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Ode to Red Cinder Road: Driving the Big Island's hidden coastal highway

Save for patchwork fixes, the road retained much of its red asphalt until the 1990s when road crews began paving over long stretches with dark asphalt. Residents complained, fearing the end of the road's  signature identifier, but there would be no do-over. The heavy bunker oil and red cinder mix used to build the road in the 1960s was by 2000 banned by environmental laws. Multiple options were considered to keep it red. But by the early 2000s, all that remained of the original red road was the two-mile stretch near the Kapoho crossroads. When Big Island officials announced this spring that the final stretch would be paved, barely a hint of protest arose.

Sadly, all of the main road's red cinder asphalt has been paved over.

Just past the towering stand of ironwood trees and sea cliffs of MacKenzie State Recreation Area, I drive beneath the mango tree canopies of my youth, a few filled with early season fruit. Pitching rocks to knock a few down, I revel in my success.

The volcanically heated warm spring at Ahalanui Park.

The disappointment of missing the last red remnants of Red Cinder Road still a few miles away, I stop at nearby Isaac Hale Beach Park to watch surfers ride waves into Pohoiki Bay, then take a quick dip in the volcanically heated, ocean-cooled warm springs of Ahalanui Park.

A dull red sliver of the original pavement of Red Cinder Road is visible at this turn-off from the main road near Kapoho.

For now, there is only the sweet-tart taste of semi-ripened mango. And memories, of course. Great memories of this still wonderful old road.    

Red Cinder Road (Route 137)

The road's two end points may be reached from Pahoa by 1) heading south on the Pahoa-Kalapana Road (Route 130) until it connects to Route 137, or 2) heading east on Kapoho Road (Route 132) until it connects to Route 137 in Kapoho.

Photos: Jack Wolford for HAWAII Magazine, Derek Paiva (pg. 3, bottom). Reuse forbidden without written permission.

(This feature was originally published in the July/August 2013 issue of HAWAII Magazine.)

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