Laupāhoehoe is a small village located in the District of North Hilo, along the Hamakua Coast, on the north facing shore of the Big Island of Hawai’i. The community’s name means “lava tip” or “leaf of lava” and refers to the angular lava tip or cape formed by ancient pāhoehoe lava (smooth lava) flows which created the cape on which the community was built. Breathtaking ocean views, waves breaking on jagged lava rocks to lush vegetation, the area is diverse, from a coastal sea level peninsula to sea cliffs and steep gulches which rise 1850 feet up.
In the early 1800’s Laupāhoehoe was made up of fishermen and taro farmers. It was a thriving community in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s with the cultivation of sugarcane. The Laupāhoehoe Sugar Company was incorporated in 1883, although the sugar mill closed in 1890 with a company merger. Laupāhoehoe Sugar Company cane was ground at the Papa’aloa mill.
Laupāhoehoe is among one stop where the railway ran through. Laupāhoehoe and nearby areas of Papa’aloa and ʻŌʻōkala prospered with the sugar industry and the commencement of the Hawaii Consolidated Railroad. The sugar railway ran between Puna and Hilo and also Hamakua to Hilo. The railway operation stopped when a tsunami wiped out an important segment of the railway in 1946.
The same April 1, 1946 tsunami devastated coastal Laupāhoehoe. The tsunami was among the most destructive tidal waves the Big Island and Laupāhoehoe had ever experienced. A series of giant waves 56 feet above sea level swept away a school and surrounding infrastructure at Laupāhoehoe Point. Twenty school students and 4 teachers lost their lives, only three people survived to tell the story.
Once a thriving community and sprawling sugar plantation town, Laupāhoehoe’s population is now less than 600 residents. Attractions around the almost ghost town include the Laupāhoehoe Train Museum and scenic Laupāhoehoe Point Beach Park, where the annual Laupāhoehoe Music Festival is held. Laupāhoehoe Community Public Charter School is located off the Old Mamalahoa Highway.