Hawaii's Largest Black Sand Beach
Home to Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles
Punaluʻu Black Sand Beach, on the Big Island of Hawai'i, boasts unique natural wonders like sea turtles and reef sharks. Thousands of years ago, volcanic eruptions—1,500 in all—resulted in a series of cooling and heating, which created this rare pebbly black sand beach.
Overview of Punaluʻu Black Sand Beach
Punaluʻu Black Sand Beach on Hawaii's Big Island is one of the most popular and most visited black sand beaches in the state. The beach, located on the southeastern coast of Hawaii's Big Island, has a dramatic landscape with palm trees, a freshwater spring, and a backdrop of verdant green hills.
Punaluʻu Beach offers dramatic views of lava rocks and black sand. It's formed of smooth, lustrous fragments of cooled lava resulting from lava hitting the ocean. The waves chip away at the sand, sending it back to shore. You won't find a better black sand beach than Punaluʻu. The black color comes from lava from Kilauea Volcano on Hawaiʻi Island (Big Island). Lava flows into the ocean and cools rapidly because of the strong waves. The lava fragments into tiny pieces and, over time, build up to form black sand beaches. The basaltic lava rocks are also very porous, making them lighter in weight than other beach rocks.
There are several endangered species of sea turtles in Hawaii's waters, including the green sea turtle, hawksbill turtle, leatherback turtle, and loggerhead turtle. From Punalu'u Beach, you can see turtles swimming offshore and basking on the beach. It’s a great place to go swimming and snorkeling if you are a strong swimmer.
History of Punaluʻu Black Sand Beach
In ancient times, the ali‘i (royalty) would come from all over Hawaii to vacation at Punaluʻu. The name Punaluu, which means "spring water" in Hawaiian, may have been given to this beach because of the many freshwater springs that flow from the lava rock that line the shore. These springs were once a favorite gathering place for ancient Hawaiians who came to bathe in their waters and enjoy the black sand beaches. Ancient Hawaiians used Punaluu for more than just a lovely playground. Legend has it that ancient Hawaiians used to dive for fresh water in Punaluʻu's ocean waters during times of drought, using gourd vessels to collect the precious liquid. Today, it is still a trendy place for locals and visitors alike.
Getting There- Punaluʻu Black Sand Beach
Punaluʻu is easily accessible from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and is one of our recommended Volcano area activities. Punaluʻu beach lies just off Highway 11 between the towns of Volcano Village and Naalehu. From Volcano Village, take Hwy 11 towards Kona. Then, turn makai (towards the ocean) on Alanui Road between mile markers 56 and 57. If you pass Whittington Beach Park, you have driven too far.
Amenities at Punaluʻu Black Sand Beach
Several amenities make this beach an ideal spot for relaxing and spending time with your loved ones. Here are just a few:
- Lifeguards on duty during daylight hours
- Outdoor showers
- Picnic tables
- Camping grounds
Essential Tips for a Great Punaluʻu Black Sand Beach Visit
Since this beach features black sand, it can get scorching when exposed to direct sunlight, so please be careful if you decide to lie down! You may want to consider bringing a towel or some kind of mat for comfort and protection from sunburn. Also, consider wearing rubber slippers to protect your feet. This beach has no lifeguards, so be careful if you swim and avoid any sharp rocks near the surface. The waves are also powerful here, and you can get pulled out by strong currents if you’re not careful. Please note that swimming is not recommended at Punaluʻu Black Sand Beach because of frequent high surf and strong rip currents that make it dangerous to swim here.
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Enjoyable Times at Punaluʻu Black Sand Beach
Fun Activities at Punaluʻu Black Sand Beach
The Black Sand Beach has so much to do for all visitors. Take time to enjoy this piece of paradise.
Watching turtles bask in the sun: What makes Punaluʻu Black Sand Beach unique is home to several sea turtles called honu. They often come up on the black sand to sunbathe next to visitors. Honu are endangered species, so it’s important not to touch or disturb them while sunbathing. Just sit back and admire these majestic animals from a distance. You can sometimes also encounter the more rare Hawksbill Turtle (Honu’ea) in the water but not basking on the beach.
Snorkeling: The reef off the coast of Punaluʻu Black Sand Beach is home to a wide variety of tropical marine life. You can see much colorful fish, sea turtles, and other marine life when you snorkel here if visibility is good.
Picnicking: There are many picnic tables at Punaluʻu Beach Park, where you can relax in the shade. Pack up a picnic lunch or dinner with your favorite snacks and drinks. The beach itself is a beautiful spot to sit and enjoy nature while eating your food. If you want to sit in the sun, there are also plenty of places on the beach to lay down a towel or blanket to sit on while you eat.
Take a swim: Swimming at Punaluʻu Black Sand Beach is possible but not recommended because of the strong currents in the area. However, if you plan on swimming here, make sure that there are lifeguards on duty before entering the water. You should also look for posted signs that warn about ocean conditions before entering the water at any beach in Hawaii. Bring water shoes if you have them because the black sand on the beach gets hot quickly in the sun, and there are many rocks in the water that can be painful when stepped on.
Sunbathe: If you’re looking to work on your tan, this is the place to do it! Bring a mat or towel and find yourself a good spot. The black sand soaks up heat from the sun, so it’s always warm here, even on days where it’s too cold to swim. Bring a mat or towel and find yourself a good spot.
Family Activities at Punaluʻu Black Sand Beach
Punalu'u Black Sand Beach is a great place to go with the family. There are many things to do there, and it's all free! Take a dip in the ocean, bask in the sun, or have a picnic lunch in the sand — Punaluʻu Black Sand Beach has plenty of family-friendly activities.
The ocean is calm enough for children to swim in most places since no waves are breaking near shore. However, swimming can be dangerous in some spots due to rip currents and jagged rocks in water – so be careful!
Nearby Attractions and Sights of Punaluʻu Black Sand Beach
Kailua-Kona: When leaving Kailua-Kona, you will pass through the famous Kona coffee belt, a stretch of land on the western side of the island that produces some of the best coffee in the world. These coffee plantations invite visitors to try their coffee and tour their facilities to see how coffee is made. If you have time, stop at one of these farms to learn more about this delicious local product and purchase a bag or two to take home.
Punaluʻu Bake Shop: The Punaluʻu Bake Shop is a popular local food stop to and from Punaluʻu. They have many specialty items, including haupia (coconut pudding) turnovers, guava chiffon cakes, banana bread, cinnamon rolls, bread, and even their own special taro chip recipe. Located about 10 minutes south of Punaluʻu Beach Park so that you can stock up on snacks before or after your visit to the beach.
Puʻuhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park: (45 minutes drive)
Volcanoes National Park: Many tourists flock to Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii to see an active volcano. The park is packed with exciting sights, including an overlook that provides a great view of the Kilauea Iki crater. The caldera is the main attraction here. You'll pass petroglyphs.
Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park: Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park was established to preserve and interpret traditional native Hawaiian activities and culture. Located on the Island of Hawaii, the park protects a rich cultural landscape of archaeological sites, heiau(temples), house sites, fishing shrines, fishponds, and coastlines used for subsistence and recreation.
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Whether you're looking for a family-friendly vacation rental, a cozy inn or bed and breakfast, or a luxury spa getaway, the Big Island has the perfect place for you get some much-deserved R&R. Check out these great Big Island places to stay.