For those looking to get up close and personal with a fresh lava flow during their visit to East Hawai'i Island, the newly rebuilt Highway 132 is hands-down the best spot to do it.
The 2018 Lower Puna Eruption covered thousands of acres of land, destroyed roughly 700 homes and 13 miles of public roads, and created almost 700 acres of new land along the Kapoho coastline as the cascading river of lava slowly filled the bay. The flow took out more than three miles of Highway 132, criss-crossing the two-lane road and leaving a large, inaccessible pocket of intact land surrounded by lava known in Hawaiian as a "kipuka".
Today it's possible to drive through what was once this kipuka, along a similar route to what the lava took during those fateful months in 2018. The County of Hawai'i had rebuilt the highway up to the standards of its predecessor, which in places is many dozens of feet above where the old road bed used to be.
Less than a mile from the entrance to Lava Tree State Park heading toward the now non-existent town of Kapoho, the scenic part of the highway starts. The lavafield gradually rolls down the hill toward the ocean below, which grows from just a thin blue line on the horizon. The landscape is all cliffs and ravines of black lava, baby blue sky, royal blue ocean and patches of green making up the high places the lava missed.
The size of the lava cliffs, and the sheer variety of textures spread out around them created by flowing molten rock, are mind-boggling; sharp, jagged chunks of rock the size of engine blocks piled high, and then weaving through them are ripples of smooth, ropey lava that seem to shimmer in the beating sunshine. Tufts of orange and yellow powder are scattered across the rolling landscape, making it look spotted - the residues of volcanic gasses that bubbled up through beds of cooling rock.
There's even burned-out hunks of metal along the new highway - skeletons of farm equipment and structures - sticking out of the never-ending sea of black rock. Towards the bottom of the hill, there's a still-standing house that some locals call the "miracle house". Seen from the highway, the house appears almost completely surrounded by lava, leaving many scratching their head in wonder at how it survived.
The new highway finally runs out at a stop sign at the bottom of the hill. This was a 4-way intersection before the eruption which locals called "four corners", and its current form is often called "one-corner" now that two of the roads stemming from the stop sign are giant walls of lava boulders. From the rough parking lot beside the stop sign, the ocean can be seen, now a wide bar of blue with white crashing waves, with the now defunct Kumukahi Lighthouse far in the distance.
From the bottom of the hill, Green Mountain's still green slopes tower over one end of the lavafield. The mountain itself is a volcanic crater from long ago, which prior to 2018 hosted within its depths the largest freshwater lake in the State of Hawai'i. Unfortunately, the encroaching lava entered the ancient crater during 2018's eruption and boiled off the lake completely.
Mahalo nui loa to Stefan Verbano, Content Blog Writer for Kona Wedding Officiant® - Hawaii 101 - Things to Do On Hawaii Big Island - www.konaweddingofficiant.com/blog
Aloha - Deanna - Kona Wedding Officiant, Licensed Minister and Marriage Officiant.
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