Puna is the easternmost district on the Big Island and is located between the districts of Kau to the west and Hilo to the north. Puna means “Spring” and is thought to refer to the water that percolates from the ground along the coast.
During the 20th century Puna was a major sugarcane growing area. Sugar plantations covered the lands of Puna from the town of Keaau to Mountain View and also in the Pahoa and Kapoho areas. The sugar industry in the region ended when the Puna Sugar Company closed in 1991.
Today Puna continues to be a major agricultural area producing significant amounts of macadamia nuts, papayas, fruits and vegetables, and cut flowers such as orchids and anthuriums. Puna also has a developing coffee industry, and significant numbers of livestock are raised in the area.
The Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Corporation grows large orchards of macadamia nut trees on the slopes of Mauna Loa volcano with operations centered in Keaau which is also the site of their primary nut processing plant. The Kapoho region is a primary papaya growing area.
One of the most popular attractions in Puna is Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Most of the National Park is in Puna although the entrance is in the Kau district. Also in Puna is the Isaac Hale Beach Park where fishermen often launch their boats.
The ecology of the Puna region is largely shaped by the activities of Kilauea volcano and much of the area is forested with native ohia lehua trees and hapuu tree ferns supporting native bird life such as the apapane, amakihi and pueo (Hawaiian owl). Six geothermal wells in Puna harness energy from volcanic steam and provide more than 25% of the Big Island’s power.
Found throughout the Puna region are many underground lava tubes including the Kazumura Cave which is the world’s longest lava cave, extending more than 40 miles (60 km). Located on the eastern slope of Kilauea volcano, the Kazumura Cave is also the world’s deepest lava tube, reaching more than 3,614 feet (1,101 m) below the surface.
Puna’s main transportation routes include Puna Rd. (Hwy. 130) between Keaau and Pahoa, and the Volcano Hwy. (Hwy. 11) between Hilo and Kurtistown. Kapoho Road (Hw. 132) connects Pahoa to Kapoho and Puna Coast Rd. (Hwy. 137) connects Kapoho to Kalapana-Kaimu. The Puna district is home to about 44,000 people.