Lower Puna is Hawaii's 'wild west'... very rural, sparsely populated, and non-conformist. It has the newest land, newest and blackest beaches, and some very traditional country living. It is naturally, starkly beautiful, needing little man-made adornment. Take Highway 130 from Highway 11, just Hilo-side of Kea'au village.
"Puna" means 'spring', and the coastline is full of freshwater springs, often warmed by the hot lava underground. Ahalanui Park has a large, spring-fed swimming pool-like pond that is warm and popular, but does not get enough fresh salt water to kill the bacteria in it. (Think Petri dish!) Heed the warning sign, and do not go in with any sores or cuts. Nearby, Wai 'Opae Tidepools are in the ocean, and one of our dentist guests said it was like swimming in his waiting room's aquarium! Please do not step on the coral...it is alive.
You can drive along the coast on the "Red Road" (no longer red cinder), ending at the lava field that was once Kaimu Bay, at the famous Kalapana Black Sand beach. The bay filled with hot lava in 1990, and you can walk across it to the new black sand beach. People have planted the area with hundreds of sprouted coconuts, and a load of red cinder has made a smoother trail to the ocean. Do not swim here, just admire and photograph it. Next to the cul-de-sac where you parked is the small Kalapana Village Cafe that has the best milk shakes and french fries. No-frills tables outdoors, and thefood is good! Open 8 AM until 9PM.
Lava viewing... from the end of Highway 130. Entry gate opens 2 PM, closes 8 PM. You must be out by 10 PM. Drive the little road to the parking area, and then walk about 1/2 mile to the viewing area. Right now the lava is in lava tubes, not visible.
Cape Kumukahi Lighthouse...After lava covered the town of Kapoho in early 1960, it threatened the lighthouse, which was evacuated and left on 'auto'. Hawaiians were certain it would be spared, as fire goddess Pele favors ocean travelers whom lighthouses warn. The lava flowed around the lighthouse's sidewalk then continued on. You can drive out to the site (the road is poor), walk over to the present lighthouse and see for yourself. Easternmost point in Hawaii.
Lava Tree molds...State park just beyond Pahoa.
Pahoa...small town on Highway 130 with an eclectic population. Looks like a cowboy town with covered wood sidewalks. Some really good restaurants, including Paolo's Bistro.
Maku'u Market, a farmers market, is along Highway 130 on Sundays, near Pahoa. Big, varied, fun!