Visiting Punaluu Black Sand Beach
Add Punaluu Black Sand Beach to your Big Island itinerary because it’s a marvel you don’t want to miss! Although volcanoes are the main attraction on the Big Island, most visitors don’t realize the lasting effects lava has on Hawaii’s youngest island. As lava cools and hardens, it becomes black and brittle and is easily broken apart by the ocean waves. The lava rock break down and becomes black sand, making the Big Island a beacon for black sand beaches.
Where is Punaluu Black Sand Beach?
Image by Sarah Humer from Unsplash
Punaluu Black Sand Beach is on the southern Ka'u coast of the Big Island. It is about 1.5 hours from Kailua-Kona and 1.25 hours from Hilo. Located between the towns of Volcano Village and Naʻalehu, the entire area is quite famous for its volcanic activity. In fact, Naʻalehu translates to volcanic ashes!
Directions to Punaluu Black Sand Beach?
Getting to Big Island’s most famous black sand beach is pretty easy, too. From Kailua-Kona or Hilo, find your way to Highway 11 (Mamalahoa Highway) and turn toward the ocean at Ninole Loop Road (from Kailua-Kona) or Punaluu Road (from Hilo). Follow the road until you reach the Punaluu Black Sand Beach parking lot on Ninole Loop Road.
Or, take Shaka Guide’s South Island Epic Coastal Journey - we’ll guide you there!
Things To Do At Punaluu Black Sand Beach on Big Island
Just like any beach in Hawaii, the views are fantastic and rewarding. Here’s what you should know about Punaluu Black Sand Beach. If you plan to do more than just walking the shore.
Look For Turtles (But Don’t Touch)!
Image by Max Gotts from Unsplash
Turtles LOVE Punaluu Black Sand Beach and it all comes down to…the black sand!
Turtles need to warm up in the sun because they are cold-blooded reptiles. Black sand beaches are a natural place for them to do this. Don’t be surprised to find a few green sea turtles snoozing on the sand or hanging out in the warmer shallow waters. The turtles here are used to humans walking around. So, if you sit on the sand, you’re sure to see a few pull themselves up onto shore.
IMPORTANT: Please DO NOT touch or feed the turtles (this goes for all turtles in Hawaii). Federal law protects turtles, and it is recommended that you stay at least 10 feet (3 meters) away from them.
Snorkeling And Swimming
Image by David Henrichs
While you can snorkel and swim at Punaluu Black Sand Beach, the current is on the stronger side. So, entering the water here is recommended only for strong swimmers or on calm weather days.
There is a lifeguard assigned to this beach every day from 8:30 am - 5 pm and bathroom and shower facilities are on the beach, too. The parking lot is a short walk away so getting to the beach and back takes little effort.
Picnic And Enjoy The View
Image by Josue Michel from Unsplash
If you don’t feel like getting in the water, sit on one of the picnic tables (or bring a beach mat) so you can enjoy the view. Bring some snacks or a packed lunch and enjoy an outing as you watch the turtles, swimmers and snorkelers in the water. You can also walk along the shore and explore some of the tidepools in the area, too. The black sand does get hot, so wear water shoes or other appropriate footwear so you aren’t dancing on the sand in pain.
RELATED: The Ultimate Big Island Travel Guide
Is It Punaluu Or Punaluʻu Black Sand Beach?
As you research black sand beaches on the Big Island, you might come across a few articles or social media posts that say “Punaluu” or “Punaluʻu”.
So what’s the difference?
The traditional and culturally correct way to write it is “Punaluʻu”. The apostrophe is actually a backwards apostrophe that indicates a glottal stop between two vowels.
While most people who are trying to be respectful will write Punaluʻu, many companies and influencers will write “Punaluu” simply because it’s more Google friendly and searchable. This is important because you want the vast majority of people to land on your article especially if you have something to say about possible dangers, things to know, or travel guides. But if you want to write a friendly post, "Punalu'u" is your best bet. People who live on the islands will appreciate and thank you for it.
Other Attractions Near Punaluu Black Sand Beach on Big Island
Image by Joao Melo
Punaluu Black Sand Beach may be far from other places. But there are still a few things you can do if you want to see more of the area.
A quick walk from the beach, stop at Punaluu Pond behind you to see this quiet little pond with flowers blooming on it.
Image from Flickr by Thren09
Also known as Henry ʻOpukahaʻia Memorial Chapel, the Hokuloa Church is right up the road from Punaluu Black Sand Beach.
Drive south from Punaluu Black Sand Beach for about 10 minutes and you’ll come across Haleokane Lookout. It’s a simple pullout on the side of the road but it’s a lovely place to stop and stretch your legs, enjoy the view, and maybe munch on a snack or two before you hop back in the car.
Kaʻu Coffee Mill
If you’re in the mood for a tour, stop at the Kaʻu Coffee Mill for tastings and farm tours. Kaʻu coffee is delicious and coffee connoisseurs will taste the subtle differences between Kona and Kaʻu coffee - it’s also a stop on our South island Epic Coastal Journey tour.
Other Black Sand Beaches On The Big Island
Currently there are a total of 6 black sand beaches on the Big Island (including Punaluu Black Sand Beach). Here are the remaining 5 on the island:
Pohoiki Beach (Isaac Kepo’okalani Hale Beach Park)
A part of Isaac Hale Beach Park, Pohoiki Beach just barely escaped annihilation in the 2018 Puna eruption. It’s a newer black sand beach, too. When red-hot lava pours into the ocean and cools too quickly, it can explode into smaller fragments creating these black sand beaches almost instantaneously like magic.
Image from Flickr by Robert Linsdell
Although Kaimu Beach is not a safe place for swimming, it’s worth your time to visit especially if you’re into volcanoes. Kaimu Beach is relatively new and is a fantastic example of a black sand beach in creation.
Pololu Valley Beach
Another gorgeous black sand beach that includes a steep hike down to the beach. Or, you can just stay on the top and enjoy the view from the overlook. Pololu Valley is a stop on our Kohala Coast Backcountry Tour!
Kehena Beach used to be crowded and popular with tourists, but ever since the 1975 earthquake, access to the beach is limited and requires somewhat of a hike to get to. The beach itself is still lovely with usually only a few visitors. However, be warned that this spot has since become known as a nude beach.
Waipio Valley Black Sand Beach
As of February 2022, access to this beach is closed. That means all hiking trails and going down to this beach is not possible for visitors. However, you can still see this beautiful beach from the overlook! Waipio Valley Black Sand Beach is the stuff of legends. Its incredible beauty is stunning and the site has been used as the backdrop for many Hollywood films.
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