Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Shipman/Ha’ena Beach, The Hidden Gem of Puna

The Big Island’s Ha’ena Beach, also known as Shipman Beach is one of the most scenic and least-visited beaches in Puna. It is a beautiful soft white and black sand crescent, fed with cool springs and two fresh water rivers along an otherwise rough lava cliff coast. It is surrounded by thousands of acres of the Shipman Estate, through which the roads are exclusively private.

While it is small, it is lovely and one of only a few sandy beaches in Puna. The cove is now more often called Shipman Beach, because W.H. Shipman Ltd. owns the land surrounding it. The Shipman family compound with two beautiful Traditional Hawaiian Homes overlooks the beach beyond a fresh spring fed lake, Nene preserve and massive grounds and gardens. One of the homes is a much older original home and the other is more recently built retaining the Hawaiian style. Both look like they have been there a very long time, nicely done! 

In the 1990s, the beach access was the subject of a series of demonstrations and confrontations between W.H. Shipman LTD. and community activists over public access via the one road to the beach, which the company claimed as private property. In 1994 it came to a head when during a Hawaiian "spiritual gathering" of over 125 people, 28 people were arrested for trespassing. Four years later, In 1998 the State Supreme Court upheld their conviction of this “crime.”

The hike to the beach is as much of a reason to visit the cove as the beach itself. The hike is is a 3-4 hour sojourn on one of the more remote and isolated coasts left in East Hawaii. The actual trail is a little over four miles long, but because of the rolling chunks of lava, thick sticky mud and huge puddles it takes some navigation skills and a bit of stamina.

The trail follows the right-of way of the Old Puna Government Road – also known as the Old Government Road, the Old Puna Government Beach Road, the old Puna Government Trail, the Ha’ena Trail or the Road to Ha’ena Village (it is thought that near this cove an ancient Hawaiian village called Ha’ena once thrived).

To reach the trailhead, Take Pahoa Highway (Hwy. 130) to Hawaiian Paradise Park, turn east on Kaloli and follow it nearly to its end, then turn left on to Beach Road – another section of the Old Government Road, still in use for vehicular traffic. There are several large rocks placed across the old gravel 4 WD portion of the Old Puna Government Road. The actual trailhead is beyond this point, but vehicles are no longer allowed beyond the rocks.

In July of 2008, there was quite a controversy about the placement of boulders across the drivable (4 WD) part of the road to the beach.

The road already existed in 1881 when William Herbert Shipman and partners bought 70,000 acres from the estate of King Lunalilo. Few people lived near there then.

In 1930, the Shipman company asked the territorial Land Court to fix the boundaries of the company's property. The court eventually recognized the 10-foot road but not trails from the road to the shore.

In the 1960’s the Shipman Estate sold off a chunk of it’s land holdings in this area, this is now Hawaiian Paradise Park. HPP has a bit of cliff shoreline, but no beaches. Most of it extends back through Puna amidst multiple flows of lava which residents have carved into, built and and planted over in the last 40+ years. The Shipman’s smartly kept the more fertile soil for themselves.

The Mauka (mountain side) trail is a 1-2 hour hike, depending on your agility, trail conditions (it can be very muddy) and weather. It goes straight from where the rocks are. The Makai (ocean) side trail goes to the right at the rocks and it is mostly over lava and in open sun, punctuated with ironwoods and hala groves. It takes even longer to navigate, but the scenery of the cliffs and ocean make the longer route desirable and our guide Sunny said you are REALLY ready for a good swim once you take that hike in!

After doing the Mauka side trail, I would suggest wearing shoes that easily navigate lava and muddy hills and some that are washable or expendable. This trail is easy to follow, but there are a lot of ups and downs over lava and mud. Mosquito repellent is probably a good idea, though I did not wear any and I was fine. You should bring water along too. It is not suggested to bring much else, unless you are planning a picnic or you may feel like a pack mule after a short time of hiking.

At the cove there is a grassy area in the shade and one rustic bench, but it is not large, so if you share the beach with others you will also be sharing this spot of grass. One thing to keep in mind when doing the Mauka trail, when the road forks (there are a few forks in the path) stay to the right and keep the ocean to your right.

The old 4WD portion of the trail starts out though an old pahoehoe lava flow. It is overgrown with grasses, guava saplings and an occasional surprise, many bamboo orchids which look a bit surreal in the dried grasses. There are several old abandoned cars and trucks along the path, proof of man’s stupidity either for dumping them there or thinking that driving this trail was even possible in anything but a high profile 4 WD. This first portion of the trail is out in the open without benefit of shade, but that is to come.

Before you know it, the landscape has changed. You are in the rainforest. Most of the rest of the journey will be spent in the shade of overarching trees, many are invasive species brought to Hawaii by unknowing fools. About ¼ of the way through the hike, you come across some yellow metal posts in the ground. There are a few ohia groves, particularly at the beginning, but most of the forest overstory is dominated by human-introduced invaders such as strawberry guava, ironwood and banyan trees. In low-lying areas, swamps develop and mangroves extend multiple legs out from their main trunks into the nurturing mud. As you walk, you clearly notice that there are natural “groves” of various trees that have procreated in the dense and welcoming warm wetness of the rain forest.

While you can hear the waves audibly for the entire hike, you rarely see a glimpse of blue sky or ocean once you enter the rain forest. There are detours on some of the fisherman’s trails that occasionally branch off to the right. If you have time, take one or two of these trails to the cliffs and take in the power and majesty of the ocean which has made it’s way over thousands of miles only to find land for the first time at this very spot. You may even see some whales if you are there from January through March. Our trip was in mid February and we saw a huge humpback breech three times in a row.

The Sierra Club and some college ecology classes have been maintaining the trail such as it is over the years. Without their help, it might grow over in some points. On our visit, about 2/3 of the way into the hike our guide, Sunny pointed out some ancient Hawaiian lava rock walls to our left which were barely discernable through the heavy overgrowth. However, a while down the trail someone had recently cut down everything within 12 feet of the old rock walls, from this point on, they were maintained, most likely by the Shipman Estate. This is where we saw a “No Tresspassing” sign. Somewhere hidden in the trees is supposedly a WW II concrete bunker, but we missed it on this trip, where our focus was to find the beach.

Suddenly, after a very long hike, the trees thin out in a wild grassy area and coconut palms reach to the sky, The trail opens out on Ha’ena Beach, a crescent of white soft sand with gentle waves lapping the sand. Thanks to the shelter from the sea wall of Giant Pahoehoe Rocks (WHO put them there is what I want to know!)

Inland from the cove you can see the Shipman homes and a beautiful small lake that serves as a refuge for nene geese. It’s illegal to approach, feed or harass the nene, though treat seeking geese have been known to approach and harass humans on occasion. We also saw chickens and ducks trotting about on the grass behind the bamboo fence and the no-trespassing signs. Just before we left the cove, a few ducks went for a stroll on the beach.

We were at the beach during low tide, which made it possible to walk across the main river of cold water coming from the estate’s lake over to the other side of the cove where sea walls had been constructed and banyan trees had taken over. The water is exceptionally clear and it is possible to see bubbling springs of fresh water coming up through the sand along the shore. DO NOT step into these springs, some are quite deep. The kids with us were old hands at this beach and would jump into these springs, suddenly sinking up to their chests in some cases. My friend Keith stuck his arm down one and then found it covered in black sand.

The sandy bottom is a treat in an otherwise rocky coastline. Most of the water is shallow, 1-3 feet deep and because of the springs and river, quite cold. But if you go out towards the lava breakwater, it deepens, becomes significantly warmer and makes a nice swimming pool if you do not mind sharing it with the turtles. Leave your snorkel gear at home, there was not much in the way of fish to see. The keiki that were with us were old enough to swim and had been here many times. They were also old enough to navigate the trail and to have the stamina to make the hike. I would say that bringing children much younger than 5 might not be a good idea unless you are willing to carry them part way And I would not suggest that unless you are in very good shape. Once they are at the beach though, it would be a great place for young children to play in the water with some supervision (because of the springs.) It would make a great place to build sand castles.

It is also thought to be dangerous to swim on the left side of the beach, there is current there that has stranded swimmers in the past and pulled some out to sea, requiring stronger swimmers to come to their rescue and putting themselves in danger.

If you decide to make this trek to Shipman Beach, please remember to carry out anything you bring in. There are no restrooms, drinking water and no trash receptacles. Keep in mind the distance when you time your trip. We barely made it out by dark. We left the beach at 4 pm and the hike back took us two hours. You would not want to be making the hike out in the dark.

My friend Damon who has yet to find this beach says, "I must see this beach before I die". That alone is a good reason to go there, as I highly respect his opinion! I told him he needs to go while he is still young and fit, as it is not a hike for the faint of heart.

©2009 Devany Vickery-Davidson
Two Juicy Pineapples Productions


Sam said...

What an adventure! Mahalo nui for sharing images and a description that almost brought me along for the trip.
Added to list of "to do's" with high priority.

Anonymous said...

Hi Devany! I recall seeing that you guys were going to do this and I loved seeing your adventure documented here. I think I will change the link to this beach on my blog to your post as you did a fab job!

Anonymous said...

You are braver then me...

Nah... I would have loved to have gone... but as I mentioned earlier, I had another commitment.


Tom said...

Your narrative makes it sound like a very nice experience. Can you be a guide for a future visit? I will want to go. Thanks very much for the pleasant journey.

Devany said...

Thanks Blake Sam and Blake. Damon, you missed it, but we will be going back with a group and a picnic soon.

Tom, send me an e-mail so we can stay in touch. Next time you are on the island I would be glad to take you there.

Devany EastBayPotter@aol.com

Connie Lou said...

Great post, and I give you guys credit! In our "younger days" we loved to go there and as the locals say "holo holo" because you no like the fish hear you say that you going fishing! Lots of fun times and good papio. I guess I could still do it, just lazy. I like seeing Hawaii through fresh eyes.

lynne Jordan said...

I'm exhausted just reading about this adventure!! You are really "digging into" life there in Hawaii. Love reading about it!

Nick Harris said...

Thanks for sharing this adventure! After reading your post, we ventured out there ourselves. There are still big boulders where you park, but the 4wd crowd has just created a new access around it. On the way in we veered too far to the right and ended up hiking right along the water (was quite nice). We followed the trail on the way back which is a total straight line to the boulders where you park. You can see some of the pics we got here: http://bit.ly/13gPyQ

Devany said...

Hi Nick,

I loved your pictures. Thanks for sharing them. You probably got a great view while hiking on the ocean side, I heard it is beautiful and if it is not too hot a day well worth the time taken. We were under time constraints the day we went, so had to take the "faster route"! Boy was it muddy! It is great that you had a chance to see Shipman Beach. By the way, I just got back from two days at Waipio! Now there is another fantastic East Side Beach! It was beautiful and such a spiritual place.

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marama said...

Nice description of the beach!! Just went today with classmates. Had a BLAST. The trail is great, the beach and the property amazing! The huge pahoehoe rocks you were wondering about is just an old lava flow... It was great!

Devany said...

Marama, How great for you to get a chance to see one of Hawaii Island's secret beaches. I am glad that the trail was in good shape for you too.

Buy Kamagra said...

Yeah, I'm agree with that Pina is one of the most wonderful places in the world, I can say that because I went to Puna four years ago, I had never seen a beautiful beach everything is peace there.

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Unknown said...

I was wondering how many miles the hike was as i just had gotten back from shipman's beach, it was wonderful hiking down and up across the muddy trail! Mahaol nui!

Devany said...

It is just a little under 2 miles if you take the interior (muddy) route. If you follow the coastline on the lava, it is 2.25 miles. Glad you enjoyed your hike.

Anonymous said...

Was just there yesterday and read your entire blog AFTER we returned. It is as accurate as it was 3 years ago; VERY. I would take exception to the mosquito note though... loads of them were hungry and waiting for us to stop moving even though spray was used. I would add that it is the uneven terrain that is the most taxing; lava, yes... but it was the creeping roots, mud and side trails around mud holes and swampy areas that tested me and my ankles. Totally worth the hike!

Puna Local said...

Hiked into Haena yesterday and fished the coastline back to Paki. The straight trail feels more like 3 miles than two - my bud & I trek at a 20-25 minute mile pace & it took over an hour inbound. First timers should be prepared for mud and be aware that every step could slip or stumble. Also, do NOT attempt without hydration for the rebound trek.

Cristian said...

Maybe the best solution would be to build a road for on or along the trail so it shorten the time.

Cristian said...

may be the best solution would be to build a road for bicycle along the trail

paperworld said...

With the improvements to Government Beach Road, is this beach any easier to access?

Anonymous said...

No, the improvement are from the other side of HPP. This hike is largely the same.

Anonymous said...

Haoles go home!