Beaches are one of the star attractions in Hawaii. How can they not be? From the soft white shores to the golden shaded ones, the mesmerising blue waters with surfer-seducing waves. It’s hard to ignore the ocean call you when in Hawaii.
But today, we are focusing on a not-so-typical yet stunning beach that has grabbed the hearts of travellers and beach lovers from around the world, and it’s called Punalu’u Beach.
Where is it? What is there to explore? We are answering all those questions.
Where Is Punalu’u?
The Punalu’u Beach is located on the southern coast of Ka’u, between the town of Naalehuu and Pahala.
When you close your eyes, it may sound and smell like every other beach in Hawaii, but when you see it for the first time, it will bring a range of reactions. For us, it was a wonder, then confusion to more amazement.
How To get there?
Reaching Punalu’u is not difficult – it’s a little away from Highway 11. Simply head in the direction of Kona and then turn towards the ocean on Alunai Road. The easiest landmarks are road mile markers 56 and 57.
The beach is easily accessible. However, if you reached the beautiful Whittington Beach Park – you’ve missed it and come a little too far.
Location of Punalulú Black Sand Beach On A Map
Why is Punalu’u Beach Unique?
There are many reasons behind this beach looking so otherworldly. The Punalu’u Beach (which translates to diving spring) has some fascinating geological characteristics.
Let’s start with one of the star factors – the black sand. The Punalu’u Beach shore is full of basalt sand. It was formed when the basaltic lava was swiftly cooled from the ocean waters, shattering it into bits and pieces.
While the waves continue to shatter the fragments into tinier pieces, they also push the glassy sand back, forming a beach area. On a summer day, it has a glimmering effect and it’s just fascinating to look at.
History talks of this being a regular beaching spot for the Hawaiian Monarchy.
The legend, however, speaks of the beach homing several underground freshwater sources, which flow into the bay area. The legend goes further to explain that whenever the island is hitting a drought period, natives would dive off with vessels to collect fresh water here.
What Can You Do At Punalu’u Beach?
Enjoy a sunbath and picnic on the black shore.
Appreciate the stunning ocean views and the soothing breeze while having a lovely picnic. There is something enchanting about a black sanded beach stretch, with green coconut trees fencing the perimeter and water lily patches while the blue sky helps the ocean look blue-er.
You can even reserve a picnic pavilion.
Travellers are often warned about the unpredictable undercurrents of Punalu’u Beach, but you can swim here. However, you’ll need water shoes. More often than not the sea can get rather rough, so don’t go swimming alone and always get an idea of how the tides will be from a local. And avoid swimming when the surf waves come alive.
The waters do feel different, however, it’s an experience all on its own. Always get the update on when the high tides are expected, and how the weather looks for the day. We even recommend going snorkelling with an experienced guide who knows these waters if snorkelling is new to you.
That’s right! You can even catch a wave here. Punalu’u Beach is actually known to have some consistent waves during the summertime, so if surfing at a black sand beach has been on your bucket list, Punalu’u Beach it is.
Day Camping (With a permit only)
Camping at Punalu’u Beach is a treat for anyone who enjoys camping by the ocean. But, you need a permit if you plan to camp, especially from 8.00 p.m. – 6.00 a.m. No, you can’t bring pets, smoke or have open fires, and you most certainly cannot remove even a rock or a handful of sand. It’s not allowed, and you must be able to respect these restrictions.
Note: There’re ample parking spots for this beach, along with restrooms, shower facilities and picnic pavilions – which are there for day use, but you need to purchase a separate ticket to use one (you also cannot camp in the pavilions).
The Incredible Marine Life You Will Encounter At Punalu’u Beach
Green Sea Turtle
One of the main reasons Punalu’u Beach is so popular is that it’s visited by these incredible species. Punalu’u Beach is one of the few places you can come fairly close to observing these beauties. They’d either be basking in the sun (but rarely) or foraging in the shallow water. They are a protected species, so keep a respectful distance (3 metres minimum), and don’t interact or touch them (you’ll be in legal trouble). Just appreciate the fact that you are sharing a beach with them, despite it being their home.
Wildlife officials have declared that there are less than 100 Hawksbill turtles left to inhabit the Hawaiian Islands. This makes them endangered. Same restrictions, be respectful and observe them in their homely element. We won’t lie, it’s quite a sight.
Hawaiian Monk Seal
Another rare and endemic marine mammal you might be able to encounter is the Hawaiian Monk Seal. These adorable beauties are a sight, and they make your heart melt.
Tour Spots Close To Punalu’u Beach
If you are planning to pair an extra place with your visit to Punalu’u Beach there are two places that will make the trip even more adventurous.
Volcanoes National Park
It’s just 20-minutes from Punalu’u Beach. In fact, Punalu’u Beach is literally along the route to the park. This park is the home to the most active volcanos that have wreaked some major havoc in recent years in Hawaii. We are talking about Kilauea Volcano.
There’s something otherworldly about this whole park, you might even get the rare chance to view flowing lava! Also, you can camp here too. It’s definitely going to be much chiller at night compared to Punalu’u Beach.
Kona Coffee Belt
This area is about a 1-hour drive from Punalu’u Beach, but we thought it was worth a mention. If you are a coffee lover, you shouldn’t miss this! Go on an aromatic farm tour, where you can indulge in a taste-testing exploration and learn all about different varieties of coffee that grow and how they grow.
It’s going to be insanely cool (and delicious).
Frequently Asked Questions About Black Sand Beach
What’s the best season to visit Punalu’u Beach
Tourists visit between early November to September but June is the best time.
Do you need an entrance ticket to visit?
No. It’s free. You do however need to buy tickets to use the picnic pavilions.
Do the Punalu’u Beach waters home sharks?
Yes, there have been a few sightings – including a sighting of Reef and Tiger Sharks
Are there sea urchins on Punalu’u Beach?
Yes. This is why water shoes are important, also the coastline has sharp rocks.
Have there been any drownings at Punalu’u Beach?
Two tragic drowning incidents have been reported in 2008 and 2014.
Are there cafes on Punalu’u Beach?
No. Not on the shores of the beach, but there are few on the route.