Punaluu Black Sand Beach on Big Island: From Volcanic Sands to Sea Turtles


A journey through time and nature at one of Hawaii’s most captivating destinations, Punaluu Black Sand Beach. Nestled on the breathtaking coastline of the Hawaiian Islands, this beach is not just a place to bask in the sun; it’s a portal into an ancient world.

Here, the volcanic sands whisper tales of Volcanoes National Park and the secrets of the Ancient Hawaiians. Imagine a place where the fresh water meets the mighty ocean, where each grain of sand holds a story, and where the language of the land is as rich and intriguing as the Hawaiian language itself.

Must-Do Activities at Punaluʻu Beach

One of the first things you’ll notice when your feet touch Punaluʻu is the unique black sand. This isn’t just regular sand colored with food dye, folks. The sand here is made up of small, pitch-black fragments of lava.

Go ahead and pick up a handful. You might even recognize some of the larger bits as remnants of ancient lava flows. It’s like holding a piece of Earth’s fiery history in your hands!

You’ll find that the beach is beautifully framed by rows of coconut palms. These aren’t just for show; they serve a functional purpose too.

The black sand can heat up quickly under the Hawaiian sun, making the shade of these palms a prime spot for lounging. So, grab your beach towel and your favorite book, and make yourself comfortable under nature’s sun umbrella.

Swimming at Punaluʻu

If you’re itching to take a dip, you can definitely go swimming at Punaluʻu. However, exercise caution—the currents can be strong at times.

Water shoes are a good investment here. Not only does the sand get hot, but the underwater landscape also features rocks that aren’t too kind on bare feet. The easiest spot to wade in is near the small boat ramp on the left side of the beach (if you’re facing the ocean water).

Ever swum in water that can’t make up its mind if it’s hot or cold? At Punaluʻu, you can! The bay has underwater freshwater springs, which create a unique swimming and snorkeling experience.

This cooler freshwater floats on top of the warmer, denser seawater, allowing you to experience two temperatures at once!

Fun fact: “Punaluʻu” in Hawaiian means “coral dived for” or “spring dived for,” likely named after these unique springs.

  • High Surf Warning: A quick heads-up: if the surf is high, it’s safer to stay out of the water. Save the swimming for another day and perhaps focus on beachside activities or exploring the nearby areas, especially towards the end of the beach.

Snorkeling at Punaluʻu

Punaluʻu offers moderate visibility for snorkeling. But if you’re lucky enough to visit on a calm day, don your snorkel gear and head into the water at Punalu’u black sand beach.

The main beach area might be a little rocky, with lava rocks adding to the natural ruggedness, but once you navigate past that, you’re in for a treat. Turtles often frequent this area, offering a unique underwater viewing opportunity amid patches of red seaweed!

For the more experienced snorkelers, there’s Ninole Cove. This cove is a short walk to the south/west of the main beach and offers a sheltered bay at Punaluʻu bay, making it an ideal spot for snorkeling when the ocean is calm. The cove also has tide pools that are great for kids to explore.

You can either drive to Ninole Cove and park below the clubhouse of the Sea Mountain Golf Course or opt for a mini-adventure.

From the black sand beach parking lot, follow the unmarked, grassy trail southwards (turn right if you’re facing Ma Kai/the ocean). A brief 5-minute hike will lead you to this snorkeling haven.

Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles at Punaluʻu Black Sand Beach

If you’re an animal lover, Punaluu Beach is the place to be! One of the big draws here is the opportunity to witness sea turtles in their natural habitat.

Often seen foraging in the water or soaking up some sun on the shore, these magnificent creatures, including the endangered hawksbill turtles and the federally listed endangered species, make any visit to Punaluʻu extra special.

The majority of turtles you’ll see sunbathing on the black sands are Hawaiian green sea turtles, locally known as Honu. These guys are the beach bums of the turtle world.

Unlike most sea turtles, Honu love to bask on the beach, making Punaluu one of the few places worldwide where you can see this rare behavior.

You might also encounter the elusive Hawksbill Turtle, or Honu’ea, although these are usually found in the water and not basking on the beach. Either way, spotting one of these is like hitting the wildlife jackpot!

Turtle Etiquette: Know Before You Go

Before you get too excited and start dreaming of turtle selfies, let’s talk etiquette. These sea turtles aren’t just beautiful; they’re also protected by both federal and state laws, not to mention the Endangered Species Act. Despite the presence of beachgoers, it’s crucial to respect their space and environment.

So, if you find yourself face to face with one of these majestic creatures, keep these rules in mind:

  • Never touch a turtle. Seriously, hands off. Turtles at all times should be observed from a respectful distance.
  • Don’t feed the turtles. They’ve got their natural diet covered.
  • Both the NOAA and DLNR recommend keeping a distance of at least 10 feet (about 3 meters) from the turtles.
  • If for some reason maintaining that 10-foot buffer isn’t possible, your priority should be to move away from the turtle as carefully and respectfully as possible.

And the most important rule? Enjoy seeing these amazing animals in their natural habitat. Witnessing a sea turtle go about its day against the stunning backdrop of black sand and turquoise waters is an experience you’ll treasure long after your tan fades.

Another important cultural feature of Punalu’u is the reverence and care shown to these turtles, embodying the spirit of aloha and respect for nature.

Facilities at Punaluʻu Beach: What You Need to Know

Lifeguard On Duty: Let’s face it, as gorgeous as Punaluʻu Beach is, safety comes first. That’s why it’s reassuring to know that lifeguards are stationed here every single day of the week. They’re on duty from 08:30 am till 5:00 pm, so whether you’re a morning beach-goer or more of a late-afternoon swimmer, you can enjoy the water with an added layer of safety.

Parking: Nothing kills the beach vibe quicker than the stress of finding a parking spot. Luckily, Punaluʻu Beach offers ample parking space with two parking lots.

This means you can spend less time circling the lot and more time soaking up the sun or snorkeling with the turtles.

Picnic Area: The smell of sunscreen and sandwiches. What’s a beach day without a picnic? At Punaluʻu, you’ll find a dedicated picnic area where you can spread out your feast, complete with picnic tables.

Whether it’s a simple snack or a gourmet meal you’ve prepared, this space provides the perfect setting to dine al fresco.

Restrooms: Let’s be real, when you gotta go, you gotta go. Fortunately, Punaluʻu has got you covered with restroom facilities. This means you can comfortably spend the entire day at the beach without worrying about where to find the nearest loo.

Outdoor Showers: After a day of salty water and sandy toes, there’s nothing like a good rinse. That’s why Punaluʻu Beach also offers an outdoor shower.

It’s the ideal spot to wash off before heading back to your car or going for a bite to eat. Plus, for those who want to extend their stay, camping is permitted, adding another layer of adventure to your beach experience.

How to Get to Punaluʻu Beach

First things first, to reach the treasure that is Punaluʻu Beach, you’ll need to get yourself to Hawaii’s Big Island. If you’re flying from the mainland, there are two main airports to consider: Kona International Airport (KOA) and Hilo International Airport (ITO).

Both offer domestic and some international flights. Choose your airport based on where you plan to stay, but either way, the whole island is at your fingertips once you land.

Finding Punaluʻu Beach: So, you’ve made it to Big Island—now what? Lucky for you, getting to Punaluʻu is pretty straightforward. The beach is conveniently located just off Highway 11, making it easily accessible whether you’re coming from Volcano Village or the town of Naalehu.

From Volcano Village: If you’re already exploring the mind-blowing landscapes of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park—and honestly, why wouldn’t you be—Punaluʻu is a perfect add-on to your itinerary. The beach is just a 31-mile drive away from Volcano Village.

To get there, take Highway 11 towards Kona. Keep your eyes peeled for mile markers 56 and 57, and then turn Ma Kai, which means “towards the ocean” in Hawaiian, onto Ninole Loop Road.

It’s that simple! If you find yourself gazing at the shores of Whittington Beach Park, hit the brakes—you’ve gone too far. No worries though, just turn around, and you’ll find your black sand paradise waiting for you between those mile markers we talked about.

Additionally, Punaluʻu is not just a beach but a park, with Punaluʻu Beach Park being one of our recommended stops at the southernmost tip of the island, offering a unique experience as you journey along the windward side of the island.


As our exploration of the Island of Hawaii comes to a close, the mesmerizing beauty and rich history of Punalu’u Beach leave a lasting impression. This sand beach on the big island is not just a stunning spectacle; it’s a living canvas that beautifully illustrates how nature and culture intertwine.

With its unique black sand beach, home to green turtles and endangered native animals, Punalu’u is a place where you can witness turtles basking in the sun and feel the pulse of the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park nearby.

In conclusion, Punalu’u, with its green sand and serene setting, offers more than just a day at the beach; it’s a journey through the heart of Hawaiian heritage. From the picnic area and restroom facilities to the remnants of ritual centers and coastal communities, every corner of Punalu’u speaks of the island’s legacy.

As you travel along the windward side of the Kaʻu coast, remember that each step on this sacred land is a step through history. Punalu’u Beach on the Big Island of Hawaii stands as a great place to go for anyone seeking a deeper connection with nature and culture.