Hike Punalu’u to Kamehame Beach on the Big Island’s south coast
Most visitors to the Big Islands to the iconic Punalu’u Black Sand beach just visit quickly to walk through the black sand, spot the resting sea turtles (typically cordoned off on the beach area or you should stay a distance of at least 20 feet). But if you are in the mood a real hiking adventure the coastline here, ancient Hawaiian Heiaus or temples and other fishing areas make this a colorful and fun hike to Kamehame Beach, one of the most beautiful and underrated black and green sand beaches visited on the island. Punalu’u beach is the typical favorite beach to visit on the island and swimming is feasible but depending on the conditions, tides and surf in the area. But it is also fun to hang out, check out the pond area and do some hikes in the area like the coastal hike to Kamehame Beach.
Hiking details to Kamehame Beach
Distance – 6.1
Elevation – flat with some rolling lava rock formations and open lava fields
Difficulty – Moderate
Notes – Open and exposed with no shade but ocean hike offers some nice breezes occasionally.
The long southern coastal hike is long, dusty and exposed with full hot sun but your rewards are gorgeous coastline with rocky inlets, rich cultural treasures and the stunning black and green sand beach made with olivine crystals at Kamehame beach.
Weather at Punalu’u and the southern coast area
The weather here tends to be sunny and hot with some nice offshore winds blowing to the coastal areas. The entire coastline is exposed and sunny so do be aware and bring water, sunscreen and cover for yourself.
How to get to Punalu’u beach
From the main Highway 11 from Hilo or Kona area turn directly into the Punalu’u turnoff between mile marker 56 and 57. Drive down Alanui Road towards the ocean and eventually you will see the parking lot area and restrooms.
You can continue around the loop road to the next right which leads directly to a smaller parking lot fronting the black sand beach which is a better parking area to do this hike to Kamehame beach.
Parking and finding the main trailhead
Although there is plenty of parking at the main parking lot with the restrooms and pavilions, it’s better to park closer to the pond and life guard station. You need to come early on weekends because it does ill up fast. But week days are not so busy and doable different times of the day. Park and do not leave any belongings in the car seat area, use the restrooms a short walk away and typically you can spot some of the green sea turtles or honu basking on the hot sandy beach and cordoned off from anyone coming closer for a picture. (Just use your lens and stay at least 20 feet away from the turtles.)
To find the start of the trail, walk to the far-left side of the beach and look for the concrete boat ramp areas and picnic tables. On the opposite side of the ramp (far left side) is a shrubby area with rocky small rock lifted elevations. You will see a faint rocky trail leading uphill about 15 feet which is one of the main trails starting off your hike. After climbing up the graveled path you will come across an ancient heaui (temple) called Kāne’ele’ele Heiau.
Sacred temple at Kane’ele’ele Heaui
After you climb the short-elevated path, you immediately face this massive temple site that looks like rock walls surrounding the area in the middle with far-left a small crescent rock wall with a small altar area with offerings, a rock god icon and rounded wood sticks which used to be a wooden lele stand. Kane’ele’ele translates into the darkness of the father god represents one of the largest heaui on the island and was is luakini heaui or a temple for human sacrifice. The large wall complex was a massive 700 feet x 500-foot perimeter wall and a large sacrificial stone. In disrepair, please stay off the temple walls and avoid touching anything around the altar area and leave no trace visiting the complex. Just outside the walls along the coastline is the ancient Ala Kahakai trail with rounded polished rocks in the middle of the graveled pathway trail. The pathway provided for easy access around the coastal areas with jagged lava rocks and lava forms and destruction fields.
Ala Kahakai Trail
Follow the Ala Kahakai trail through the coastal areas and skirting some gorgeous coves and coastal landscape until the trail about a mile until it merges into a grass and dirt road along the coastline and eventually dumping into a massive lava field with many lava rocks that go through long distances close to the shoreline. Enjoy the views but stay away from the cracks which are not stable to walk around.
Even though there is no evident trail or some old trails that come in and out along the way, if you stay closer to the lava areas close to the shoreline you will eventually get to see the Kahaka large shoreline cinder cone at Pu’u Kamehame and the beach below of Kamehame.
The black and green sand beach at Kamehame beach
Kamehame beach is a unique black and green sand beach which is also a breeding ground for the endangered Hawksbill turtle and green sea turtle or Honu. Breading season is from June to November timeframe so the local conservancy group monitors the beach and request that you not hike across the beach because it is a very important breeding site for these endangered sea turtles. You’ll find the black sand which also glistens with the green sand sitting on top of the emerald olivine crystals that sit on top of the black sands. The beach incline into the ocean is steep with strong waves and currents and swimming is inadvisable outside of wading and sun bathing. Towards the end of the beach and coastline are two worthwhile lava arches that are fun to see from a distance and photograph.
It’s hard to see from the black beach but the upper part of the beach has large swaths of green olivine cyrstals sitting on top of the black sandy beach.
Explore the coastline and sea arches
If you continue on past the beach, you will pass a fence with an opening on the ocean side and will you walk the cliff areas, you will see a variety of cool sea arches to enjoy and photograph on this scenic part of the hiking area past Kamehame beach.
Returning back to Punalu’u Beach
You can continue onwards to other coves and beaches, but if you want to go back considering the sun, water and walk back, it is easy to just retrace your steps. There is a roadway path behind the puu cinder hill on the back side so you do not have to climb any more lava or rocks and this takes you directly to the open lava field on your way back to Punalu’u.
You will pass several impressive cracks along the way that run long distances parallel to the shoreline and were created early in the lava extrusions from below ground and cracking the surface area above.
Details to visiting Kamehame Beach
The hike is all exposed with mostly harsh sun and no shade, bring a hat or cover and sunscreen.
Bring enough water for the 6.1-mile hike and plan accordingly
Areas along the coastal lava bench are fragile and you should stay at a safe distance especially from rouge waves the wash up to the lava shoreline.
Stay on the trails for your safety
Wear appropriate shoes from variable lava terrain, gravel pathways and variety of sharp rocks you may encounter.
Be careful if you do plan on entering the beach area, there is a small cliff entrance making it difficult to get to the beach and the surf is rough around this entrance area.
Check out the trail heads information, kiosk or maps or any visitors center or rangers station
Remember to leave no trace behind and bring out everything you pack in.
Practise good hiking etiquette when your outdoors.
Other places to explore in the southern part of the Big Island
Have you hiked from Punalu’u to Kamehame Beach?
How was your experience, any inside tips to visiting? Please share your comments below, thanks.
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