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The Big Island's Puna district, located on its southeastern side, is a quiet haven of lush rainforest and lava, a forgotten enclave of alternative living where the dreadlocked and tie dyed set live in the shadow of an alarmingly active volcano.
Being on the east, the area receives buckets of rain, creating a misty, steaming landscape that teems with jungle-like foliage. Highways are narrow affairs that wind their way through the dense trees dripping with tangled vines and colourful flowers creating a jungle canopy that all but obscures the rain threatening sky. One will not find many mild mannered strips of fine sand here; on the island's east, the Pacific is a raging beast, slamming against the rough volcanic stone that forms the coast, trying with angry futility to break apart a land that is still being actively created. This lush landscape makes the transition to barren lava flow all the more dramatic.
Driving northeast from the national park, then turning south onto the highway that now ends abruptly where Kalapana once stood, one will periodically burst from the dripping rainforest onto barren plains of lifeless lava, old flows that have thoughtlessly ploughed their way over the thriving jungle to the sea. This stark transition between teeming life and sudden death is a common feature of this area, yet surprisingly, one will still find homes peacefully tucked into the forest, seemingly oblivious to the looming threat from above.
The highway ends rather abruptly at an eerie scene of devastation. Until 1990, a town existed here. A makeshift parking area has been set up for curious tourists wanting to get as close to the current flow of lava as possible. Only residents can proceed in their vehicles.
Beneath the rolling sea of shiny black stone, Kalapana once was. The devastation is complete, the scene ethereal; otherworldly. A few gravel roads traverse the rocky ground leading to a handful of small homes rebuilt by stubborn locals who refuse to leave their hometown, despite the fact that it is now entombed within 40 feet of hardened lava. Stern 'no trespassing' signs convey a quiet message to tourists. ("This is our home, not a tourist attraction") Some have managed to coax a little life out of the earth, but the dominant feature is stone, an endless sea of swirling blackness that stretches from the mountain to the sea.