Big Island: Discovering Lava Fields & Geothermal Pools

July 05, 2015  •  9 Comments

-by Edyta-

Exploring the Big Island proved to be more challenging than the other Hawaiian islands, mostly due to its size. Because we've already come to terms with taming our FOMOs, we were OK visiting only a few select areas and skipping some others. By now we have learned that spreading ourselves too thin just to see everything that our guidebook mentions does not work for us. We get tired, cranky and end up not enjoying the sites. Besides, we need to leave some spots undiscovered for the next time we come back to visit (positive thinking ;-) ). 

On our second full day on the Big Island we explored the area around Pahoa. We admired natural lava sculptures at the 200+ year old Lava Tree State Park, bathed in warm geothermal pools heated by volcanic activity, and walked on a black sand beach that's younger than us (est. ~1990).  Here are some photos of our day:

Tin Shack Bakery is an awesome local spot serving delicious and healthy food. There are many vegan and vegetarian options and even some live music to go with your breakfast. Tin Shack Bakery on the Big Island of Hawaii. Tin Shack Bakery on the Big Island of Hawaii.

We started our day with a relaxed breakfast at Tin Shack Bakery, a cool local spot, great for people watching. We were pleasantly surprised to sip our coffee to the sounds of live music. It's usually during breakfasts that we plan our exploring and catch up on some news. We especially like browsing local newspapers to get a better feel of the place we are in.  Living oatmeal, sourdough pancakes, or veggie pesto bagels - Tin Shack offers lots of delicious option that are vegetarian and vegan friendly. Their coffee is also a perfect start to a day of sightseeing the beautiful island. Tin Shack Bakery in Pahoa, Hawaii. The menu was diverse, healthy, inexpensive and rich in local ingredients. From our travels thus far, we've learned that it's not too difficult to find healthy and/or vegetarian/vegan friendly eating spots in Hawaii. In general, people who live in Hawaii are health conscious, eat well and work out.  Entrance to the Lava Tree State Monument park. The park is open 24/7 and is free to enter. Lava Tree State Monument parkLava Tree State Monument park After breakfast our first stop for the day was Lava Tree State Monument park. The park is open 24/7 and the entrance is free. The whole are is very desolate and peaceful. We ran into about 2-3 other people during our one hour visit. 

We visited the park to see tree monuments created by lava over 200 years ago. Lava Tree State Monument ParkLava Tree State Monument Park

The Lava Tree State Monument Park was created by the 1790 lava flow, when 2000°F hot molten lava got in contact with the cool and wet terrain. Trees were consumed by the heat and turned into ashes, while simultaneously cooling the lava which consumed them. This means that the stump you're looking at in the above photo is actually a cooled lava mold of what once was a tree. Science! 

It's safest to stay on the trail while visiting the park. Lava State Tree Park in Big Island, Hawaii. Lava State Tree Park in Big Island, Hawaii.

It's always best to stay on designated trails - especially when there are not many people around (to rescue you!).

Huge fallen tree. 

Lava Tree State Park is home to many native Hawaiian plants like this beautiful monstera plant. Monstera plant in Hawaii. Monstera plant is so hot right now (read is Zoolander's voice) The park is also home to a lot of native Hawaiian plants like this beautiful Monstera - which thanks to Instagram is very much in style right now.     Watching waves crash and tumble black pebbles while making black sand at Isaac Hale Beach Park.Isaac Hale Beach Park.Isaac Hale Beach Park. Our next stop was Isaac Hale Beach Park where we spent some time staring into the ocean. As the waves tumble against the volcanic rock, over time they turn the rock into black sand.  The beach is popular with surfers but can be dangerous for average swimmers as the currents are very strong. We chose to play it safe and not go into the water here.  We found a lot of white coral reef on the edge of the beach which contrasted nicely with black lava pebbles.  

A few steps from the beach we found Pahoiki geothermal pool which we read about in our guidebook. It took me a while to figure out if I should get into this suspicious hole in the ground with warm water but I am glad I did.   The water was very warm, about 98F, heated by volcanic activity. I actually didn't last more than ten minutes there as I got too hot. Just a short walk from the small thermal hole was this big geothermal pool called Ahalanui Warm Springs. The natural spring has been reinforced with concrete floor, sides, and stairs which makes it more accessible and enjoyable. The temperature and the depth of the pool varies with the tide. 

Ahalanui is heated by volcanic activity. There are some cracks in the walls of the pool where you can feel hot steam or water coming out of. It's like a natural jacuzzi.  The pool is shielded from the ocean so everyone can safely enjoy it. SONY DSC After relaxing in the warm springs we decided to further explore the area and headed south on Kalapana-Kapoho Road.  The road proved to be very picturesque with lava fields often on both sides.  We stopped a few times to admire the lava fields. How unreal is this?  As beautiful as it looks, lava can be very destructive to the Big Island dwellers. Many of them lost their houses and other possessions to this strong force of nature. This pretty ropy lava is called pahoehoe lava in the Hawaiian language. It's one of the most beautiful things we've ever seen. Ropy lava

In the Hawaiian language this type of smooth and ropy lava is called pahoehoe lava. It often reminded me of Van Gogh's Starry Night painting.  Vegetation can take over lava fields pretty quickly. How beautiful is the contrast of green plants with the black lava field?Vegetation growing on a lava field. Vegetation growing in a lava field - how pretty. 

Make sure not to pick up and take with you any of the volcanic rocks as that is said to bring years of bad luck. Take nothing but photos :-)  Volcanic rock on the Big Island and my favorite Satya bracelet. Volcanic rock on the Big Island and my favorite Satya bracelet. Lava rocks should not be removed from Hawaii as it said to bring you years of bad luck.  Follow the red rocks path to get to the New Kaimu Beach. This 15 minute trail is called Kaimu Beach Eco Path.Kaimu Beach Eco Path.Kaimu Beach Eco Path. Driving further south we stopped at a spot where Kalapana-Kapoho road ends to visit the New Kaimu Beach Park where we walked about 15 minutes to a black sand beach. This short trail is called Kaimu Beach Eco Path.  I am not quite sure why the rocks here are red. If anyone knows, please let me know. Kaimu Beach Eco Path.Kaimu Beach Eco Path. The reason this beach is called "new" is that it was created in only 1990, by a volcanic eruption. Sadly, there once was a town with over 100 homes here and the original Kaimu beach, all of which was eradicated by 80 feet of lava. As a result of this eruption, the coast of this part of the island got extended by few acres.    This lava field is only 25 years old! It is not often that we can walk on ground that's younger than us. Ropy black lava field. Ropy black lava field. It is not often that we can say we walked on land that's younger than us - this earth here is only 25 years old.  

Touch it but don't remove it... well unless you want years of bad luck from Pele. Satya bracelets on my wrists and some red volcanic rock and black sand in my palm. Handfuls of volcanic rocks and sand I picked up. New Kaimu beach is certainly not the safest one to swim in. The waves were huge. Desolate black sand beach. Black sand beaches get created when hot lava enters the ocean and gets shattered when meeting with cold water. At first, this process creates smaller stones, which over time get crushed into even smaller pieces - and eventually sand - all due to the tumbling waves. Unlike white sand beaches where sand is constantly replenished by fish pooping out coral reef (yes, that's really what happens) the life of black sand beaches is limited as there is no constant supply of it. So sadly, this black sand beach will most likely disappear one day.

Blue waves and black rocky beach are a rare combo. Big Island is just full of beautiful surprises. New Kaimu black sand beach was peaceful and beautiful. Waves were huge at this beach. We learned that swimming is not recommended here as the current is too strong. Small palm trees were planted by locals to make the New Kaimu beach look more like the original one. The green leaves contrast beautifully with the black sand. Walking between newly planted palm trees. Young palm trees have been planted by locals to make the New Kaimu beach look more like the old one. 

Thinking of Hawaii usually brings images of surfing, sunny golden beaches, and luaus to mind - but the Big Island can certainly hold its own with its volcanic landscapes, unreal black beaches and geothermal swimming holes. For a nontraditional taste of Hawaii, make sure to stop by the Big Island. And as always, if you have any questions or comments, we love hearing from you. 



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