Visitors exploring the eastern portion of the Big Island of Hawaii may wish to take a break from volcano viewing to have a soak in the natural hot springs of Ahalanui Park. Sometimes called "The Warm Ponds'' by locals, the park's popular pool is spring fed, and its waters are volcanically heated to a soothing 90 degrees.
Although the fortified cement walls that surround it are obviously man-made, the pool itself is naturally geothermal and covers an area equivalent to two Olympic-sized swimming pools. Lava located far beneath the park's surface is responsible for warming the fresh water that flows in from the surrounding terrain via rivulets caused by rain.
The surface of the pool is usually very calm, while its bottom is made up of sand and mud, with some small rocks mixed in. The depth of the pool has been contoured to provide a shallow section for children, and ladders have been introduced to make access easy. Owing to its volcanic nature, the heated water has slight sulfur smell.
Separating the pool from the ocean is a small inlet that allows sea life to access to the pool. Although the water is brackish, it is quite clear and fish can be seen swimming here among the visitors. Snorkeling in the pool is also allowed.
The pool at Ahalanui Park is not a tidal pool in the strict sense of the definition, but the water level does change with the ocean tide. At high tide, ocean waves actually "clean'' the pool as they swell in and out. The water temperature drops at high tide, too, as the cooler ocean water flows in. Some pockets of the pool may be warmer than others.
Surrounding the entire area are palm trees. An abundance of green vegetation and the blue Pacific Ocean to the east make this an especially beautiful tropical retreat. The thermal pool is rarely crowded, too.
Facilities located at Ahalanui Park include restrooms, picnic tables, barbecue grills and plenty of free parking. There are grassy and shady areas for rest and relaxation. Lifeguards are on duty during daylight hours throughout the week.
Pahoa is the nearest town to Ahalanui Park, just five minutes away by car. It features several good restaurants, a grocery store, a health clinic, pharmacies, three banks, and arts and crafts shops. On weekend mornings, there is an open market, too.
Camping facilities are available at nearby Isaac Hale Beach Park in Puna. Although tent camping may not be suitable in certain areas due to ground and wind conditions, and there are no electrical outlets, the park does have a pavilion, restrooms, outdoor showers, drinking water and a picnic area. Camping permits cost $5 per day for adults aged 18 years and over, $2 per day for juniors aged 13-17 and $1 per day for children aged 12 and under.
Located about 40 minutes by car from Hilo, Ahalanui Park covers about three acres. It is open from 7am till sunset daily and there is no charge for admission. The address is Highway 137 Pahoa, Island of Hawaii, Hawaii. To get there by car, take Hawaii State Highway 130 through the town of Pahoa and turn left where the road ends at Highway 137. The park is about four miles further on, just near mile marker 10.