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Black Sand Beach: Visit Punalu’u Beach on Hawaii’s Big Island

No trip to the Big Island is complete without a visit to the famous Pulalu’u black sand beach. Hawaii is filled with some of the most incredible coastlines in the world including colorful beaches like the black and green sand beaches that have formed from volcanic activity thousands of years ago. Visit the southern part of the island to experience this once in a lifetime beach filled with volcanic rock. You might even see a sea turtle or two!

Punalu’u black sand beach

How to get to Punalu’u beach

Punalu’u black sand beach is located on the south eastern side of the Island just a close drive from Na’alehu town. Head down hwy 11 and turn towards the ocean at Ninole Loop Road. There are several parking areas just off the road that lead to the beach.

Facilites at black sand beach

Punalu’u has the following facilites:

  • Restroom
  • Picnic tables
  • Parking lot
  • Outdoor shower
  • Lifeguard on duty between 8:30-5 daily

How many black sand beaches are there are on the big island?

The nine black sand beaches of the Big Island are beautiful but usually not swimmable because they are exposed with rough conditions, currents and undertow. They are still fun to visit, explore and hike.

The 9 black sand beaches are the following:

  • Punalu’u Beach
  • Waipio Valley Beach
  • Pohoiki black sand beach
  • Pololu Valley Black Sand Beach
  • Richardson Ocean Park along Hilo’s string of beaches
  • Kehena Beach in East Hawaii
  • Kaimu Black sand beach
  • Kapoho Black Sand beach with no name
  • Black sand beach at Honomalino Beach

Can I take black sand from the beach in Hawaii?

It is illegal in Hawaii to take lava rocks and sand from the beautiful beaches on any of the islands. Part of the reason that it is not legal to take any sand or rocks is that the black sand is a limited resource and it actually decomposes very quickly compared to other types of sand. You can face fines up to 10,000 if you are caught taking sand, shells or other ecological items from Hawaii.

What is the legend of Pele?

The legend of Pele’s curse says that anyone who removes anything natively Hawaiian like pieces of rock or sand from the Hawaiian islands will feel the wrath of Pele who views the rocks as her children. Legend has it that if you take from Pele, you will incur years of bad luck. However, while Pele is the source of a number of legends, Pele’s Curse is a relatively modern invention. Some say it was invented by local park rangers who grew tired of tourists taking home the black sand and rocks.

What makes the sand black?

When lava contacts water, it cools rapidly and shatters into sand and fragmented debris of various size. Much of the debris is small enough to be considered sand. A large lava flow entering an ocean may produce enough basalt fragments to build a new black sand beach almost overnight. The Big Island is home to several of the world’s most active volcanoes. These volcanoes have created the black sand beaches you see in Hawaii today.

Sea turtle laying on the beach at Punalu’u.

Are there turtles at Punalu’u beach?

Punalu’u beach is a great spot to see turtles on the Big Island. You can often see endangered Hawksbill and green turtles basking in the sun on the beach. There is a special area that has been zoned off with a man-made short wall of lava rocks where the turtles like to sleep on the shore. Sea turtles are protected by Hawaiian law and you must stay 20 feet away from them at all times. It is against the law to pet, feed or get too close to the turtles. You can get fined up to $20,000 if you are caught.

Can you swim at Punalu’u beach?

Yes, but do so with caution. The shore line is very rocky and the surf can be very rough. There is a couple of spots along the shore that you can enter and exit the water quite easily if you want to swim or snorkel. There are lifeguards on duty daily from 8:30-5pm.

Cooled lava flow at Punalu’u black sand beach.

Have you ever visited Punalu’u or any of the black sand beaches on Hawaii?

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