Some of the most enduring and ancient structures on the Big Island were built with lava rocks in the dry-stack method, utilizing no mortar. Today, examples of beautiful lava-rock walls can be seen throughout the islands on residential properties, commercial areas, and alongside roads and highways.
In the state of Hawaii, the most talented rock-wall masons are located right here on the Big Island. Because of the abundance of lava rock on our volcanic island, the opportunities for building walls and terraces out of lava are seemingly endless. Multi-generational Hawaiian, Tongan and Samoan masons specialize in this quintessentially island-style of building. But before you hire a mason, be sure to ask around to find the most reputable and skilled contractor. Like any other profession, there are bad apples in every crowd.
Although the dry-stack method is still in use today, most rock walls are fashioned together with cement for a firm hold. The type of rock most favored for rock-wall building is the Hawaiian blue rock, which is easily mined and has a relatively smooth finish.
Masons purchase rock from landowners, obtain rock from quarries or harvest rock themselves from friends’ properties. Blue rock is used to build everything from walls, stairs, archways and pillars, to columns, outdoor showers, spas, entryways, pavers, stands for mailboxes, water features, ranching pens, retaining walls, terraces and more. For structures, each layer is locked into place like a puzzle. The fit should be tight with relatively few gaps.
Although blue rock is the most common kind of rock used for masonry, the rugged a‘a lava makes for beautiful rock walls as well. Pahoehoe lava is the most stunning of all the options, showcasing a smooth, ropey and often colorful surface that makes a great veneer for fireplaces and interior accents, as well as walls. Pahoehoe is pretty much only available on the Big Island, therefore an outdoor shower made of authentic pahoehoe is not something you’d likely see on any of the other islands, unless the owner used faux pahoehoe cast in cement that looks like the real thing.
A highly desirable rock for historical applications, moss rock conjures the passing of time and nature’s influence through the centuries.
If you think most walls are solid rock on the inside, this is not usually the case. Generally, walls are built slightly tilting inward, with the interior of the wall filled with rubbish rock. Some rock walls have drainage pipes installed to divert water.
The top of the wall is also of prime importance. Some walls are capped with cement, while other walls are topped with rocks that are flat for an even surface. Masons can get creative with the caps, building them in a cantilever style or even adding insets to mount bamboo fencing on top, or to install solar lights that run the length of the wall.
Examples of amazing rock-wall work are on full display in the resort communities of Kukio, Mauna Lanai, and Hualalai Resort. There are countless beautiful rock walls along Ali‘i Drive and throughout most all residential neighborhoods in Kona. The best of the best rock-wall masons in the state are right here on the Big Island.