Puna is one of the nine districts in Hawaiʻi County, Big Island, Hawaii. The District of Puna is located on the easternmost portion of the island and shares borders to the north with the District of South Hilo and a border to the west with the District of Kaʻū. With its size of just under 320,000 acres (1,300 km2), Puna is slightly smaller than the island of Kauaʻi.
- 1 Summary
- 2 Introduction
- 3 Climate and weather
- 4 Puna agriculture
- 5 Water bottling
- 6 Residential living in Puna
- 7 Land distribution
- 8 Puna healthcare
- 9 Public safety and sanitation services in Puna
- 10 Parks and recreation in Puna
- 11 Energy demands in Puna
- 12 Transportation in Puna
- 13 Recent lava activity
- 14 Affordable Land & Housing
- 15 Insurance issues
- 16 Lava Zones in Hawaii
- 17 Fresh water in Puna
- 18 Invasive species
- 19 Subcultures
- 20 Census-designated places and other areas within Puna
- 21 Puna places of interest
- 22 Notable people from Puna
- 23 References
In the Hawaiian language, puna can mean a spring (of water) and is also the name of the district. The shoreline of the Big Island is famous for its percolating spring water and along the coast in Puna there are several tide pools where one can experience the cold spring water bubbling up from the ground.
The eastern flank of Kīlauea lies completely within the District of Puna. Most terrain in Puna contains gradual slopes, (usually less than 15 degrees in angle/7.5% grade), which increase in elevation towards the summit of Kīlauea at the western point of the District.
Due to the porosity of the volcanic rock and the relative scarcity of any deep soil, there are no permanently running streams or waterways in the district of Puna. However, there are several intermittent streams which flow during periods of heavy rain. These streams usually disappear within several hours of the heavy precipitation. There is also an extensive network of subterranean lava tubes throughout much of the District of Puna which are sometimes accessible through collapsed openings.
Puna contains nearly 45% of Hawaiʻi County's total subdivided lots, a low build-out percentage, and the highest growth rate, all on a landscape that is exposed to the highest risk of volcanic and seismic activity.
Agricultural tourism and eco-tourism are emerging as part of a mix of attractions drawing more visitors to Puna. With the renewal of native Hawaiian culture and an appreciation for nature, Puna has established itself as a premier natural and cultural attraction, with Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park as a main draw. Also of importance is increasing popularity of destination recreation and personal development opportunities, for example resident workshops at Kalani Oceanside Retreat.:233
Puna has a high percentage of lower-income residents, and the District of Puna is regarded as a place of opportunity for affordable housing. Many of the subdivision lots offer some of the lowest price home sites in Hawaiʻi for owner-built housing. Approximately 85 percent of Hawaiʻi Island's Section 8 low-income rental housing certificate holders are Puna residents. Nevertheless, there are still many residents without adequate housing. Opportunities for retaining and expanding the stock of affordable housing are narrowing as land values rise in Puna and government housing subsidies shrink.
Puna's natural environment is dominated by volcanic activity, unique geological events and formations, and a variety of plant communities that provide habitat for native species. Eruptions of Kīlauea and the nearby volcano Mauna Loa continue to shape the ecology of the region, and even the land itself. Rainfall is higher on the windward slopes of Kīlauea, while the leeward slopes, extending into Kaʻu, are relatively arid. The wetter side is covered by thick forests of ʻōhiʻa lehua trees and hāpuʻu tree ferns on all but the youngest of lava flows or cleared land. On the drier side, vegetation is more open, exposing the underlying geology.
A distinguishing feature of Puna's native forest is its interaction with repeated, relatively recent lava flows, creating varied ages of forests underlain by different compositions of lava flows, ash and explosion deposits. This, in turn, enriches biodiversity, especially in older stands of forest, known as kīpuka, that have been isolated by younger lava flows.
Some of the native animal and plant species present in Puna are endemic to Hawaiʻi, found nowhere else in the world. In addition, Puna harbors many other native species, such as the Pueo (Hawaiian Owl), the ʻAmakihi, the ʻApapane, and various insects, some of which are rare.
Puna's unique lava tube caves are a notable geological feature and popular attraction. Kazumura Cave is recognized as the world's longest lava cave at nearly 40 miles (60 km). The lava caves are also important as natural habitats for endemic cave-adapted species of insects and invertebrates. In addition, some of caves were used by ancient Hawaiians as burial sites for Aliʻi (royalty) and others.
Puna's geology and biological resources inspired reverence for the landscape by the original human inhabitants of Hawaiʻi. By cultural tradition, Kīlauea is the home of the goddess Pele, giving the volcano and its surroundings a sacred status. Ancient Hawaiians recognized Puna as the land of Pele, with human habitation subject to Pele's will. Makaʻāinana, or commoners, were free to relocate to other ahupuaʻa (the lands of another chief) when Pele reasserted her dominion over the land. A map dated from 1826 indicates 24 ahupuaʻa located around the entire coast of Puna. While human settlement from ancient times was concentrated in a wide band of habitation within about 3 miles (5 km) of the shoreline, areas near the volcano and upper reaches of forest were visited for gathering as well as spiritual purposes.
Hilo and Kaʻu are linked both geographically and historically through Puna. Prior to the arrival of western civilization there were routes which connected these two very different areas of the island through Puna. Many of the ancient trails, which are still protected as public land or with traditional access rights, connect areas of natural beauty that have cultural significance. Even though the 19th and 20th centuries brought rapid physical and cultural changes, some of the trails lead to remote spots that are important for traditional gathering and other cultural practices. The areas they traverse include some stands of fairly intact native vegetation with little modern development, offering a glimpse into the past.
Climate and weather
Climate in Puna varies with location (windward and leeward), and elevation (from sea level to over 4,000 feet). On the windward side, (the northern facing slopes of Kīlauea), rainfall is generally abundant (80 inches – 200 inches/year) with most of the rain falling around the 2,000 to 3,000 ft (910 m) elevation (averaging above 140 inches/year in this elevation). On the leeward side, the southern facing slopes of the eastern rift of Kīlauea, there is significantly less rainfall (usually 40–80 inches). This reduced rainfall and cloud cover means there is a greater amount of direct sunlight received in the leeward areas than in the windward areas.
The climate along the coastal areas from sea level to about 500 feet (150 m) in elevation tends to be a mild tropical climate with fairly significant amounts of rain and milder temperatures. Rainfall amounts increase significantly on the windward facing slopes as one increases in elevation, with average rainfall amounts peaking at the 2,800-foot (850 m) elevation, (near Glenwood). Noticeable cooling from sea level temperatures begins at around 1,000 feet (300 m) with temperatures decreasing as one increases elevation, towards the summit of Kīlauea. The coolest temperatures in Puna tend to be near Volcano Village, which is around 4,000 feet (1,200 m) in elevation.
Trade winds, which blow from the northeast to the southwest, are the common wind throughout most days on the windward side of Puna. In the evenings, cooler air from the slopes of Mauna Loa sinks down toward Puna and this phenomenon causes air colder than normal to come down into Puna, dropping temperatures as much as 25°F overnight from the temperature at sunset.
Several locations flood during periods of heavy rainfall throughout Puna. Flooding in Puna is short lived, due to the high porosity of the volcanic rock and the lack of any significant soil to retain or hold the water. The lava flows on the slopes of Kīlauea are the newest on the island and therefore the amount of soil in this area is significantly reduced compared to other areas of the island which are much older. The slopes on Kīlauea have not had the time needed to erode yet and to form regularly running streams.
Extensive tracts of Puna's landscape were transformed when Western contact brought large-scale resource exploitation and agriculture in successive waves. Sandalwood export began in 1790, reaching its peak between 1810 and 1825. After Hawaiʻi's first forestry law in 1839 restricted the removal of sandalwood trees, cattle ranching and coffee cultivation became the leading commercial activities. By 1850, agriculture diversified with the cultivation of potatoes, onions, pumpkins, oranges, and molasses.
Coffee and sugar days
Before 1900, coffee was the chief agricultural crop in the area. Over 6,000 acres (9 sq mi) of coffee trees were owned by approximately 200 independent coffee planters and 6 incorporated companies.
In 1899, the Olaʻa Sugar Company was founded. The coffee trees were uprooted to make way for sugarcane. ʻŌhiʻa forests also had to be cleared, field rock piled, land plowed by mules or dug up by hand with a pick. Sugarcane was in large-scale production. In 1960, the company would be renamed the Puna Sugar Company due to a jinxed feeling of the name Olaʻa. The sugar mill operation ran for just over 80 years, until 1984. The plantation fields extended for 10 miles (20 km) along both sides of Highway 11 between Keaʻau and Mountain View (from sea level to 2,200 feet), as well as in the Pāhoa and Kapoho areas.
Within the last 15 years, some farmers began farming coffee again in the District of Puna, primarily in the Hawaiian Acres subdivision. Coffee has become an increasingly popular product to grow in Puna and some people seem to prefer Puna coffee over other Hawaiian coffee. Whether Puna coffee will return to the significant size of the 19th century has yet to be determined.
Macadamia and papayas
Macadamia nuts and papaya were introduced in 1881 and 1919 respectively. Since the closure of the Puna Sugar Company in 1991, papaya and macadamia nuts have become the leading cash crops of Puna (along with cannabis). About 97% of the state's papaya production occurs in Puna, primarily in the Kapoho area. The closure of sugar production in Puna potentially opened a large amount of agriculture land to a more diversified industry, although much of the former plantation land lies unused and covered predominantly by non-native trees, shrubs and grasses.
Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Corporation has been running their macadamia growing operation out of Keaʻau continuously since 1948, with their first harvest in 1956. Their operation has grown to almost 10,000 acres (40 km2) of orchards on the slopes of the Mauna Loa volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii, on the Puna side of the border with the South Hilo district, just outside of Hilo town. This is also the location of the primary nut processing plant for the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Corporation, which is now owned by The Hershey Company.
A variety of growing conditions supports diversified agriculture in Puna. Presently, Puna produces at least 40 different agricultural products including cut flowers, fruits, vegetables, and livestock. While the district is generally a wet, warm climate, drier conditions at lowland areas such as Kapoho are ideal for cultivating papaya, whereas wetter, cooler conditions in the Volcano area are suitable for growing crops that cannot thrive in many other areas of Hawaiʻi. Even the wettest of areas have produced well under greenhouse cover. Also, due to volcanic activity, the age of the soils varies considerably throughout Puna, with corresponding variations in inherent natural fertility and tendency to resist weeds.
The cut flower industry is a large part of the agricultural market in Puna. Orchids and anthuriums, some which are very rare, are the bulk of the cut flower market. Many types of agricultural products are sent out every day from Puna, via FedEx at Hilo International Airport, to customers all around the world.
Hawaiian Springs has their headquarters and main bottling plant located in Keaʻau. The water is artesian, pumped directly from the aquifer to the bottling facility. It is 100% natural water bottled in Hawaiʻi at the source. Hawaiian Springs natural artesian water is distributed throughout Hawaii and is now available in select U.S. mainland and international markets.
Residential living in Puna
The recent pattern of residential development and population growth in Puna is the result of widespread land subdivision within the past half-century. Between 1958 and 1973, more than 52,500 subdivision lots were created. Since that time, nearly 2,500 of these lots have been covered by lava flows or have been rendered unbuildable by shoreline subsidence, reflecting the risks of building on a landscape subject to volcanic and seismic hazards. Moreover, most subdivision lots are accessed by private, unpaved roads. The streets generally lack sidewalks and lighting, and do not meet current Hawaiʻi County standards in terms of pavement width, vertical geometrics, drainage and other design parameters. None of the subdivisions have central sewer systems, and only a couple have private water systems. Most lots rely on individual water catchment systems supplemented with private delivery trucks for potable water. Large sections of some subdivisions are off the power grid.
Despite the natural hazards and rudimentary infrastructure and services in these subdivisions, build-out of the lots has been occurring, especially within the northeast quadrant of Puna (from Keaʻau to Pāhoa) and in the vicinity of Volcano where the highest rates of population growth have been occurring. Puna is experiencing the fastest rate of growth of all the districts in the County of Hawaiʻi. The U.S. Census population count in 2000 for Puna was 27,232. The 2010 U.S. Census results shows the population in Puna to now be 45,326, an increase of 66% in 10 years. By 2030, the population is projected to grow to approximately 75,000. Since only about one-quarter of the available lots have been developed at present, it is clear that these extensive subdivisions present formidable challenges to the natural environment and the rational management of development for future population growth.
The planning challenge
If Puna continues to develop at the present rate within the framework of the extensive subdivisions, there will be several significant, long-term consequences.
- An increasing number of people and property improvements are being put at risk due to natural hazards. All of Puna lies within the three most hazardous geological risk zones: Lava Hazard Zones 1, 2 and 3 (LF1, LF2, and LF3). About 6,400 subdivision lots lie in the highest hazard zone, LF1, and over 500 of these are exposed to additional risks from subsidence, tsunami and earthquakes. The fact 2,038 lots in the lower hazard zone LF2 have been covered or cut off by lava flows in recent decades underscores the hazardous nature of much of the district.
- Because Puna's subdivisions are so large and have few arterial streets, evacuation of residents on short notice in the event a lava flow, earthquake, tsunami or hurricane is a significant problem with potentially serious consequences to public safety. The potential problem worsens as subdivision lots continue to develop and no infrastructure improvements are made.
- As more lots are developed, an increasing number of residents expect improved infrastructure. The cumulative impact of widespread use of cesspools on the quality of the aquifer and coastal waters is undetermined. Retrofitting infrastructure improvements is expensive, and not all residents are willing to either bear the cost or accept the transition from a rural setting to one that is more suburban.
- Because subdivision lots were sold in their undeveloped state rather than with dwellings, development has occurred in an uneven, "leap-frog" pattern, which makes it even more difficult to develop infrastructure and provide services to the population. Residents often must make long trips to employment, schools, shopping and other destinations to meet daily needs.
- While most of these subdivisions are on agricultural-zoned lands, the actual use of developed lots is predominantly residential. As residential development continues on these lots yet to be built on, it will be more difficult for existing small-lot agricultural uses to remain viable due to complaints from neighbors about nuisance effects of agricultural operations and potential increases in crop theft or vandalism.
Puna contains large areas of largely intact natural area that comes under the protection of Federal and State regulations; for example:
- The western portion of Puna is dominated by Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park and the adjoining upper east Hawaiʻi rainforest. The Park was designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as an International Biosphere Reserve in 1980, reflecting its value for research and protection of evolutionary resources, and as a World Heritage Site in 1987, citing its geological resources.
- The State of Hawaiʻi designated two areas adjoining the Park as Natural Area Reserves—Kahaualeʻa and Puʻu Makaʻala—meeting the same standards of resource quality and protective management as the Biosphere Reserve.
- The State of Hawaiʻi also manages several other forest reserves in Puna comprising 131,659 acres (533 km2): Upper Waiakea Forest Reserve, Waiakea Forest Reserve, Olaʻa Forest Reserve-Mountain View Section, Nanawale Forest Reserve, Mālama Kī Forest Reserve, Keauʻohana Forest Reserve, and the recently acquired Wao Kele O Puna Forest Reserve.
- The State Conservation District, which encompasses almost all of the above areas as well as some additional lands, is organized as a regulatory hierarchy under the jurisdiction of the Hawaiʻi Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR). There are five subzones of the Conservation District, each intended to provide a degree of regulatory protection that reflects the intactness or relative significance of the resources that are present in those subzones. About half of Puna's Conservation District is in the Protective Subzone, which is the most restrictive of the five subzones in terms of allowable uses. The remainder is in either the Limited Subzone, which is designated for areas with potential high risk of natural hazard, or the Resource Subzone, which is generally applied to less intact forest reserves.
- The Conservation District also includes the submerged lands beneath coastal waters. DLNR's Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands therefore addresses shoreline and near-shore issues and regulations. The Hawaiʻi Department of Health (DOH) is responsible for monitoring and protecting the quality of the waters themselves under the authority of the Federal Clean Water Act.
The remainder of Puna – about 56% of the entire land area of the district – lies predominately within the State Agricultural District and, to a lesser extent, in the State Urban and Rural Districts. The County has primary jurisdiction over land use and development in these Districts and can take proactive measures to protect resources in these areas, which encompass former agricultural fields and pastures, early towns and villages, extensive partially developed subdivisions, and large tracts of native forest.
While much of the natural environment and some of the cultural heritage of these areas has been altered and compromised, effective and timely intervention can do much to prevent further degradation and possibly even restore some of what has been lost or undergoing change.
Historic, cultural, and scenic resources
Only nine sites in Puna are listed on the Hawaiʻi and/or National Register of Historic Places, but many other sites throughout the district have been identified as having historic significance.
Puna's coastal areas have relatively dense concentrations of historical, cultural, and burial sites. Burial sites and cultural artifacts are not uncommon on subdivision lots, although many are hidden in lava tubes, making them susceptible to destruction due to grading. While the State Historic Preservation Division (SHPD) plays a role in reviewing construction permits, Hawaiʻi State law requires that construction activity be halted in the event of discovery of archaeological remains.
Puna's history is also evident in the architecture of its older towns and villages, namely Keaʻau, the Kurtistown-Mountain View corridor, Pāhoa, and Volcano. Each of these places has a distinctive design character that reflects its history and location. Volcano presently has a small, legally recognized historic district, but otherwise there are no special design controls to preserve the design character of these towns.
Scenic natural settings are numerous in Puna, but they are, for the most part, protected by existing land use controls or public land agencies. Trails and scenic byways deserve special mention, since they are continuous visual experiences along a designated corridor and are particularly vulnerable to loss.
There are no hospital facilities in the District of Puna. With a growing population, Puna needs more social and health care services within the District of Puna boundaries. Yet, there are two major challenges to making them accessible to residents:
- As a rural area with a rudimentary transportation system and dispersed population, it is difficult for residents in need to reach the services; and
- Puna's high percentage of low-income residents tends to increase the need for social services, yet discourages private health care providers from locating in Puna due to insurance issues.
Public safety and sanitation services in Puna
Public safety and sanitation services in Puna have needed to adapt to the widely dispersed settlement pattern in the District of Puna and the poor road conditions throughout most of the subdivisions. It is neither cost-efficient nor practical for the County of Hawaiʻi to provide a sufficient number of police, fire and paramedical facilities with associated staffing and equipment to provide coverage to all populated areas with the response times that are typical of urban or most suburban areas. Therefore, County services are supplemented with community policing programs and volunteer fire stations, usually with at least some degree of County assistance in the form of training, equipment and/or personnel.
There are no public wastewater treatment systems in Puna. Similarly, there is no municipal house-to-house solid waste collection service. Most homes have a septic tanks or cesspools for wastewater. The County provides solid waste transfer stations located in Pāhoa, Glenwood, Volcano, Kalapana, and Keaʻau. Until recently, all solid waste was disposed in landfills. Following previous upgrades to the Keaʻau solid waste transfer station the County upgraded the Pāhoa, Glenwood, and Volcano facilities in late 2007 to support recycling, including an improved redemption center for bottles and cans, collection bins for scrap metal, mixed recyclables, and green waste.
A new fire station was recently opened in 2010 just outside of Pāhoa on Highway 130. A new police station, directly adjacent to the fire station, also opened in May, 2011.
Parks and recreation in Puna
Puna contains most of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which is the premier nature park in the Hawaiian Islands (although the actual entrance to the park is located in the District of Kaʻu). Added to the inventory of nature parks are the State-owned MacKenzie State Recreation Area (13.1 acres (53,000 m2)), located between Pohoiki and Opihikao at the edge of the Mālama-Kī Forest Reserve, and Lava Tree State Monument (17.1 acres (69,000 m2)), located near the junction of Kapoho-Pahoa Road and Pohoiki Road. There is also an undeveloped State parcel of 78.3 acres (320,000 m2) located adjacent to Honolulu Landing along the Puna Coast Road between Kapoho and the Hawaiian Shores subdivision that at one time had been provided to the County of Hawaiʻi by the State through Executive Order for development as a park.
The County owns smaller shoreline parks: two undeveloped sites within Hawaiian Paradise Park, Isaac Hale Beach Park, located adjacent to Pohoiki Bay, and the nearby Ahalanui Park site, which was purchased in 1993 to replace the two former parks (Kaimū Beach Park and Harry K. Brown Park) that were destroyed by lava flows.
There are few community parks in the District of Puna for active recreation. The largest public facilities are the County's W. H. Shipman Park in Keaʻau and Pāhoa Park, which includes a pool and a neighborhood center for meetings, programs and indoor recreational activities. The County of Hawaiʻi maintains a gymnasium at Mountain View, outdoor basketball courts at Kurtistown and Hawaiian Beaches, and tennis courts at Kurtistown and Keaʻau.
The Department of Education maintains recreational facilities at their schools in Keaʻau, Pāhoa and Mountain View, but these are primarily for use by students and not always available for general community use. There are also some recreational facilities owned and maintained by community associations. Some subdivisions contain undeveloped parcels that have been set aside for future community use, including parks. However, funds have not been available to develop significant facilities on them, either from private or public sources.
Energy demands in Puna
Puna's energy demand continues to rise because of rapidly increasing residential development. The cost of installing and maintaining the electrical grid is very high because of weather, vegetation, and the relatively great distances from house to house. Many people live "off-the-grid", where dwellings are not connected to the electrical power service provided by the local utility company Hawaiian Electric Light Company (HELCO), particularly in more remote locations. While many residences remain unconnected to the power grid, some choose to connect to the grid to supply at least a portion of their power needs or to provide back-up power.
There are two power generation facilities in Puna: HELCO's Puna Steam Plant and the geothermal power generation source at Kapoho, operated by Puna Geothermal Venture (PGV).
The first geothermal well in Hawaiʻi tapping volcanic steam for energy was drilled in 1976 in the District of Puna. Today six wells now provide over 25% of Hawaiʻi County's power. 
Transportation in Puna
Sprawl development is increasingly evident in the travel patterns of Puna residents. At present, most of Puna's workforce commutes by personal vehicle to employment locations outside of the District, primarily to Hilo. Residents also make frequent trips to Hilo for shopping and services. About a quarter of the workforce carpools, but congestion is growing along Puna's principal corridors during peak commute periods.
State highways are the primary transportation routes. Highway 11 between Kurtistown and Hilo and Highway 130 between Pāhoa and Keaʻau carry the greatest amount of traffic during peak commuting periods. Most roads in Puna's nonconforming subdivisions are privately owned, often in poor physical condition and not designed for through traffic. There are many missing connections between the road networks of adjacent subdivisions. The present circulation network, combined with the district's sprawl development pattern, results in a number of problems.
- There is a lack of alternative routes for emergency access, especially when highways are blocked by a traffic crash or downed utility pole, or when there is a natural disaster such as a hurricane, tsunami, lava flow or earthquake that requires evacuation.
- Highways become more congested during peak periods due to the lack of alternative roadways.
- Highway intersections with substandard private streets are dangerous due to inadequate lighting or intersection controls, combined with high traffic speed along the highway.
- It is difficult for the County's Mass Transit Agency (MTA) to operate an efficient Hele-On Bus service that offers a viable travel option for a large number of Puna residents, especially those in more remote areas.
- There are few facilities for walking or bicycling, even in more built-up areas.
- It can be life-threatening to cross Highways 130 and 11 on foot. This is particularly true for youth, the elderly and the disabled.
Poor road conditions, combined with incomplete connectivity in the street system and a dispersed pattern of development, make it challenging to devise and sustain a viable mass transit system for Puna. The County's Hele-On bus operates a Hilo-Pāhoa route along Highway 130 five times a day, and a Hilo-Kaʻu route along Highway 11 once a day. These long, circuitous routes, while providing reasonably good coverage to more remote areas, also result in high operating costs and lengthy trip time that discourages ridership. While the 2000 United States Census indicated that less than 1% of Puna's workforce commuted by bus, ridership more than doubled after the County initiated a free fare service between Pāhoa and Hilo in 2005.
The County Mass Transit Agency (MTA) is currently planning significant system improvements by converting to a hub-and-spoke system, consisting of the following elements:
- Large Hele-On coaches operating frequent runs on a shorter route between Hilo and a primary Puna "hub" at Keaʻau and secondary hubs at Pāhoa and other village centers near highways,
- Paratransit vans to pick up passengers who have called in from outlying areas to be brought to one of the transit hubs,
- Central coordination by MTA of all paratransit services, including those operated by social service agencies for designated residents with special needs,
- Park-and-ride lots at transit hubs and possibly other locations.
Presently, the County maintains nearly 188 miles (300 km) of roads in Puna, including some that serve as collector roads and emergency access routes, as well as some local paved streets in a limited number of subdivisions. Roads within most subdivisions are privately owned and maintained by community road maintenance associations. Most of the roads are narrow and lack paving, lighting, traffic control signs and drainage systems. In many sections, there is inadequate sight distance due to sharp curves or irregular road gradients. There is also poor roadway connectivity between most subdivisions, which means that one must take a circuitous route to travel from one subdivision to another. This, in turn, puts an additional strain on the highways and the few collector streets in the network. Of greater concern to public safety in an area prone to natural hazards, there are few alternative routes for emergency access and evacuation. The rapidly developing subdivisions whose principal access is Highway 130 are of particular concern.
There are four highways within the district of Puna:
- Volcano Highway (Highway 11), which provides access to and from Hilo, serves the upper Puna region, and connects Puna to Ka'u;
- Puna Road (Highway 130), which runs from Kea'au to Kalapana-Kaimu, providing access from upper to lower Puna;
- Kapoho Road (Highway 132), which spans between Pāhoa and Kapoho; and
- Puna Coast Road (Highway 137), which links Kapoho to Kalapana-Kaimu.
Highways 11 and 130 are under the jurisdiction of the State of Hawaiʻi Department of Transportation (DOT).
Non-motorized travel and scenic byways
Within Puna, bicycle and pedestrian facilities are very limited. Two multi-use trails of significant length are planned. One is the restoration and improvement of Old Volcano Trail, which roughly parallels Highway 11 for a length of about 14 miles (23 km) between Keaʻau and Volcano. The other is Puna Railroad Bikeway, which, as the name implies, follows the alignment of the former railroad and a portion of Railroad Avenue, and would extend between Kapoho and Hilo, traversing Hawaiian Paradise Park (HPP). The first project is now underway, but the second project requires acquisition of a substantial amount of right-of-way from private owners before it can proceed.
Recent lava activity
The current eruption has been going on since 1983. Recent Kilauea Status Reports, Updates, and Information Releases are published daily by the Hawaii Volcano Observatory Historic photos and details of previous flows are also available on that website. As of October 4, 2014, the "Current Volcano Alert Level" was set at "WARNING", due to lava flowing towards the village of Pahoa.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, when constructed, had two entrances. The entrance from lower Puna was cut off in 1986, and several miles of the road along the ocean were covered by several flows that occurred over the course of the eruption. Tourists are particularly interested in observing the lava when it is flowing into the ocean and where they can get a close look. To find out where the flow is currently going and best places to park, consult the links provided.
Lava flows have continued to add new land to the old shoreline in an intermittent fashion, with lava constantly changing directions and sometimes relocating into new areas. The lava itself and the new land it creates can be hazardous, and anyone visiting the area should consult publication Volcanic Hazards on the Island of Hawai`i
Additionally, the Volcano Observatory website is the best place to check for any closures at the summit of Kīlauea. Occasionally, portions of Crater Rim Drive are closed due to activity and venting of gas inside of Halemaʻumaʻu Crater. Trails may also be closed, including several trails that lead inside and across the Kīlauea Caldera.
Affordable Land & Housing
Between 2002 and 2006 the price of houses throughout the District of Puna often doubled and the price of vacant land in many areas of Puna increased anywhere from two to fivefold. Increasing numbers of people from outside the District of Puna, many from the mainland U.S., bought into the last affordable market in the state. However, despite this rise, overall, Puna continues to remain one of the least expensive areas of Hawaiʻi.
Two common misconceptions about Puna are frequently cited with no supporting evidence.[original research?] One belief is that the area's rainfall helps depress land values and the other is that the risk of volcanic flow from Kilauea deters buyers. Both beliefs are false.
If rain was a valid factor, one would expect places in Hawaii that received more rain to be less desirable than Puna. However, Hawaii's rainiest spot is also one of the most expensive. Princeville, Hawaii on Kauai's North Shore had estimated median house or condo value in 2009 of $865,280. Meanwhile drier and sunnier Puna had median or condo values in 2009 of only $230,612.
If volcanic risk was a valid factor, one would expect to find inexpensive homes in the riskiest areas. However, the reverse is true. Kapoho, Hawaii is right in the middle of the riskiest of all lava zones and the original town was inundated in 1960. Yet despite obvious and recent lava flow activity, Kapoho is the most expensive area of Puna with many homes going for over $1,000,000.
Leilani Estates, Hawaii is also in the riskiest zone, however, this neighborhood is considered by the Leilani Estates Association to be one of the most desirable with a very active community association. Trees in Leilani Estates date back hundreds of years and only about 25% of the riskiest zone received a fresh surface in the last 200 years.
To help guarantee the availability of homeowners insurance, the State of Hawaii formed the Hawaii Property Insurance Association (HPIA). Every provider of homeowners insurance in Hawaii is required to participate in this organization. All policies issued in Hawaii at a minimum must provide the same coverage outlined in the standard form fire insurance policy as authorized and in effect in the State of New York on December 31, 1943, and extended coverage endorsement.  No one back in 1943 thought to write in an exclusion for volcanic activity in the State of New York, and as a consequence no insurance firms can use that as an excuse to deny a claim of fire caused by lava flow. All homeowners regardless of where they live in Hawaii have this protection despite what they may read in their policy fine print.
HPIA policies are sold via independent insurance representatives in Hawaii. HPIA caps insurance replacement coverage at $350,000. Homeowners also have the option of buying comprehensive policies with higher liability limits than HPIA through insurers like Lloyds of London.
Lava Zones in Hawaii
The United States Geological Survey classified the Island of Hawaiʻi into one of 9 different "Lava Zones". The map broadly outlines the probability of lava flow depending on the activity level of the 5 different volcanoes that form the Hawaiʻi Island. Zone 1 represents the most likely to suffer damage and Zone 9 the least.
Areas where lava is likely to erupt directly from below are considered to be Zone 1. In Puna, Zone 1 is also known as the East-Rift Zone and it extends from the top of Kilauea through Kapoho and down into the sea. Zone 2 is directly down-slope from this zone.
Most property damage owing to recent flow activity has occurred in Puna. Sections of Kapoho were inundated in 1960, and an area known as Kalapana and Kaimū were effected by the current eruption that has been going on since 1983. Only approximately 10% or 50 square miles (100 km2) out of the 500 square miles (1,000 km2) of Puna have been covered by lava flows since 1790 when George Washington was still President of the US. Since 1983 the current flow has taken 190 structures.
Fresh water in Puna
Living in Puna has other unique considerations. For example, many homes in the District of Puna are located within private subdivisions which do not have any county or privately provided water services. Most homes within these subdivisions rely on rainwater catchment for their daily household water requirements. This proves feasible for many residents who live there because the amount of rainfall which occurs generally allows for an ample supply of water. However, this lack of residential water service and fire hydrants has been an ongoing issue with some homeowner insurance companies in regards to meeting the demands of firefighting, which could cause higher insurance premiums in some areas. During times of drought this can become problematic as the catchment tanks will run dry. Water then has to be delivered to homes by one of several privately owned water trucks. The water delivered by the truck is "free", however a delivery fee will be charged which runs anywhere from $100–$125 for around 3,500 gallons of water to be delivered to a home and placed in the tank.
Due to the lack of infrastructure requirements for most of the original landowners who created these "subdivisions", many large residential communities were created within the District of Puna which were completely off-grid and essentially severed from any county services. At the time these subdivisions were created during the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s, many people thought this wouldn't be a big issue. As time has moved forward these subdivisions have significantly increased in population.
US Mail in Puna
US Mail service for many Puna residents (especially within the numerous private subdivisions) is usually to a clustered central mailbox at various points within the subdivisions, addressed as a HC or (Highway Contract) delivery address, rather than mail delivery to an actual residence. While these private cluster boxes are controlled by the USPS, mail to these locations is delivered via a private contractor and not the USPS directly, (hence the HC).
US Postal Service post office boxes located within one of the local post offices are only available in a limited capacity from Keaʻau, Pāhoa, Kurtistown, Mountain View, and Volcano. The USPS has been inundated with requests for post office boxes, which they do not have available, prompting waiting lists for many people to get a private post office box. The USPS accommodates those residents who are unable to be provided with a private post office box an option to have their mail delivered to their local post office addressable to "General Delivery". The resident (or their designated representative) would then be required to come inside their local post office during business hours to collect any mail addressed as General Delivery.
Increasing utilities in Puna
With a steadily increasing population over the last 20 years throughout Puna, a demand for more readily available electric and telephone services became apparent. Utility companies continued to bring in more services as the population in the area grew. Services such as high-speed cable and DSL internet access, which were practically unavailable in Puna only 10 years ago, have become a more common feature throughout the District of Puna. Areas which used to have party-line telephone service as recent as 10 years ago, have now advanced forward into the digital age. However, there are still several areas throughout Puna which are completely off-grid, (without utility company services of any type). Many people in these areas seem to prefer the disconnected lifestyle and say it reminds them of a Hawaiʻi from long ago.
Due to this increased availability of services throughout the area, combined with significantly lower prices of real estate and a boom in the housing market in the late 1990s to early 2000s, home and land sales in Puna would skyrocket to levels never before seen from 2002 to 2006. This large volume of sales would significantly slow down after the real estate crisis hit the rest of the country in 2007.
There are many non-native plants which are thriving throughout the District of Puna. Another tree of notable mention is the invasive species Falcataria moluccana known locally in Puna as Albizia, or the "Tree that Ate Puna".
A major floral product seen in Puna is the cannabis plant, as this has been a main underground staple of the Puna economy since the days of the sugar industry. Local law enforcement of "guerilla gardeners" of cannabis (also known as marijuana or pakalolo in Hawaiian) has been an ongoing battle in Puna. This continuous method of marijuana eradication from the air by helicopters has enraged many local residents throughout the years.
Pāhoa and many areas throughout Puna have been known to be populated by "hippies" or people who are into the "counter-culture". There is a significant cannabis movement in Puna. There are a few communities who practice communal lifestyle habits and there is a significantly large vegetarian or vegan community. Additionally, there are several yoga studios and health food stores located in an around Pāhoa.
Census-designated places and other areas within Puna
Due to the land development from many years ago, Puna has the largest number of available building lots on the Island of Hawaiʻi, numbering in over 50,000 buildable lots. Many of these subdivisions were created from the large tracts of private landowners who were able to arrange deals to create subdivisions without any major infrastructure requirements. Little thought was given at the time in the late 1950s of what would happen when people would actually move there to the slopes of Kīlauea.
- Black Sands
- Eden Roc
- Fern Acres
- Fern Forest
- Hawaiian Acres
- Hawaiian Beaches
- Hawaiian Paradise Park
- Mountain View
- Nānāwale Estates
- Volcano Village
Puna places of interest
Besides visiting the active Kīlauea volcano and the currently active lava flows in the area of Kalapana, another interesting site within the Puna district are the heated tide pools at Ahalanui Beach Park (aka Puʻalaʻa County Park), where spring water has been naturally heated through geothermal energy and this mixes with ocean water along the shoreline. Prior to the eruption in 1960 at Kapoho, the pools were not heated but were cold.
- Ahalanui Beach Park
- Akatsuka Orchid Gardens
- Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, (the entrance is actually inside the district of Kaʻū)
- Hilo Coffee Mill, Mountain View
- Issac Hale Beach Park (Pohoiki)
- J. Hara Store, Kurtistown
- Kalani Honua Retreat Center
- Keaʻau Shopping Center
- MacKenzie State Recreation Area
- Makuʻu Farmer's Market
- Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Corporation
- Lava Tree State Monument
- Pāhoa Park
- Puna Hongwanji Mission
- Star of the Sea Painted Church
- Ulua Theatre, Volcano Village
- Volcano Skate Park
- W. H. Shipman Park
Notable people from Puna
- Jason Scott Lee, Actor, owner and creator of Ulua Theatre, Volcano Village resident 
- William "Billy" Kenoi, Mayor of Hawaiʻi County (2008–present)
- Harry Kim, Mayor of Hawaiʻi County (2000–2008)
- Joseph Nāwahī, Native Hawaiian legislator, newspaper publisher, and painter
- Emily Naeole, Hawaiʻi County Councilwoman 
- Abra Moore, Folk-styled rock singer-songwriter
- William H. Shipman, Founder of W. H. Shipman Ltd., agricultural entrepreneur, and major private land owner in Puna
- Herbert C. Shipman, Son of W. H. Shipman, known for saving nēnē through breeding at the Shipman Estate
- Hawaii County Data Book
- Mary Kawena Pukui and Samuel Hoyt Elbert (2003). "lookup of puna". in Hawaiian Dictionary. Ulukau, the Hawaiian Electronic Library, University of Hawaii Press., Mary Kawena Pukui, Samuel Hoyt Elbert and Esther T. Mookini (2004). "lookup of Puna". in Place Names of Hawai'i. Ulukau, the Hawaiian Electronic Library, University of Hawaii Press.
- Puna Community Development Plan Chapter 3 pg 3-1
- Puna Community Development Plan Chapter 3 pg 3–8
- Yamamoto, Luci, and Gorry, Conner. 2011. Lonely Planet Discover Hawaii the Big Island (Travel Guide). Lonely Planet Publications. ISBN 978-1742204659.
- Puna Community Development Plan Chapter 3 pg 3–12
- [[Community Management Associates for the County of Hawaiʻi , Puna Community Development Plan Technical Report, 1995.]]
- Puna Community Development Plan Introduction pg 1-1
- Hawaiʻi Department of Agriculture – History of Agriculture in Hawaiʻi
- Hawaii Sugar Planters' Association, Plantation Archives – Register of the Puna/Olaa Sugar Company
- County of Hawaiʻi agricultural website regarding coffee
- Fact sheet from The Hershey Company website about Mauna Loa macadamia nuts
- Special to KPUA.net by H.I.E.D.B Hawaii Island Economic Development Board
- Hawaiian Springs – Our Story page
- Hawaiian Springs Water Locater
- Puna Community Development Plan Introduction pg 1–2 & 1–3
- Puna Community Development Plan Introduction pg 1–4 & 1–5
- Puna Community Development Plan Chapter 2 pg 2-1 & 2-2
- Puna Community Development Plan Chapter 2 pg 2–3
- Puna Community Development Plan Chapter 3 pg 3–11
- Puna Community Development Plan Chapter 3 pg 3–14
- Puna Community Development Plan Chapter 3 pg 3–15 & 3–16
- Puna Community Development Plan Chapter 3 pg 3–19
- Geothermal Venture, Puna
- Puna Community Development Plan Chapter 4 pg 4-1
- Puna Community Development Plan Chapter 4 pg 4-3
- Puna Community Development Plan Chapter 4 pg 4–5
- Puna Community Development Plan Chapter 4 pg 4–8
- USGS website with detailed historical account of Kīlauea lava flows
- Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park – Closed Areas & Advisories
- Princeville Hawaii House Prices
- Pahoa Home Values
- Leilani Estates Association
- Puna Guide
- State of Hawaii Insurance Statutes
- State of Hawaii Insurance Statutes
- Starbulletin April 22, 2007, article on Puna
- Article on Property Insurance in Puna
- Lava flow zone hazard maps USGS
- Hazard zones for lava flows on Kilauea USGS
- USGS Summary of the Pu`u `Ō `ō-Kupaianaha Eruption, 1983–present
- College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR) University of Hawaii at Manoa
- Free CTAHR Publications
- The Tree that Ate Puna
- Botanical entry for Albizia moluccana
- Comment about hippie hangouts in Hawaii
- Midweek Magazine Cover Story
- Hawaiʻi County Council Biography