As the only track of public land suitable for hiking in Puna District, along the scenic Hwy. 137, the 13-acre MacKenzie State Recreation Area is part of the Malama Ki Forest Reserve. This recreation area consists of breathtaking lava sea cliffs and a rough Puna coast. Its signature feature, though, is likely the largest stand of ironwood trees in all of Hawaii.
The ironwood trees that call the area home were planted by a forest ranger for which the park was named, Albert J. MacKenzie. This forest ranger planted the trees and then later died a premature death at the young age of 21 in 1938. A year after his death, the park was posthumously named for him.
Although the trees are notable and what led to the park’s name, the MacKenzie State Recreation Area’s main attraction is likely the raw power of the sheer sea cliffs and the several lava tubes that are within its borders, though you cannot enter the lava tubes at any time. The recreation area offers public restrooms along with a covered picnic pavilion and lava chairs. There is no camping allowed in the area and swimming is absolutely prohibited. In fact, it is considered suicidal, and for this reason… no lifeguards reside here. Due to the immense risk and dangers of the sea cliffs, all visitors are encouraged to use extreme caution when standing near the edge. Rogue waves have been known to hit the coastline hard, even removing trees and rocks from the ledge. They certainly could knock a person off their feet, so use caution. Let’s just say the danger signs posted around the area are not hyperbole.
In addition to the danger presented by the cliff, there is a violent history and even some supernatural influence that play a role within the MacKenzie State Recreation Area. The history of the area involves the deaths of many convicts from Oahu plantations, who were commissioned to clear rocks and vegetation from the area in the late 1850s. The work, under an unrelenting tropical sun, led to many worker deaths. It is believed that many of these workers were laid to rest in unmarked graves within the area. This had substantiated the creation of many ghost stories due to the belief that these workers became “nightmarchers,” or ancient Hawaiian ghosts who roam or haunt the area at night. Therefore, many locals believe MacKenzie State Recreation Area remains a haunted area to this day. In addition to these stories of old passed through generations, the low sea cliffs have led to the death of many fishermen and opihi pickers, even in modern times. Considering both the very real danger in the area, and the somewhat violent history of its founding, MacKenzie State Recreation has become a beautiful yet respected and even revered site.
The MacKenzie State Recreation Area’s trailhead, which begins a hike that encompasses two miles, begins deep in the Puna District, on the Kapoho-Kalpana Road in the southeastern side of the island along Hwy 137, also known as the Red Road. When you get between mile 13 and 14 on Hwy 137, you will see a brown sign featuring yellow lettering, which reads MacKenzie Park. Turn toward the sea when you see this sign (closer to marker 14) and park your vehicle in the free parking.
When enjoying a day in this area, especially if you plan to hike, know that the weather tends to be warm, humid, and windy along the cliffside trail. Be sure to bring along plenty of water to keep yourself hydrated. Also, it’s a good idea to wear sturdy shoes, like hiking boots or sturdy tennis shoes, not just sandals. There can be uneven, broken ground, and needles from the ironwood trees, which can make walking somewhat challenging on this trail.
-There is no entrance fee to enjoy the MacKenzie State Recreation Area.
-Pets are not allowed in the recreation area.
-Shore fishing is allowed in the low cliff areas.