Big Island

Puna: A Hidden Gem

Puna, located on the Hilo side of the Big Island, is unchartered territory for many people, even Big Island locals. Heck, even Hilo locals!

View from our listing in Kapoho. MLS # 611867 Asking $1,590,000

My Childhood in Puna

I spent part of my childhood in Puna. I enjoyed playing in the bushes; building forts and bridges across puddles in my yard; I had 3 dogs and some cats. I’m certain my friends and I had THE BEST hide-n-go-seek games on the planet. And, I often explored our 3-acre lot, imagining I was a character in “The Never Ending Story.” No one ever worried about me. It was a child’s dream.

I never realized how “mysterious” Puna was until I got into real estate — I always liked living there and a lot of my friends lived, and still live, there. But, there are all sorts of funny ideas about the place; I’ve even heard the term “Punatic” thrown around-  referring to the people that live in Puna. Even funnier is, when you ask people why they think the way they do, they’ll often tell you they’ve never been to the area.

I’m not going to sit here and tell you that Puna is a perfect oasis. Like anywhere else, it has its negative points. But it’s also got so many incredible gems to discover.

Not much has changed in Puna since the ’90s

Maybe there are more houses these days. There’s also a McDonald’s, a Coffee Bean, and more grocery shopping opportunities in Pahoa.

For those who love to “support local,” there are two amazing farmers markets in the area: Makuu Market, on Sunday mornings and Uncle Roberts Farmers Market and Kava Bar, popular on Wednesday evenings. The last time I went to Uncle Roberts, I stuffed my face with all sorts of local favorites, drank kombucha and kava, and my niece got painted with Henna. Uncle Robert’s is a good time. My favorite new additions to the market are the Left Point Pizza (coal-fired pizza) and Kula Shave Ice (organic shave ice flavors) food trucks.

If you like to surf, you’ll be a happy clam. There are a few good surfing beaches to check out in Pohoiki. Or, if you’re not into surfing, you can lounge in one of the area’s “hot ponds” — natural springs warmed from the earth’s magma. One of the most popular of these is Ahalanui Hot Pond. Pohoiki is also home to the only boat ramp in Puna, so boaters, you’re welcome here too. Snorkeling Anyone? Check out Kapoho’s tide pools.

MLS: 611867

The little town of Pahoa (about 4o mins. outside of Hilo), features some eclectic people, but also some of my favorite restaurants on the entire island: From Thai food at Ning’s Thai Cuisine to Italian at Paulo’s Bistro (my 12-year-old nephew loves the lamb chops!), to Hawaiian-Asian fusion at Kaleo’s (the blackened Mahi wrap = so ono!), to Mexican at Luquin’s Mexican food truck.

Besides all the eating, the Puna district of the Big Island offers tons of gorgeous ocean views! Where else in the world can you buy nearly .5 acres of oceanfront land for under $300k; or, a turn-key oceanfront single-family home for under $1 million. Oh, and did I mention whale watching in the winter? It’s spectacular.

Prices for single-family homes in the Puna range from under $100k to just under $6 million (and, we’re talking about 16 acres of oceanfront gorgeousness), depending on the neighborhood and location.

Okay, since I promised some negatives, here goes:

Negative #1: The irony is, many people have never been to Puna, but A LOT of people live there; which means traffic can get heavy during typical rush- hour times. This doesn’t seem to bother people moving from the mainland or Oahu (as much) since they’re used to much heavier traffic; but, for local people, the traffic feels horrendous.

Negative #2: (Negative only depending on how you look at it.) Many of the neighborhoods don’t have CC&Rs; ie, restrictions on what you can, and can’t do, on your land. This is good for those who might want to raise farm animals, or live in an unconventional style home; but, chickens and goats make noise, and some people find these noises disturbing.

Negative #3: Some of the roads in Puna are not paved. If you see an exceptionally amazing deal, you might want to ask your realtor about the roads- the price could be an indication it’s on a bad one. Some areas can get pretty rough, especially during heavy rain. That said, many of the subdivisions are paving their roads, slowly but surely, so they won’t be that way forever.

Map of lava zones: Zones are ranked from 1-9; with 1 being the most at- risk for lava flows.

Negative #4: While not all of Puna is located in Lava zones 1 and 2, a good bit of it is. Zones 1 and 2 are situated in the rift zones of Kilauea and Mauna Loa, or adjacent to these rift zones. This makes it slightly harder to finance properties in the area (you probably need a larger down payment and FHA is a no-go here). It also means higher insurance rates. But, most experts will tell you Hawaii lava moves slow and is not life-threatening in Puna. I’m not saying you can get near it, so please don’t try to touch, or jump, in it! In that case, it will kill you! But, assuming you live on earth, you’re at risk of some sort of natural catastrophe no matter where you are. Hawaii lava is at the bottom of my “worry list” when it comes to “mother nature’s wrath.”

Personally, I think the “Puna-pros” far outweigh the “Puna-cons.” Seems like the “Punaticks” might be on to something, doesn’t it? If you’re curious to know if one of Puna’s neighborhoods might be a fit for you, feel free to call or email me for a free consultation. I’ll give you the rundown on neighborhood pros, cons, average lot sizes, CC&Rs, road conditions, etc.

But for now, mahalo for reading and a hui hou! Until we meet again!

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Patti Kam

April 25, 2018

My fave at Kaleo’s!! Blackened Mahi wrap!!!

Kealohanui Browning

April 26, 2018

Right!? I was surprised! Who would ever think such a common dish would be so yummy!?


April 26, 2018

Thanks for the article! I had the same feelings in Puna, to where we didn’t even visit it on our drive over to Hilo. We missed out.

Kealohanui Browning

April 26, 2018

Mahalo for reading!


April 26, 2018

You are so right, but you did forget about the drug problems in PUNA.
I spend all my vacations here, but it’s got crime issues.

Kealohanui Browning

April 26, 2018

Aloha Selena!

You’re right! If you spend time in Puna you will most likely come across drugs, and possibly some crime. And I definetly considered adding that to the list, but decided those problems are not a characteristic of Puna, it’s universal. I’ve encountered these problem everywhere I’ve lived. (I’ve lived in more than a few cities in the mainland and in Europe for a short period.) There isn’t a place I’ve been that doesn’t have drugs or crime. That said, there are definitely some small pockets of Puna I would not suggest exploring. But, there are so many more very lovely places! And, if you’re looking to move to the area, it’s our job as Realtors to guide you to an area where you feel safe and happy!

Mahalo Nui for reading and providing feedback!

Tracy Stice

April 26, 2018

Kealohanui, what a great article! Your passion for Puna really shows through in this blog. Many times I have visited, the first time in 1977 when you could drive the coastal route all the way to the black sand beach at Kalapana. Madam Pele changed that route and Kalapana as well. The coastal area in Puna is spectacular with so many great diving and fishing areas. Thanks for including the lava risk map. It gives a good picture to the lucky neighbor island agents who really don’t know a lot about lava, coqui frogs, or albezia trees. Keep writing and I will keep reading !

Kealohanui Browning

April 26, 2018

Aloha Tracy!

Mahalo for reading and also for the wonderful feedback! I really do appreciate it!

Nayelis M Castellanos

April 23, 2020

Thank you for this great informative article.
My wife and I are selling our house and will be visiting Hawaii next month to purchase a home. We are looking to go off grid and looking to buy something cash around 100k.I will be in touch as soon as we land. 🙂

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