Big Island Black Sand Beach
New Kaimu Black Sand Beach
On The Big Island, it is incredible to witness a new shoreline forming due to the destruction and constant creation of land by Kilauea, the most active volcano on the island of Hawaii. It’s quite astounding to see an entirely new beach forming – New Kaimu Beach at Kalapana.
In 1990, a river of lava flowed from the volcano, reaching the shoreline, burying the original Kaimu Beach under 50-70 feet of lava and destroying the entire community of Kalapana and nearby subdivisions that were in its fiery, molten path. For several months, a waterfall of lava flowed into the ocean, beginning the rebirth of new land as the lava filled the bay close to the shoreline. Now, more than 20 years later, the slow sculpture of new land is, at last, forming a stretch of sand that may once again become the playground it used to be.
The original beach was a local favorite, enticing visitors from afar with its fine, jet-black sand and towering coconut trees. With the intent to restore Kaimu Beach to its former glory, dedicated locals have planted hundreds of coconut trees. It’s encouraging to see how nature – and people – return with renewed vigor and determination where neighborhoods and livelihoods have been destroyed.
New Kaimu Beach is a stunning, albeit eerie landscape especially in the afternoon light around sunset. As the smoky sunlight streams through the clouds, new, bright green growth of fern and coconut palm fronds contrast beautifully with the stark black rippled lava rock.
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The trail to the beach is about a 10-minute walk from ‘Uncle Roberts’, which is a collection of roadside stands, tour desks, and a parking area where the road ends on the southern section of highway 137 (Kapoho-Kalapana Road). Local jewelry vendors often line the path to the trail, and at the top of a small hill is an ‘information station’ that has been set up by locals. During business hours they provide a factual brochure to interested visitors for a small donation, which apparently goes towards keeping the area maintained. It is fascinating to take a look at the historical photographic display of the lava devouring the town in 1990.
The short trail leads through the slightly undulating solidified lava flows. As you meander through the young coconut palm forest, you can see where the black sand started to reform – as a result of the lava rock being pulverized over the years by the crashing waves. In the distance, steam plumes can be seen, marking the active vent of Kilauea. As you approach the exposed, windy shoreline, and the edge of the small 6-foot cliff, you can see where the black sand beneath is being stirred by the thrashing of the sapphire-blue ocean waves, churning the water into a gray color, depositing the sand and forming the new beach.
The beach is narrow and definitely not swimmable due to strong currents and hazardous surf. There are no facilities here, and it may be many more years before the beach resembles something of its original form. It is a fascinating place to witness geological formation in action, to observe the powerful creative and destructive force of mother nature. You can’t help feeling – with the energy and care that they have put into the place - that the local folks are looking forward to the day where they can once again swim and play at their beloved beach, which perhaps might symbolize the rebuilding of the life they once knew.