The Laupahoehoe (“leaf of lava”) Peninsula juts out of Hawaii’s Hamakua Coast between Paauilo and Wailea. Near the tip of Laupahoehoe Point, you’ll find a county beach park with well-developed facilities and some primo ocean-watching opportunities. Laupahoehoe Beach Park also comes drenched in history, including of the tragic variety.
A roughly 1.5-mile drive off Highway 19 brings you down a coastal gulch to the beach park. There are restrooms and outdoor showers at the park as well as picnic pavilions available by permit and camping areas.
What you won’t find is any lifeguards. Then again, Laupahoehoe Beach Park isn’t really a place for swimming: The ocean here is generally too rough and current-raked to allow for that. That’s certainly true amid the big winter swells, but even summer conditions are often dangerous. Nonetheless, this rugged lava-rock shore includes some tide pools that can be cautiously enjoyed away from the full brunt of the ocean.
Picnicking on the lawn or in a pavilion, watching the crashing waves along the rocky shorefront, you’ll generally find plenty of elbow room at the beach park. It’s generally uncrowded during the week, and even on the busier weekends the spacious acreage rarely feels jampacked. Many who come here are locals looking to kick back and socialize or take advantage of the high-quality shore fishing available from the beach or the concrete breakwater.
There’s a memorial in Laupahoehoe Beach Park worth visiting. It pays tribute to the 20 schoolchildren and four teachers swept away here by tsunami waves on April 1, 1946. That tragic day saw a series of tsunamis generated by a distant earthquake in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands hit the windward coast of Hawaii hard. Many lives and properties were lost in Hilo, and the old town of Laupahoehoe here was devastated. After the disaster, the ravaged Laupahoehoe School was moved uphill.
The community had grown up from a fishing village turned sugar plantation and shipping port by the late 19th century. By the 1920s, Lapohoehoe was quite a bustling hamlet, home to some 2,000 residents. A railroad for hauling sugarcane and supplies along the rugged, gulch-ridden Hamakua Coast was built in the early 1900s. It remained active for decades, including for passenger service; people would get off the train and walk or ride horseback to Lapahoehoe Point. That Alaskan earthquake and the enormous waves it set offended the days of rail service here, the tsunamis destroying critical sections of track.
The “leaf of lava” that forms the Laupahoehoe Peninsula and Point makes for one of the Hamakua Coast’s most scenic oceanfronts. Whether a quick sightseeing stop or a leisurely picnic hangout, Laupahoehoe Beach Park is definitely worth visiting on a drive along Highway 19.
For more information on local history, particularly the story of the area’s long-running railroad, be sure to check out the Laupahoehoe Train Museum not far from the beach park.