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September 30, 2013

Punalu'u Bake Shop

Punalu’u Bake Shop

The Punalu’u Bake Shop  is the so
uthern most bakery shop in the United States. It is located in the town of Na’alehu  (“the volcanic ashes” in Hawaiian), which claims to be the southernmost town in the United States.

It is a delightful bakery with a restaurant (but we never tried the restaurant). They have wonderful pastries, donuts, and classic bakery products, as well as local Hawaiian sweet breads and fresh coffee.

The town of Na’alehu

Big Island map

Big Island map

The quiet and scenic town of Naalehu lies on south of Big island on Highway 11, the main route between Hilo and the Kona Coast, and the main route for access into Volcanoes National Park and the Ka Lae – the South Point.

This area has natural protection from Mauna Loa volcano lava flows.  This makes it a relatively safe place to live (no volcanic aches apparently). A  good  yearly rainfall and mild temperatures created a richly green region, which has had more time for soil development than many other regions in Big Island and Kau particularly.

Naalehu once played a big  role in the Hawaiian history. The area, where the town is now located, is believed to be the place where the first Hawaiians landed the island. It was between 300 AD to 500 AD  when Polynesians have arrived on the Hawaiian islands. They believed to come either from Marquesas Islands or from Tahiti. That means that first Hawaiian people were sailing northward, and  their first sight of land could possible be the south most tip of the Big Island. There are archeological proofs that proof this theory. The lava tubes and caverns found in the region show evidences that they were used as dwellings by the early settlers. Other archeological findings trace back the first area inhabitants as far back to 124 AD.

Because of its favorable location, Naalehu also played its role in Hawaii’s sugar industry. Many people, including immigrants of Asian and Hispanic descent (Portuguese in particular), came to work at the plantations. One of the oldest sugar companies  in the area – Hutchinson Sugar Plantation Company was established in 1868 and operated till 1951. The town prosper during the sugar boom as the sugar companies contributed to the town infrastructure including the theater and hospital, which are now preserved as historical treasures.

Na'alehu theater

Naalehu theater

Currently, the town is the place of operation of one of several ground communication stations run by Bigelow Aerospace. It also hosts the most southern church in the United States – the Lighthouse Baptist Church – an adorable little building. The town is also famous for it was once selected as a place for the private spaceships’ launch site. The local people, concerned about the ecology of the place and the possible threats to it, killed the deal, though.

The Punalu’u Bake Shop

The Punalu'u Bake Shop

The Punalu’u Bake Shop at the town of Na’alehu

The Punalu’u Bake Shop is worth visiting not only for its location, but also for both the pastries and the atmosphere. It is located in the building, which was a sugar plantation manager’s home. The shop is surrounded by four acres of plush grounds bursting with tropical plants, which were converted to a nice botanical garden (and free of charge to visit).

It doesn’t require a map or a compass to find the bakery once you  are in Na’alehu – one can smell it from a distance. That is how we found it the first time. We were looking for coffee and parked on the local market. As soon as we left the car, we could feel the strong smell of fine bakery. We just followed our noses and found the Punalu’u Bake Shop.

The bakery is devoted to the production of its famous Punalu’u sweet bread or malasadas.

Different malasadas are offered in the bakery

Different malasadas are offered in the Punalu’u bakery

I should clarify that I normally don’t  visit any typical donuts shops. I believe American donuts are poisonous. But  the Punalu’u Bake Shop offers a different kind of donuts – malasadas.  Malasadas are the Portugese donuts. Originally they were invented on the isle of Madeira, and introduced to Hawaii in the 19th century by Portuguese workers employed by the sugar companies.

These pastries are good!

These pastries are good!

The malasadas are now made using a secret recipe that the proprietor’s family preserved for generations. It has been modified to make many different flavors. But the original recipe is also in use, and I found it delicious. I like apple filled, taro, and mango variations, but, honestly, all breads are good!

The seven steps’ and five hours’ production process is described on a sign on the outer wall of the shop. You can also observe the whole process in real time through the huge bakery shop windows, which give visitors the opportunity to view each step of the baking process.

The bakery also offers nice fresh Hawaiian coffee, local sweets, sandwiches, and souvenirs. One can sit on verandas or in charming gazebos and enjoy company of local birds.

Do not to feed birds

There are multiple signs asking to not to feed the birds, but it is impossible to resist these cute little beggars. Most of them are Yellow Billed Cardinals. And their main occupation is begging for scraps of food whenever they can do it. These species were introduced to the Hawaiian Islands, but now  now they are  common birds seen around the Big Island.

The team is watching if he can make it
Do not feed the birds Do not feed the birds
DoNotFeedBirds2 DoNotFeedBirds1

Bakery sale starts at 4 PM!

The shop operates Monday to Friday from 9 am to 5 pm. At 4 pm starts the sale time for today’s bakery products. – all pastries go ½ price.