Most of the time lava flows on the Big Island of Hawaii destroy beloved swimming spots completely and irreversibly, but in the case of what is today known as Pohoiki Black Sand Beach, the beach park's past glory days as a locally renown fishing, surfing and swimming spot live on.
Before the 2018 Lower Puna Eruption, the spot was known as Pohoiki Bay and featured a boat launch, breakwater and several popular surf breaks. It had an almost legendary status in East Hawaii surfing communities, and many professional big wave surfers hailing from the area learned the ropes riding Pohoiki's handful of breaks, each of varying difficulty and orientation. It's also where lava tour boats would launch to bring spectators to see the pre-2018 eruption entering the ocean further down the coast in Kalapana.
Today the tour boats and surfers are gone, but Pohoiki's circular parking lot is still partially full on any given day, from the guy hawking fresh-cut coconuts to the local family sprawled out on the picnic tables soaking up some sun. A gaggle of swimmers still splash around just beyond the boat launch just like in the past, but now the launch leads to nowhere. Copious amounts of newly formed lava gravel from lava entering the ocean up the coast filled in the breakwater and turned the old ocean access into a lagoon. The old concrete pier serves it well, though, as a place for children to do cannonballs from today.
Beyond the lagoon is the beach itself, which consisted of mostly fine sand immediately after the eruption, but has recently been largely reduced to a beach of gravel and boulders. Without the protection of the breakwater and Pohoiki Bay's natural reefs, swimming at the new beach is hazardous and should only be attempted by experienced swimmers under ideal conditions. Several lifeguard stations are set up at the beach to offer assistance and advice to beach-goers.
To get across the beach, follow the established groomed trails outlined with larger stones. Keeping your footing can be difficult in places because the gravel is loose and uneven, so any significant exploring of Pohoiki should be done wearing a good pair of shoes. The waves coming into the bay crash with full intensity since the lava flow, and on high surf days it can be extremely hazardous to swim or get in and out of the water.
A second, smaller lagoon can be found a ways up the beach. It's bordered by newly planted coconut palms and standing dead trees killed in the flow, and is set against the treeline offering considerably more shade compared to the boat launch swimming hole.
Getting to Pohoiki Beach is possible via several sections of temporary road cut across the 2018 lava flow field along Highway 137 -- known locally as "Red Road". These sections are bare gravel, somewhat steep and bumpy, and have poorly marked lines, so use caution while crossing them. Access Highway 137 by taking Highway 130, in the town of Pahoa, and following signs for Kalapana. Since 2018, this section of Lower Puna District including Pohoiki Beach and the nearby Isaac Hale Beach Park (covered in its own article) has become very isolated with few amenities, so visitors should be sure to pack in whatever they need -- most importantly water. Also, driving from the town of Pahoa to Pohoiki Beach is roughly 40 miles roundtrip, and there are no gas stations beyond Pahoa. The beach is open from 9am to 6pm daily.
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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