Puna Trail

Puna Trail: Hike a Historic Route to Quiet Haena Beach on the Puna Coast
Local Expert's Rating:
5.0 / 5
The Bottom Line:

The moderate Puna Trail south of Hilo follows a historic track to access the lovely and lightly trammeled Haena (aka Shipman’s) Beach. History buffs will appreciate the trail’s heritage and manmade landmarks, including the Shipman residence and a World War II “pillbox.” Nature enthusiasts, meanwhile, delight in the opportunity to spot Hawaiian geese, green sea turtles—and maybe even the rare Hawaiian monk seal on the beach!

- The HawaiianIslands.com Local Expert Team

Savor the history, beauty, and ecology of the Puna coast on a fairly low-grade hike to secluded Haena Beach south of Hilo. The Puna Trail makes for an easy jaunt on a historic track, with nice ocean views, quiet sands, and wildlife-watching opportunities part of the payoff.

Included within the State of Hawaii’s Na Ala Hele Trail & Access Program, the Puna Trail follows a venerable route. Originally, this was part of a carriage trail linking the fishing villages scattered along the Puna coast. In the mid-19th century, that ancient track was widened and improved into the Government Road (Alanui Aupuni), a section of which this modern trail now traces. Old rock walls and pavement summon this history along the Puna Trail, which is a moderate, five-mile round-trip hike with minimal elevation change.

The trail commences from a good-sized gravel parking lot at the end of Beach Road, reached via Kaloli Drive. It passes from a grassy area into forest dominated by non-native trees. But not long into the hike, you’ll traverse a pocket of native rainforest—a kipuka—with fine specimens of ohia trees. 

Pass an unsigned junction with a road heading to Paki Bay, then a stretch of deadfall: trees downed by Tropical Storm Iselle, which struck the Big Island in 2014. 

Coconut palms rustle as you approach the oceanfront. After passing an old home site and a dirt road, you’ll see a concrete observation bunker off to the left: a relic of Hawaii’s World War II era. 

You’ll then reach Haena Beach along Haena Bay. The historic Shipman house, built in 1904, lies in back of the beach near a fishpond. The house was built by William H. Shipman, a local rancher, and all the land inland of the beachfront still belongs to the Shipman family. In other words, it’s private acreage, so don’t wander inland from Haena Beach. 

Shipman is notable for starting a breeding program for the Hawaiian goose, or nene, back in 1918, helping save this endemic (found nowhere else) species from extinction. You’ve got a good chance of seeing these handsome, charming long-necked birds during your hike: partly a tribute to Shipman’s conservation efforts.

Cross the fishpond’s outlet stream to stroll handsome Haena Beach, which is unlikely to be crowded. The reef-buffered bay here is shallow with options for swimming and wading for kids, but exercise caution at all times. There’s no lifeguard (or facilities of any kind), and there can be strong currents.

Given Haena Beach’s peace and quiet, it’s a favored haul-out spot for two of Hawaii’s defining sea creatures: the green sea turtle (honu) and the Hawaiian monk seal (ilioholoikauaua). These are both protected by state and federal laws and must be given plenty of space. The Hawaiian monk seal—named for folded skin on its head resembling a monk’s hood—is critically endangered. If you’re lucky enough to see one lounging on the beach, don’t approach any closer than 150 feet. 

After savoring the views at Haena Bay, head back to the trailhead, relishing your peaceful, on-foot taste of the Puna coast!

Insider Tips:
-You can turn the Puna Trail into a longer loop hike by trekking south from Haena Beach along the coastline. It’s a scenic, cliffy seashore. Watch your footing and stay well back from the edge. In 2.5 miles, you’ll hit a primitive track primarily used by fishermen. Follow this south to return to the Beach Road trailhead. 
-Expect muddy conditions on the Puna Trail if it’s been raining recently.