Once a thriving fishing village and residential community, Kalapana was destroyed by lava from the Kilauea Volcano in 1990. Nearly the entire town was buried under molten rock including Kaimu Beach, one of the most popular black-sand beaches on Hawaii’s Big Island. Today, all that remains is a handful of homes and the ruins of the town.
Some Big Island volcano tours stop by the Kalapana on the way to Volcanoes National Park from Hilo. To get a good view of the volcano’s destruction, head to the new Kaimu Beach that is forming beyond the bay where the beach once was. The lava completely filled in the bay and you can walk over the barren lava fields to the new black sand beach forming.
You also won’t want to miss the Start of the Sea Painted Church, that was moved and saved from the path of approaching lava.
Things to know before you go
- Kalapana is a great spot to see the destructive power of the Kilauea Volcano.
- Lava flows continue to impact the Kalapana area so it’s best to check conditions before visiting.
- Currents are strong in the new Kaimu Beach so swimming is not recommended.
How to get there
The town of Kalpana is located 32 miles (51 kilometers) south of Hilo. The most scenic way to arrive in Kalpana is via the Kapoho Kalapana Road, also known as the Red Road, which travels 9.6 miles (15.4 kilometers) along the Puna coastline through lava fields and lush forest.
When to get there
The Kalapana area sees much fewer visitors than other Big Island attractions like Volcanoes National Park and the Mauna Kea Observatories so there is really no best time to visit. If lava is actively flowing, evening is a good time to see the red glow.
The Star of the Sea Painted Church
Built in 1927 near the shore of Kaimu Black Sand Beach, this colorful little church was threatened by the lava flow in 1990 so it was hoisted up off its foundation and placed on a trailer truck before the lava could reach it. The church found a new home on Highway 140 just outside of Kalapana and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
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