Visitors to the Hawaiian islands have plenty of beaches to choose from, but a must-stop destination is Punalu’u Beach, located on the southeastern Kau coast between the towns of Pahala and Naalehu on the big island of Hawaii.
What makes this coconut palm-lined beach so unique and a favorite for tourists and locals alike?
Read on to learn more about what makes this beach different from others on the island of Hawaii, fun activities to experience, places to stay nearby, directions to the beach, and where to park so you can make your visit as stress-free and memorable as possible!
Punalu’u Beach Bragging Rights
The most striking thing about Punalu’u is the dark black sand shore which forms from lava flowing into the ocean from the volcanic activity at nearby Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Contact with the cool ocean water causes the basalt lava flow to explode into tiny fragments which catch in the wave action until it ultimately washes up on the shore of this expansive beach.
This beach is not only easily accessible for humans, but Punalu’u is also famous for its visitors from the sea like the Hawaiian green sea turtles, known locally in the Hawaiian language as Honu.
Green sea turtles, after basking on the warm sandy area, would dive underwater and forage for food near shore. A unique treat is spotting the rare Hawksbill Turtle, also known as Honu’ea that visit this shoreline.
No matter which species of turtle you encounter, take care to remember that sea turtles are a protected endangered species on Hawaii’s islands, so you must keep a distance from the turtles at all times.
Activities to experience at Punalu’u Beach
After a stroll on the beach and turtle watching, there are other activities visitors can enjoy while at Punalu’u.
Punalu’u beach offers picnic areas that provide a scenic place to relax and enjoy lunch. Convenient outdoor showers and restroom facilities make cleaning up before your meal a breeze. You can also find local vendors selling snacks.
Snorkeling and swimming
Take a short walk west of the beach to reach Ninole Cove for great snorkeling. This small bay allows easier entry into the ocean through the sand channels that form between the rocks.
On calm days, the best place for swimmers to enter the ocean at Punalu’u is on the northeastern end of the beach where you see a small boat ramp and the shoreline is less rocky, which makes it easier to get into the water.
In this area of the island, springs push freshwater up from the seafloor and mix with the ocean water, causing an interesting feeling of swimming through two distinct temperature ranges.
On the west side of Punalu’u beach, there is a coastal trail that runs 2.5 miles over through ancient Hawaiian settlements to Kāwā Bay, which is a popular surf spot for locals. This hike is a refreshing break from the crowds and allows a more in-depth peek into the history and natural wonders of the area.
Places to Stay Near Punalu’u Beach
For a change of pace, consider camping at Punalu’u black sand beach park in the designated camping area that is run by the county. With a permit, you can camp near the beach for a truly memorable experience.
If you prefer hotel comforts, you can find many highly-rated accommodations within a short drive of Punalu’u beach.
Vacation home rentals are another popular choice for visitors looking to stay on the south point of the island.
Directions to Punalu’u Beach
Punalu’u beach is directly off Highway 11. Volcano Village is 31 miles to the northwest, and the town of Naalehu is 10 miles south.
You can visit the beach from Volcanoes National Park by traveling southeast down Highway 11 and turn left, towards the ocean, on Alanui Road between mile marker 56 and 57.
Where to Park at Punalu’u Beach
For beach parking, there is a large lot for visitors. If you are looking to snorkel at the cove, you can take a short five-minute walk through a grassy trail southwards from the main parking lot, or travel down Ninole loop and park near the Sea Mountain golf course clubhouse.
A Final Bit of Folklore
Hawaiian legend states that the ancient volcano goddess Pele will curse any person taking stones or sand from Punalu’u Beach until they return such items. While a fun bit of local folklore, you can find a display at the Kilauea Military Camp where tourists have sent back their island “memento” with a note detailing their unfortunate mishaps, so consider leaving that stunning onyx-colored sand behind.