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MacKenzie State Recreation Area, Pahoa

Raw power, imminent danger, idyllic beauty and subtle mystery all intersect at MacKenzie State Recreation Area, known locally as "Mackenzie Park", found along Lower Puna District's rugged, jungly coast of ironwood trees and weathered black lava boulders.

The park is small - only 13 acres of land perched atop formidable lava bluffs with violent, swirling royal blue ocean below sending waves smashing into the cliffs with such force that the ground shakes. And to make it even more adrenaline-pumping, there are no guardrails to speak of. The edge of the cliff is just a crescent-shaped line of slowly slumping rock. Multiple signs posted along the trail leading down to the water warn park-goers to stay back from the cliff's edge, and to mind the multiple hazards present including unstable rocks and powerful waves which can come up and over the cliffs during high surf.

Most of the towering groves of ironwood trees that can be found throughout the park got their start in a humble plot tended by the park's namesake, Big Island forest ranger Albert J. MacKenzie, who died in 1938. These trees now dominate the landscape of the sea cliffs, leaving their dry, tan-colored needles in mounds so deep in places they blanket the lava rocks beneath them.

A hiking trail running along the coast can be accessed from the park. This largely follows the ancient Hawaii Island coastal path known as the "King's Highway", which in the days of old Hawaii was a crucial and highly developed route for moving goods and people. The trail even passes by the mouths of several lava tubes in varying degrees of camouflage due to the surrounding thick jungle.

MacKenzie is also shrouded in mystery and infamy, too, though it's hard to tell when standing at the cliff's edge in the warm, serene sunshine listening to the signature sound of rustling ironwood needles and the occasional explosive wave crash. Several unsolved murders throughout the 20th century have links to it, and even its foundation can be traced back to the late 1850s when prison convicts from Honolulu were sent to at the time very rural East Hawaii Island to help develop raw land that eventually became the park. Some historians suggest that hundreds of prisoners were unceremoniously buried in deserted spots along its coast, which has given rise to legends of ghost sightings, as well as the park sometimes ranking in polls of "Most Haunted Places" in the state.

The 2018 Lower Puna Eruption placed new importance on MacKenzie Park, since now the only access to Isaac Hale Beach Park and Pohoiki Black Sand Beach (featured in their own articles) is the humble coastal highway that runs by the park known as "Red Road" or Highway 137. This highway can only be accessed these days via Highway 130 in the small fishing village of Kalapana, which connects it to the town of Pahoa and the rest of the island.

MacKenzie Park is open daily from 7am to 6:45pm and has a covered picnic area and restroom facilities but no water available, so make sure to bring plenty if planning on hiking. Also, driving from Pahoa to MacKenzie is roughly 40 miles roundtrip and there are no gas stations outside of Pahoa, so please plan accordingly.

Mahalo nui loa to Stefan Verbano, Content Blog Writer for Kona Wedding Officiant® - Hawaii 101 - Things to Do On Hawaii Big Island -

Aloha - Deanna - Kona Wedding Officiant, Licensed Minister and Marriage Officiant.

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