Situated on Pohoiki Bay on the Big Island’s Puna Coast, Isaac Hale Beach Park was, like so much of the area, impacted in 2018 by a dramatic eruption of Kilauea. This Lower East Rift Zone Eruption, which commenced in May of that year and ended in early August, covered nearly 14 square miles of land with searing lava. More than 700 homes were destroyed in what ranked as the most destructive volcanic eruption in the U.S. since the infamous big blow of Mount St. Helens in 1980.
While some nearby seashores were completely inundated by lava, such as the permanently Ahalanui County Park, Isaac Hale Beach Park was spared complete destruction. Lava advanced into park acreage, but halted not far from the harbor and its popular boat launch. The nearby lava flows that did reach the ocean also set the stage for the creation of a new feature: the Pohoiki Black Sand Beach.
Basalt lava flows hitting the ocean splatter apart and quickly harden. Wave action then immediately sets to work disintegrating the lava-rock fragments into fine-grained volcanic sand. At Isaac Hale Beach Park, large quantities of that black sand are being deposited in the nook of Pohoiki Bay to form a new, steep-edged, strikingly dark beach up against the boat launch.
It’s a marvelous sight to see, and a reminder that the Big Island’s volcanic emissions are forces of both destruction and creation. Those forces go hand-in-hand, in fact: The Lower East Rift Zone Eruption of 2018 also added more than a square mile of freshly minted land to the Big Island in the form of hardened lava coastline. And Pohoiki isn’t the only black-sand beach forming in the wake of those recent flows.
The park is now accessible by taking Highway 130 to the coast, then turning left onto Highway 137. It’s located where Highway 137 meets Pohoiki Road. At present, Isaac Hale Beach Park offers a parking area, portable restrooms, and lifeguard services, but no potable water. So you’ll want to bring drinking water with you on a visit to this black-sand cove.
Formerly host to the popular soaking spot of Pohoiki Warm Springs, the park now includes several geothermal pools warmed by volcanic heat. Enter these with discretion: They’re likely to contain bacteria, and there’s a risk of infection.
Once offering safer water usage, the park is no longer a great place for swimming given strong surf and currents. That’s not to say beachgoers don’t get in the water here, but it’s risky. Surfers also do their thing here, but the breaks are best left to the experienced.
It’s fascinating to ponder the geologic processes at work around this part of the Puna Coast, and to appreciate the beauty of the likely fairly fleeting Pohoiki Black Sand Beach while you’re at it.
Be aware that outdated references will likely lead you astray trying to reach Isaac Hale Beach Park, given the swamping of roads by the 2018 lava flows. The Highway a130-to-Highway 137 route is the way to go.