Mauna Kea’s lava flow of the late 80s and early 90s left just one building that still stands today, the Star of the Sea, or Kalapana’s Painted Church. Located on the left at the bottom of the Kalapana Highway, just before the fork in the road leading to the lava field that was once the beautiful beach town, the church is open daily for viewings from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The church holds a deep history of the area. It was built in 1927 and 1928 under the direction of the Belgian Catholic missionary priest Father Evarist Gielen, who painted the upper section of the church interior himself. About 15 years later an artist from Georgia painted the lower part, completing the paint job. The church has a connection to the island of Moloka`i, as the paintings tell the story of Father Damien. The Catholic priest who moved down to Kalaupapa, the leprosy colony on Moloka`i. He bettered the conditions for the people and lived with them until his death.
Today, the church still stands in the Kalapana sun, a link to the past of Kalapana as a beloved town for residents which held world class surf spots, a flourishing and tight knit community, and long sandy beaches that don’t exist in the area today. Madam Pele wiped out the town, beaches, and surf with her flow. Lava is still flowing into the area today, but farther back and up the mountain, not right where the town was.
If you keep to the left of the fork in the road just below the church, you’ll come to the vast lava field where the church once stood before being moved form the approaching lava. A visit to the Star of the Sea is perfect for any history buff, and inside provides a wonderful and colorful photo opportunity.