gateway for lava trekking, but there is so much more.
Plan to enjoy a variety of beautiful coastal regions, incredible rainforests, rugged hiking trails, an agricultural wonderland and some quirky towns. Lets start with a popular attraction, the prolific Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Corporation, which processes about 180,000 pounds of macadamia nuts every day and offers a guided experience through its popular visitor’s tour three miles deep in the macadamia nut orchards.
You should visit Lava Tree State Monument to see the remnants of a wet Ohia forest that was covered by a historic lava flow leaving impressive tree molds in it’s path. This is one of my favorite state parks in Hawaii, it’s beautiful and simple with a winding trail and several gazebos for relaxing and taking in the view. Take a hike through Volcanoes National Park and see the off the beaten path part of the Kilauea Volcano.
Or if water activities are your interest, you can enjoy a beautiful and unique black sand beach that formed at Isaac Hale Beach Park after the 2018 Kilauea eruption. This locals favorite park, was almost wiped out by the 2018 flow but miraculously survived by just a few yards. The Pohoiki beach area was completely transformed and is definitely worth a visit during your trip to Puna Hawaii. There are still some hot ponds in the Pohoiki area, however several of the other popular ponds along the coast were destroyed by the recent flow.
Browsing the local Puna farmers markets is also a fun and delicious adventure. There are several markets in this area and all of them have their own flair. The Makuu Farmers Market on Sunday mornings near Pahoa covers over 500 acres with around 150 vendors. Uncles Kaimū Farmers Market is on Wednesday evenings in Kalapana, with great food and entertainment, this market is a real community gathering place. The Market at the Mill is on Saturday Mornings at the Hilo Coffee Mill in Upper Puna and has a great selection of locally grown produce and locally made products.