A lava flow swept through this forested section of lower Puna District in 1790, encasing tree trunks in molten rock and preserving their shape for centuries to come in the many "lava molds" that are today scattered throughout Lava Tree State Monument, otherwise known as Lava Tree State Park.
The molds are bulky black mounds of porous volcanic rock, some of them collapsed over and visibly hollow in the center, showing where the tree trunks once were and long since rotted away. Many of the "lava trees" are still standing, and they seem to jut out of the well-manicured landscape like pudgy sentries. A few are tall enough to tower over passersby, looking almost manmade. Ferns and various other tropical flora sprout out of the crevices in the "lava trees," showing their age.
There's a 0.7-mile-long concrete footpath forming a loop around the park, which starts near the parking lot and takes visitors through a finely mowed section of tropical shrubs planted in clusters where many of the most stunning lava molds can be found. Then the path leads through a stand of dense tropical forest typical of Puna District: Hawai'i's native Ohia trees with their striking red puffball flowers interspersed with ferns, creeping vines and the highly invasive Strawberry Guava. In some places young Ohia saplings sprout out of the tops of the old lava trees, as the black rock weathers and breaks down into patches of fertile soil for passing seeds to land in and sprout.
Flowering tropical plants punctuate the walk, their colors contrasting vividly with the backdrop of dark green. The red ginger flowers stand out the most, looking like torches, found in a handful of patches throughout the forested section. For tree huggers and plant lovers, this part of the park is a great place to see an example of typical lower Puna forests.
Placed among the trees are small shelters at the top of moss-covered staircases, looking to be perfect picnic spots for about two people. Other facilities at the park include a large picnic table shelter, restrooms, and even information boards for visitors to learn about how the park was formed, including a simple map of the foothpath loop.
Adjacent to the parking lot is a large crack in the earth surrounded by a guardrail and chain-link fence. Leaning over the railing and peering down into the fissure, it's impossible to see the bottom - a testament to how volcanically active this section of East Hawai'i Island truly is. Warning signs placed throughout the park warn visitors to stay on the established trail, and that the ground poses hazards like cracks and undersurface voids.
Potable water is not available at the park, so stock up on supplies in the town of Pahoa located roughly three miles away along Highway 132. Also, less than a mile from the park's entrance in the opposite direction as Pahoa, is the beginning of a scenic drive along a highway built atop the 2018 Lava Flow. This breathtaking drive heads downhill toward the ocean and the now-destroyed town of Kapoho, and is covered in-depth in our article: "Lava Highway 132, Kapoho".
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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