Forested areas of this region were used by native Hawaiians for hunting and traditional gathering of food and medicinals. Because sandalwood once grew in these forests, it can be reasoned that post-European contact saw the harvest of such.
Bird feathers were a much utilized resource of the Olaʻa forest. Feathers were sought for making cloaks and helmets for the Aliʻi, as well as for religious purposes.
Puna was once known for its groves of hala and ʻōhiʻa-lehua trees. Hawaiians observed, “Ka ua moaniani lehua o Puna / The rain that brings the fragrance of the lehua of Puna”.
While the Puna district does not have running streams, it does have many inland and shoreline springs continuously fed by rains borne upon the northeast tradewinds. (McGregor)
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)
Between 1958 and 1973, more than 52,500-individual lots were created for residential use. There are at least over 40 Puna subdivisions. Geographically, these subdivisions are sometimes as big as cities.
Back then, they plotted out the subdivisions in cookie-cutter residential/agricultural lots across a grid, with very little space for other uses (such as parks, open space, government services, regional roads … the list goes on and on.)
To add insult to injury, most subdivision lots are accessed by private, unpaved roads. The streets generally lack sidewalks and lighting, and do not meet current County standards in terms of pavement width, vertical geometrics, drainage and other design parameters.
There are only two main roads to move the people in the district in and out – one (Route 130 – Keaau-Pahoa Road) goes into Pahoa to Kalapana; the other (Route 11 – Volcano Highway) serves the lots up in the Volcano area.
In 1958, two mainland businessmen from Denver, Colorado, Glen I Payton and David F. O’Keefe organized a Hawaii Corporation called Tropic Estates.
They purchased 12,191 acres of land between Kurtistown and Mountain View from Big Island politician and businessmen, Robert M. Yamada.
The land was divided into 4,008 lots and put on the market for $500.00 to $1,000.00 each, with terms as low as $150.00 down and $8.00 per month. The project was named Hawaiian Acres. The lots sold very well.
Hawaiian Acres became the first of many speculative subdivisions to be created. This subdivision boom continued until its end in 1975. Infrastructure was not provided.
Hawaiʻi County Planning discussed buying these lots, reasoning that should this subdivision reach build-out the county could go bankrupt providing the required infrastructure. It was an ominous economic forecast indeed.
Hawaiian Acres, under the State Land Use Law is zoned agricultural. It is composed mostly of 3 acre lots with a few larger and a few smaller.
Of the 72 miles of roadway, fewer than 10 miles are paved. Telephone service is available to about 90% of the subdivision, with electrical service at an estimated 50%. Most residents in some way or another employ alternative energy.
All Hawaiian Acres homes use some type of rain catchment to obtain their supply for household use of water. Some residents haul in their drinking water if their catchment system is inadequate or contaminated.
At an elevation of 650′ to 1350′, Hawaiian Acres sits on lava flows that range from 200-750 years in age. Some G-road lots are on flows that date to 3000 years in age.
Hawaiian Acres has some unique geological features, such as its numerous lava tubes or caves. Kazumura Cave is now known as the world’s longest lava tube at over 40 miles, and with several entrances within Hawaiian Acres.
One manmade feature that has had a significant impact on Hawaiian Acres is the series of water diversion walls that total over half a mile in length and up to 12′ in height, that channel water into Hawaiian Acres.
This channel receives overflow from the Mt. View Drainage project developed by the county. This overflow can and has reached five feet or more in heavy rains. These walls were built by Olaa Sugar Company (AMFAC) starting in 1938, to divert floodwaters away from sugarcane fields along the Mauna Loa-Kilauea boundary into what was then considered wasteland.
Hawaiian Acres sits in Lava Hazard Zone-3. Lava Hazard Zones are rated on a scale of 1 to 10, with a number 1 rating as the most hazardous. Folks predict Hawaiian Acres will be affected by lava sometime in the unknown future. (Information here is from the County, HACA, Jack Russell Brauher and Hawaiian Acres Master Plan.)