Puna Trail

The Big Island of the Hawaiian Islands has many rich and magnificent hiking trails. On the Windward, or east, side of the island is a famous trail called the Puna Trail. Recently, I had the privilege of walking the trail and experiencing some of Hawaii’s natural and historic beauty.

The trail is 2.5 miles long and leads down an ancient path first created by original Hawaiian settlers. Along the path you will see remnants of the historic walls of stacked stone first built as a part of a wall ring that surrounds the entire island. Although many parts of the wall are now collapsing or have been removed by settlers, many sections still remain, as do parts of the original ring trail.

Puna Trail

This trail is relatively flat and wide as it had been cut into the jungle and widened into a roadway some years ago as access for local villages during the 1800s. Now, all the villages along the trail are gone, but the trail is still maintained as a pathway for all to enjoy. This is a historically significant site, so walkers are expected to stay on the mostly lava flow path and to not disturb any of the adjoining significant areas.

The trail begins at a parking lot, which is frequently closed and locked. This doesn’t deter the many visitors who travel to this area to experience the jungle, the trail and the amazing shoreline. There are open field areas, deep wet jungle portions and newly opened areas destroyed by a hurricane that passed over Hawaii in recent years. In these open areas, many flowers and fast growing plants are quickly reclaiming it as jungle. Vines climb over dense pockets of fallen trees making them look like green waves in the sparsely growing remaining trees. Coconut palms of all ages abound in areas closest to the beach, while figs and banyan trees fill all the open space in the dense jungle. New coconut palms sprout from recently dropped fruits, sending roots quickly into the shallow lava rock soils.

Along the way, if you know what to look for, you will see wild pig wallows and places they dig with noses and feet to uproot the grubs and roots they eat. You can see footprints in the wet muddy puddles as you walk through the forest. Locals still hunt them here with dogs and knives, not guns.

Near the end of the trail, there remains a different type of historical monument. A World War II concrete bunker appears mostly buried in jungle vines now. Gun slits are visible along the seaward side where men in the War looked out over the oceans waiting to see Japanese vessels approaching. You can imagine the threat these men felt after the bombing at Pearl Harbor, not many miles away.

Puna Trail

Just beyond the bunker you get your first look at the ocean you have been hearing for some time as you walked. Open lava flows lead you to vertical black rock cliffs along the shore. Waves pound the rocks sending salt spray up over you as you look on in awe of the power they exert on the rocks. Brave local divers jump off the walls into the ocean to hunt reef fish with Hawaiian slings to have for dinner or maybe to make Poke – a raw fish and vegetable dish. I wouldn’t survive if I tried to enter these waters not knowing the safe and proper ways to deal with the massive waves and rough seas here.

Once you reach the end of this trail, you emerge at a beautiful crystal clear turquoise lagoon. You just can’t wait to get into this cool clear water. As you wade in, something catches your eye in the water. Is it a shark? Many of the local waters have large tiger sharks near shore. No, not this time. Puna TrailWhat reveals itself on the surface is a large sea turtle, or what the locals call a Honu. These huge beautiful and very graceful animals are honored in local culture and are not disturbed. It is an amazing experience to swim alongside one of them knowing how old some get to be even under the harsh conditions they face daily from tiger sharks and some ruthless or stupid humans.

If you carry in mask, fins and snorkel, you will get to see many types of colorful fish in the lagoon. Do be careful of the circular flow and currents in the water. Some will carry you out of the opening to the lagoon into the open ocean. As mentioned earlier, it’s very tough to get back up on the steep rock cliffs if you’re inexperienced.

Right behind the lagoon is a huge privately owned residence with a large fresh water pond that is also a release and sanctuary for the Hawaiian Nene goose, the state bird. This smallish goose has been largely depleted by hunters, loss of habitat and the release of non-native mongoose on the island. Conservationists are working to release many birds back into the wild in hopes of replenishing their numbers.

If you decide to go to the Big Island, and if you are up for something a little more strenuous than sipping Mai Tais, I would recommend this easy trail for a great picnic lunch on a great beach after a nice easy walk through the jungle. Don’t worry, you can always bring the Mai Tais along in a plastic bottle.

Puna Trail

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