Punalu’u Black Sand Beach

Punalu’u Black Sand Beach was a place that I stumbled upon when we first came back to Hawai’i after Dana died.

Kalapana – the magnificent black sand beach that I loved as a high schooler in Hilo – was gone, wiped out by Kilauea’s eruption in ’89. I wanted to go to a black sand beach and after doing some search, it seemed that Punalu’u was the most easily accessible, gorgeous and large. black sand beach left on the Big Island.

We went there.

I wrote this post about it. Punalu’u black sand beach blew me away, not least because of all of the green turtles just hanging out like big beasts of water and magic.

Now that we’ve actually made the leap and moved, I want to be sure we spend time in these special spaces, that we don’t take anything at all for granted.

Punalu'u Black Sand Beach

This island means so much to me.

Because this island is rich in history, culture. It’s steeped, drenched in beauty, every kind of beauty. The rain forests, the desert forests. The fresh lava, old lava, new soil.

New life.

Just like ours – we’ve got a new life going on.

So, back to Punalu’u

History of Punalu’u

Punalu’u is about an hour and twenty minutes south of Hilo. It’s thought to be the original landing site of the Polynesians who first came to Hawai’i 2,000 years ago.

Punalu’u (which means “landing spring”) has served as an oasis in the Ka’u desert for generations. It has provided its inhabitants and legions of Hawaiian warriors during the reigns of Keoua and Kamehameha with fresh water, fish and stones. *

It also has 4 pre-contact heiau (Hawaiian temples) in the immediate vicinity, steeped in history and culture (for more on this fascinating subject, please turn to Wahi Pana o Punalu’u: The Sacred Sites of Punalu’u).

Punalu’u black sand beach is now what the area is most known for. It is also a protected place for green sea turtles, and one of the few places on the planet in which you can find them outside of the ocean. As such, and due to it’s easy proximity to the main highway, there are masses of tourists visiting daily.

Punalu'u Black Sand Beach: The Magical Space of Turtles, Black Sand and Good Vibes

We were going to swim.

Punalu'u Black Sand Beach

But first we went over to hang out with the turtles for a bit.

We saw 3 right there, just chillin’ on the warm black sand (this part was kind of rocky; other sand on the beach is silky-fine). I got kind of excited when I saw that there were 3, because hey! I HAVE THREE KIDS!

I wondered if there was another turtle around – one that would represent me, Mama Turtle.

Punalu'u Black Sand Beach: The Magical Space of Turtles, Black Sand and Good Vibes

Sure enough, there was – and that turtle reminded me of myself, when I’m aching for some solitude and sit a ways apart.


Four turtles, alright!

The surf is strong in Punalu’u, as are the tides and water. It’s not something I’d be comfortable with my kids swimming in, personally.

So we headed over to the large parking lots by the campsites and bathrooms.

There is an awesome large pool that is protected by a sea wall there, with lots of kids splashing around inside.

Mine joined them.

I got to be a Mama Turtle for a few minutes and just enjoy the warmth of the sand and watch everyone playing.

Then one of the little girls playing came out of the water, “Auntie, I’m cold!” I wrapped her up in a towel we had and she sat next to me and we talked story. There were no other adults around, and that always blows my mind. How in some ways, Hawai’i is the land that time forgot. I can’t even IMAGINE parents letting their kids play unattended in the water like that, in California (can you?!).

That makes me sad.

Childhood should be safe and free, like it seems to be for those kids who were playing with mine that day.

Well, my kids came out of the water eventually and an older siblings of the other kids came and called them back to their families (they were all cousins)

Micah took this photos of the littles and me.

And this one of Moxie – he was amazed by her doing the split on the sand

I took this one of Mack, who was not happy about leaving.

…and you probably won’t be happy about leaving, either. Punalu’u is a gem, a real place of beauty and history and I can’t wait to go back and explore more.


Things to remember as you go:

  • This is a sacred spot for some: treat it with respect
  • Don’t disturb the turtles
  • If you have kids/want to swim in a safer pool, go by the campsites – and bring the floaties!
  • Plenty of room to picnic, frolic – so bring the munchies and frolic-ables (note: looks like there is some tourist stuff sold around there: but no stores, shops, cafes or anything; bring what you want to consume)
  • Lots of room to park – large lot and plenty of parking by the road too
  • They have regular bathrooms and outside showers in addition to port-potties
  • Camping is allowed

For More Information:

Directions and Map:

Punalu’u Cultural Preserve & Black Sand Beach

google maps

Book Resources:

Photos from This Post

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Punalu'u Black Sand Beach
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