Hawaii Highways road photos -- Red Road

(Big Island part 4 of 6 -- other Big Island parts: Saddle Road ·
Observatories Roads · Lava Closures · Waipio Valley · Other Big Island)

The following 13 photos cover the Kapoho-Kalapana Road (county route 137) along the Big Island's southeastern coast northeast of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The road has long been known as the "Red Road" because of its unusual red cinder pavement. Most of the original red pavement has been resurfaced with black asphalt in 2000 or, at its southern end, black lava from the 1990 flows that destroyed Kalapana village. Local residents protested the black asphalt resurfacing, but the road badly needed a new smoother surface, the red pavement could not be replaced in its original form (which used bunker oil, now an environmental no-no), and the county rejected alternate red pavements as too costly. The residents did not take the county up on its offer to supply red paint for volunteers to spray on the new pavement.

The photos below include some with the original pavement, along with current photos of this still-pleasant oceanside country road.

All the photos below are my own, except one historic road photo from the archives of the Federal Highway Administration.

NOTE: In case you want more detail, clicking most of the photos below will call up enlarged, higher-quality (less .jpg compression) versions. Those alternate versions have larger file sizes, so please be patient while they download.

Red Road, with black pavement, facing south at intersection with county 132 County 132 at junction with Red Road (county 137), with end signage for 132, and county 137 junction marker
Two views of the north end of the Red Road, at county route 137 mile 7.7 where it intersects with Pahoa-Kapoho Road (county route 132 west of the intersection). Above left is the intersection facing south, with the Red Road straight ahead. Above right is the intersection from the west, with an "end" sign announcing the end of route 132 (unusual for Hawaii). Pavement continues briefly north of the intersection, until the road (at this point, not normally considered part of the Red Road, and despite the milemarkings and the junction sign above right, not necessarily part of county route 137) turns unpaved and then turns northwest to follow the coast. (Photo above left November 2001; photo above right May 2000)

Pahoa-Kapoho Road continues as an unpaved road past the Red Road junction, to the Cape Kumukahi lighthouse. The lighthouse escaped the 1960 lava flows that destroyed Kapoho village, then split around the lighthouse before rejoining and entering the sea. Legend has it that the evening before the eruption began, volcano goddess Pele posed as an old woman begging for food. She got no help from the villagers, but got a meal from the lighthouse keeper. (May 2000)
Cape Kumukahi 
lighthouse in 1999

Cape Kumukahi lighthouse, with part of then-paved access road, in 1955
This historic photo shows the narrow but paved road that had provided access to the Cape Kumukahi lighthouse, until the road was largely covered by the 1960 lava flows that almost also destroyed the lighthouse. (1955, Bureau of Public Roads, U.S. Department of Commerce; located in archived records of the Federal Highway Administration, route report file for Hawaii FAS 132, accession number 74-1561, records group 406; courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration - Pacific Region, San Francisco)
Red Road, with original red pavement, as it passes through a'a lava field
The original red pavement begins at mile 8.1, just south of the junction with county route 132. Here, a mile to the south, are some of the lava fields on both sides of the Red Road as it approaches its north end, full of rough and jagged a'a lava (named for the sound you'll make if you scrape yourself on it -- compare to lava's other flavor, smooth pahoehoe), perhaps from the 1960 eruption that destroyed Kapoho village and bypassed the Cape Kumukahi lighthouse. (Novermber 2001)
Closeup of transition from old red to new black pavement, with new pavement on left Red Road facing south, as old red pavement changes to new black pavement
Red Road facing north, as new black pavement changes to old red pavement
 Three views of the transition, at mile 10.1, from the original red cinder pavement to the new black asphalt surface applied in late 2000. The photo above left was taken right at the transition point; above right, from the north; and left, from the south. (All three photos November 2001)

At one very low-lying point just south of mile 11, the Red Road sometimes is underwater at high tide. The road was originally built on high ground, then the ground -- along with the rest of the Puna coast -- suddenly sank a few feet in 1975. This portion of the Red Road was repaved in 2000, but like most of the road remained only 16 feet wide. (November 2001)
Sign warning of flooding at high tide
Tide approaches Red Road, then with old red pavement This is the stretch of the Red Road, just north of Isaac Hale Beach Park, that sometimes floods at high tide. This photo was taken near high tide, where the tide was not quite high enough to reach the road, but as you can see it comes pretty close (less than a foot lower than the road surface), and before the red pavement was covered with black asphalt. A developer's controversial plans for a new resort in this area include rerouting this part of the Red Road, inland and on higher ground. (May 2000)
New and wider pavement on scenic oceanside stretch of Red Road
At mile 14.6, one of the more scenic oceanside stretches of the Red Road is also its widest and most improved after the repaving, with two full lanes of pavement (rather than the usual two unmarked 8-foot-wide lanes), reflectorized lane markings, and a guardrail. (November 2001)
Red Road next to the ocean, narrow but new pavement, soon after it rained
An even more scenic part of the Red Road near mile 17. (November 2001)

A "tree tunnel" near mile 18 of the Red Road surrounds the entrance off to the left for the Kalani Honua resort where I stayed on my 2000 and 2001 visits to the Big Island. This photo shows a relatively smooth segment of the old Red Road pavement. (October 1999)
Red Road's tunnel of trees welcomes you to Kalani Honua
Lava closure of Red Road (county route 137)

The Red Road is cut short here in Kaimu at mile 22.3, about three miles north of its original terminus in Kalapana village, by the lava flow that destroyed Kalapana in 1990. During the day, there usually is a fruit stand parked here. (October 1999)

On my hot springs site, see my photos of two hot springs near Isaac Hale Beach Park along the Red Road, plus a related page with photos of Kehana Beach at around mile 19 near the road's south end.

See also Mark Furqueron's Hawaii road photos page for one of his Red Road photos.

Go to the previous or next parts of the Hawaii Highways road photos collection:

Link to go back to Lava Closures pages
to Lava Closures (Big Island part 3)
Link to continue to Waipio Valley page
to Waipio Valley (Big Island part 5)

or directly to other parts:

Overview · Introduction · Interstate H-3 · Interstate H-1 · Other Freeways
Other Oahu South · Other Oahu West · Other Oahu East · Kuhio Highway
Other Kauai · Hana Highway · Piilani Highway · Kahekili Highway · Other Maui
Lanai/Molokai · Kalawao County · Saddle Road · Observatories Roads
Other Big Island

or to other sections of the Hawaii Highways site:

Link to Hawaii Highways main page Link to Big Island route list

Comments, etc.? Please e-mail me.

© 1999-2003, 2005, 2007 Oscar Voss (no copyright claimed on National Archives photo, which is in the public domain).