Early settlement patterns in the Islands put people on the windward sides of the islands, typically along the shoreline. However, in Puna, much of the district’s coastal areas have thin soils and there are no good deep water harbors. The ocean along the Puna coast is often rough and windblown.
As a result, settlement patterns in Puna tend to be dispersed and without major population centers. Villages in Puna tended to be spread out over larger areas and often are inland, and away from the coast, where the soil is better for agriculture. (Escott)
This was confirmed on William Ellis’ travel around the island in the early 1800s, “Hitherto we had travelled close to the sea-shore, in order to visit the most populous villages in the districts through which we had passed.”
“But here receiving information that we should find more inhabitants a few miles inland, than nearer the sea, we thought it best to direct our course towards the mountains.” (Ellis, 1826)
Dry land farming was practiced in coastal Puna during the late prehistoric and early historic period. Table-land areas aong the lower slopes of Hawaii Island were used for cultivation of un-irrigated taro, sweet potatoes, yams, bananas, breadfruit, olona, sugarcane and wauke (paper mulberry.) (Lantinis)
“The whole population of this section of the country was by the wayside, which gave me an opportunity of judging of their number; this is much larger than might be supposed from the condition of the country, for with the exception of the point at Kapoho, very little ground that can be cultivated is to be seen.”
“The country, however, is considered fruitful by those who are acquainted with it, notwithstanding its barren appearance on the road sides. The inhabitants seemed to have abundance of bread-fruit, bananas, sugar-cane, taro, and sweet-potatoes.”
“The latter, however, are seen to be growing literally among heaps of stones and pieces of lava, with scarcely soil enough to cover them; yet they are, I am informed, the finest on the island.”
“At Puna, there is a large church; but no appearance of a village, the houses being much scattered. The church, it is said, will contain two or three thousand persons.” (Wilkes, 1845)
“Our stopping place for the night was at Pohoiki (‘small depression’) … The natives bro’t us the Ki or Ti root baked. It is very sweet and juicy. There are fine groves of cocoa nut trees and the situation of a hamlet on an inlet of the sea is very pleasant.” (Chester Lyman, 1846)
In August of 1878, Robert Henry Rycroft stated that he made improvements to the Pohoiki landing and wanted to buy property here. The original landing was destroyed by a tsunami in August 1885. (DLNR)
The improvements to Pohoiki landing allowed the Puna Sugar Company to ship in their seed cane to Kapoho around 1898. The landing was the only means of transportation. The railroad and roads from Hilo came later. (Red Road CMP)
“This district presents some features which are well worth the exertion which the traveler will have to make in order to see them. The general appearance from the road is sterile, especially in the southern part, where there are considerable tracts covered with lava rock supporting the scantiest of vegetation.”
“Some eighteen miles from Hilo the country begins to improve, and away from the main road, upon the slopes of the mountain, there are many acres of excellent land, suitable for coffee and fruit growing.”
“The south-eastern part of Puna has some celebrity for its groves of coconuts, the trees being more abundant here than in any other part of the islands. The traces of volcanic action are extremely prominent in this district.”
“The tourist who plans to go through Puna, should obtain letters for either Kapoho or Pohoiki, where the first night would be spent … A number of coffee planters have located in this vicinity, and groves of coffee trees may be seen every few miles.” (Whitney, 1895)
In the Puna District in 1880, Hawaiians maintained small-scale traditional farms, and other settlers invested in commercial properties like coffee plantations on approximately three dozen land grants. (ORNL)
Rycroft constructed a coffee mill in 1891 to process the coffee then being planted in Puna. One serious difficulty of coffee growing was that it required a large work force only when the coffee was to be picked. Keeping men employed when not picking coffee was a serious economic drain on the fledgling industry. (Matsuoka, ORNL)
However, for some unknown reason, the coffee boom ended in 1899, leaving the mill basically without a product to process. Then, probably, the Rycrofts had to find an alternate crop to process in the new coffee mill.
Presumably, then, the Rycroft guava business in Puna was started in about 1900 to use the coffee mill, and possibly was abandoned after 1910.
Rycroft and his son, Walter, should be credited with the first commercial production of guava at Pohoiki in Puna; they produced guava jam and jelly in the ‘coffee mill.’ (Shigemura & Bulloock)
The Pohoiki area has remained mostly undeveloped except for the 23-year period of commercial development under Robert Rycroft. Rycroft’s ventures between 1877 and 1899 included ‘awa, cattle, sawmill, coffee and guava. The Pohoiki commercial activity appears to have ended when Rycroft moved to Honolulu in 1899. (DLNR)
This area was used as a whaling port and was always a fishing village. Many families in the area would contribute to the sharing of fish with other families. It has been said that if you even touched the canoe you would get some fish.
Old fishing practices included using the canoes. One practice that is documented in this area is opelu fishing. The families would take out the canoe and feed the opelu koʻa (house) with the ʻopae ula (red shrimp.) This was done to ensure that there was always fish and the fish were well taken care of. The families of these areas were subsistence fisherman.
Pohoiki is a small 1,000-foot long bay located approximately three miles south of Kapoho. During the thirties fewer canoes went out to catch opelu. Eventually a boat ramp was constructed at Pohoiki and the canoes were replaced by motorboats. (Matsuoka, ORNL)
By 1940, the wharf at Pohoiki had been abandoned as a commercial stop, but the bay was used as a canoe landing by local fishermen. (Clark)
World War II had a profound effect on Hawai’i. In Puna, those who remained behind were made to fear a Japanese invasion by sea. The coastline were watched and guarded by soldiers stationed, in the Kalapana area.
There were 100 to 150 soldiers stationed in Kalapana and they were rotated every three months. Some camped in tents on Kaimu beach and Kalapana beach, some lived in the school cafeteria, and others in the gym and the priest’s house at the Catholic Church.
Other forms of subsistence production continued after the war, such as pole-fishing from shore, gathering limu and opihi, and crab and raising stock. Hunting of wild pigs remained an important source of meat. Native plants were gathered for herbal teas and medicine. (Matsuoka, ORNL)
Here is the “Isaac Kepoʻokalani Hale Beach Park.” It was established in 1951 to honor Isaac Hale who was a soldier killed in the Korean War.
Traditional fishing practices started to dissipate in the 1950s with the introduction of fishing boats. Families began to start fishing with boats during these times. (Red Road CMP)
During the 1950s, boating traffic from outside the area began to increase substantially as commercial and recreational fishers began buying smaller boats that could be trailered to parts of the Island. (Clark)
Pohoiki Warm Spring is a natural hot pond in the jungle near a popular Pohoiki surfing beach. It’s a couple hundred yards from the Park to the pool, which is only about 20 yards from the ocean.