Kalapana is a former fishing village located in the Puna district on the southeast side of the Big Island. Overrun by lava flows in 1990, the area once had one of the island’s largest and most popular black sand beaches which was called Kaimu Beach along with a spring-fed lava rock pool called “Queen’s Bath.”
When Kilauea volcano began erupting in 1983 it sent lava flows to the west of Kalapana. Things changed in April of 1990 when those lava flows changed direction and headed straight for Kalapana devastating most of the town during the next five months with only some homes surviving. Most of the area was buried in lava up to 75 feet deep.
Also buried was the nearby Kalapana Gardens and Royal Gardens subdivisions as well as the town of Kaimu and Kaimu Bay, effectively reshaping the Puna coastline. The lava came from the southeast rift zone of Kilauea volcano where the Kupaianaha vent produced copious amounts of lava.
In 1990 in Kalapana the Star of the Sea Painted Church was moved to a safer location as the lava approached. The church, which is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was built in the 1920s and painted by a priest in 1941 with murals that tell the story of Father Damien.
The Star of the Sea Church was moved just ahead of an advancing lava flow to its present location on Highway 130 between mile marker 19 and 20. Within one hour of the relocation of the church structure, the ground the church stood on was buried in molten lava. Many people believed that the volcano goddess Pele had reclaimed the land. Star of the Sea Church is open to the public daily from 9 am to 4 pm.
Today Kalapana has no electricity or water, and access requires a four-wheel-drive vehicle. A few people still live in the area and rangers monitor visitors who tour the area.
Where the highway comes to a dead end due to the lava flow is a tourist attraction with a few vendor booths and nearby viewing areas that sometimes provide a glimpse of lava pouring into the sea.
The Kalapana region remains active. A lava flow from Kilauea volcano in July of 2010 destroyed a relatively new home, and now just 35 homes remain in the Kalapana Gardens subdivision. During this volcanic activity many visitors, sometimes thousands per day, came to see the flowing lava.
Kalapana can be reached by Kapoho Kalapana Rd. (Hwy. 137) along the coast or by Pahoa Kalapana Road (Hwy. 130) from Pahoa.