Cape Kumukahi is the easternmost point of the Island of Hawai’i and all of the Hawaiian Island chain. Cape Kumukahi lies at the end of the east rift zone of the slopes of Kilauea in the District of Puna, near Kapoho. Cape Kumukahi is of great spiritual importance to native Hawaiian people. It is where the morning sun first touches Hawai’i Nei. It is said to be the landing spot of gods and goddesses who traveled to Hawai’i from Kahiki (Tahiti).
Cape Kumukahi Light (House) was first erected between 1928-1929 as a 32 foot tall wooden structure. In 1934 a more substantial station was constructed. This consisted of a pair of wooden keeper’s houses and a 125 foot steel tower resting on a unique foundation consisting of two stacked concrete blocks with a layer of sand in between, a scheme intended to insulate the tower from the many minor earthquakes in the area.
Kumukahi Light has been threatened by lava flows many times. Best known was its survival of the January 1960 Kilauea eruption which destroyed the village of Kapoho. From Kapoho, lava flows continued downslope toward Kumukahi Light, and destroyed the keepers’ houses and an orchard which Joe Pestrella, who had been keeper there since 1938, had planted near the light station; but when the lava reached the tower, it split into two streams and flowed into the sea sparing the structure.
Old-timers say that lighthouse keeper Joe Pestrella offered a meal to Pele, who appeared disguised as an old woman on the eve of the disaster, and so she spared the light structure. It was the only structure spared on the eastern peninsula.
Legend has it that Chief Kumukahi, who resided in Kapoho, was competing in hōlua (Hawaiian sled) races when he mocked Pele who had disguised herself as a beautiful woman. Pele’s wrath was swift and destructive. She chased Kumukahi to the sea with a river of lava, destroying Kapoho and creating the cape that bears the chief’s name, Kumukahi; Cape Kumukahi.
Keola Magazine: Madam Pele Spares Kumukahi Light