Punalu’u Black Sand Beach – A must visit on the Big Island of Hawaii
The Punal’uu Black sand beach is located in the south side of the Big Island close to Na’alehu town and Pahala in the Kau district. One of the most popular black sand beaches in Hawaii to visit and hang out on the island not just for the gorgeous black sand but also the beach is well known for the Hawaiian honu or green sea turtles that like to rest on the warm black sands on the beach area.
The rugged coastline at Punalu’u is unpredictable and raw but sometimes you can swim and snorkel in the area depending on how calm the seas are and if the life guards are signaling that it is okay to go in the water. You can also just enjoy some beachcombing fun, explore the tide pools and have a nice time hiking around the coastal areas of Punalu’u beach.
Why visit Punalu’u black sand beach?
The large black sand beach on the Big Island’s south side at Kau is a popular destination for both locals and tourists to visit and hang out. The coastline here is rugged and the beach areas are striking with green sea turtles frequenting the beach area to rest and hang out. The beach area is fascinating and there are a lot of interesting historic sites, heaui and other cool landmarks to visit in the area around Punalu’u beach.
On calm days the water is easy to swim around but always check in with the lifeguards to any conditions changing in the ocean areas which do have rip tides and sharp drop offs on the beach.
History of Punalu’u black sand beach
Punalu’u in Hawaiian translates into ‘Spring water’ which comes from underwater aquafers in the ground that bubble up to the surface in the ocean beach area. Ancient Hawaiians would actually dive into the bay with gourds and collect fresh water from the underground aquafers for water they could drink and use. The area had multiple uses for ancient Hawaiians that served as a port location, place of tributes and offerings and collecting water.
There is a fishing temple called Ka’ie’I e Heiau overlooking the cliff area with only a raised platform and some rock walls to designate the ancient heiau. There are two other heiau nearby called heiau complex of Lanipau is gone within the gold course area and the last called Punalu’u Nui which was destroyed to build a wharf complex for the sugar cane industry around the early 1900s. There are also known petroglyphs called Ki’I pohaku found in the beach area near the county park pavilions in a protected area of rock walls surrounding them.
Closer to the boat ramp and up some unmarked trails in is one of the largest heaui on the Island called Kane ‘ele ‘ele Heaui (an 800 year old temple) which was a laukini or a human sacrificial site . The site is enormous measuring 500 feet by 700 feet with a sacrificial stone and central rock wall altar with relics and offerings. While visiting this holy site do not touch anything, climb the rock walls and leave no trace behind.
Running through the area was the Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail that served as a link between Hawaiian ritual centers and coastal communities and onto the Volcano area. This is the trail that the god of agriculture and Fertility, Lono traveled from North Kohala all the way down through Kau and then to the Puna district.
During its day, Punalu’u was also a port city with a large pier used to transport sugar cane but with constant ocean turbulence, tsunamis and the severe shoreline erosion, most of the sugar cane activity transferred to the bigger port area of Hilo and the large pier at Punalu’u was eventually abandoned.
Early Christian missionaries created the Hokuloa Church in 1833, a small chapel and cemetery and made their presence known in the area to spread Christianity in the region.
Directions to Punalu’u
From Kona, Punaluu is 67 miles away, From Waikoloa, Punaluu is 2 ½ hour drive from the Waikoloa area. Punalu’u is an easy stop to make on the way to Volcanoes National Park
From Hilo, Punaluu is 58.3 miles on Hwy 11
From Volcano Village Punaluu is 31 miles drive on Hwy 11
Look for the Punalu’u sign and turn into the drive to the ocean, there are two parking areas at the beach; one close to the restrooms and pavilions and a smaller one close to the lifeguard and pond area. Parking in the smaller lot fills up early in the morning because it is closer to the black sand beach and picnic areas.
Attractions and activities on the beach
If the beach and waves are calm on the beach, swimming and snorkeling is possible on the beach. Check in with the lifeguards to understand what the situation is during your visit to the area. The boat ramp to the end of the beach is perfect for getting into the water and snorkeling is good off the rocky area there. You’ll find that the water is warm and cool with the cold fresh water mixing in with the ocean water and giving these unusual water sensations.
Check out the tidepool area in the beach area for spotting interesting marine life in the water and rocks
Watch the sea turtles from a safe distance, the endangered green turtles and hawksbill turtles do rest on the beach area regularly to help regulate their system which also helps in their digestive process. Turtles are not to be touched and a distance of 10 feet is required because their immune system is not protected by human bacteria.
Other endangered animals that visit the area regularly include the Hawaiian monk seal, the Hawaiian Io hawk that lives in the trees. Also, the endangered bat, Hawaiian hoary bat, flies over the area and lives in Punalu’u.
Visit the Anchialine ponds in the middle of the beach which are old brackish ponds that are close to the shoreline and house rare and fragile plants and animals.
Go on some hikes around the coastline and trails in the area to discover more of the beautiful scenery and landscape in the area.
You can camp in the area with permits.
Amenities on the beach
Showers and restrooms
Lifeguard stations are open from 8:30 to 5pm daily
Picnic pavilions and barbeque pits and open picnic tables
Details to visiting
Located on the south side in the Kau district which is known for strong ocean currents, the beach is not always the best for swimming or snorkeling, but it is perfect for nice long walks on the sand, beach combing, picnics and checking out those boulders in the sand that are actually sleeping turtles.
Turtles are endangered and you need to maintain a distance of 20 feet from all turtles. Typically in morning areas where turtles are resting have markers set with buffer zones.
There is snorkeling at Ninole cove on the southern end and a short walk from this beach with some easier entry points. Do not try to snorkel on rough surf days with undertow or waves you can visually see.
Reef shoes are good if you are planning on checking out the tidepools and maybe a dip into the ocean if the water is calm.
There is shelter in the center beach area with coconut trees and other shade trees.
If you plan on hiking, wear sturdy shoes and bring water, sunscreen and hat to protect yourself from sunny conditions.
Even on cloudy days, the sun is harsh here at Punalu’u so always be prepared and have reef safe sunscreen available.
Where to stay around Punalu’u
The closest town to Punalu’u is Na’alehu and there are a few local inns in the surrounding areas close to Punalu’u and Pahala areas. Check out the details for staying in the area here for more information and current prices.
Sea Mountain – close to Punalu’u by the gold course area, Sea Mountain is secluded, quiet with spacious and clean rooms, nice public areas and friendly staff.
Big Island Bed and Breakfast – located in Na’alehu, comfortable stay with friendly owner in a fruit plantation, nice breakfast and spacious rooms.
Pahala Plantation Cottage – originally a sugar plantation house converted to an inn with cottages and rooms. Friendly owner and each room decorated with antiques and local look of the islands. Priced well for the area.
Check out all these top review sites through TripAdvisor here with current prices, availability and booking calendar.
Things to see around the south side of the Big Island
Exploring the Puna District in East Hawaii
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