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

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

From swimming to snorkeling and green sea turtle watching, discover the beauty of Punaluu Black Sand Beach on the Big Island Hawaii.
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Punaluu Black Sand Beach is one of Hawaii’s most enchanting places to spend some quality time. Located on the breathtaking coastline of the Hawaiian Islands, this beach is not just a place to soak up the sun; it’s a gateway to an ancient world.

Here, volcanic sands tell the stories of Volcanoes National Park. A place where fresh water meets the powerful ocean, where every 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

The first thing you’ll notice when you set foot on Punaluʻu is the unique black sand. This is no ordinary painted sand, but tiny, jet-black lava particles. Take a grab a handful and examine it. You may recognize the larger pieces as remnants of ancient lava flows.

punaluu beach with black sand must do activities

The beach is surrounded by coconut palms, which are not only ornamental but also functional. Under the Hawaiian sun, the black sand can heat up quickly, so the shade of these palms is a great place to relax. So, grab your beach towel and your favorite book and cozy up in the shade nature has to offer.

Swimming at Punaluʻu

If you want to swim, you can definitely swim in Punaluʻu. But be careful, the currents can sometimes be strong. Water shoes would be a good investment here. The sand can be hot and the underwater surface is full of rocks that are not very friendly to bare feet.

swimming at punaluu beach with black sand
snorkeling at punaluu beach with black sand

The easiest place to get into the water is the small boat ramp on the left side when facing the beach. The water is neither hot nor cold. There are underwater freshwater springs in the bay, which means you can swim and snorkel. Cooler freshwater floats on top of warmer, denser saltwater, so you experience two different temperatures at once.

High Wave Warning: If the waves are high, it’s safer to stay out of the water. Leave the swimming for another day and perhaps do some beach activities or explore the extreme ends of the beach.

Snorkeling at Punaluʻu

Punaluʻu offers moderate visibility for snorkeling. If you’re lucky and it’s a calm day, strap on your snorkeling gear and head out to Punaluʻu’s black sand beach. The main beach area can be a little rocky, with lava rocks adding to the natural roughness, but once you get past them, you’re in for a great experience.

Turtles often visit this area, offering a unique underwater observation opportunity among the red seaweed!

facilities at punaluu beach what you need to know

For more experienced snorkelers there is Ninole Bay. This bay is a short walk southwest of the main beach and offers a sheltered cove in Punaluʻu bay, making it an ideal spot for snorkeling in calm sea conditions. The bay also has tide pools which are great for children to explore.

Ninole Bay can be reached by car by parking under the clubhouse of Sea Mountain Golf Course. From the parking lot of the black sand beach, follow the unmarked, grassy path south (Ma Kai/turn right if facing the sea). A short 5-minute walk will take you to this snorkeling paradise.

Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles at Punaluʻu Black Sand Beach

If you’re an animal lover, you’ll love Punaluu Beach. One of the big attractions here is the opportunity to observe sea turtles in their natural habitat. Often seen foraging in the water or sunbathing on the shore, these magnificent creatures, including endangered species, make a visit to Punaluʻu very special.

hawaiian green sea turtles at punaluu black sand beach

Many of the turtles you’ll see sunbathing are Hawaiian green sea turtles, known locally as Honu. These turtles are the rare among sea turtles that like to sunbathe on the beach. That’s why Punaluu is one of the few places in the world where you can see this rare behavior.

You may also encounter the Honu’ea or Hawksbill Turtle, which is usually found in the water and not sunbathing on the beach.

Turtle Etiquette: Know Before You Go

Taking a selfie with sea turtles may sound very exciting, but first let’s talk about a few rules. These sea turtles are not only beautiful, but they are protected by both federal and state laws.

hawaiian green sea turtles punaluu black sand beach

On top of that, they are included in the Endangered Species Act. Although there are people on the beach, it’s important to respect the space and environment of these animals. If you encounter a sea turtle, keep these rules in mind:

  • Don’t touch the turtle. Always watch turtles from a respectful distance.
  • Don’t give the turtles food. They have a natural diet.
  • NOAA and DLNR recommend a minimum distance of 3 meters. If you can’t maintain this 3 meter distance, the most important thing to do is to carefully and respectfully move away from the turtle.

The most important rule is: enjoy seeing these wonderful animals in their natural habitat. Watching the daily life of a sea turtle with a spectacular view of the black sands and turquoise waters will be an unforgettable memory as the tan fades.

Another important cultural feature of Punalu’u is the respect and care shown to these turtles. People living here express their love and respect for nature and animals with the ‘aloha spirit’.

Facilities at Punaluʻu Beach: What You Need to Know

Lifeguard On Duty: No matter how beautiful Punaluʻu Beach is, safety is always a priority. So it’s comforting to know that lifeguards are on duty every day. They are on duty from 08:30 am to 5:00 pm, so those who want to swim early in the morning or late in the afternoon will encounter a lifeguard.

Parking: The stress of finding a parking lot is one of the main things that spoil the fun of the beach. Fortunately, Punaluʻu Beach has two parking lots. This allows you to enjoy the sun or snorkel with the turtles without wasting time in the parking lot.

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 equipped with picnic tables. Whether it’s a simple snack or an elaborate meal, this area offers the perfect setting for al fresco dining.

Restrooms:Luckily, Punaluʻu has restroom facilities to keep you comfortable on the beach all day long.

Outdoor Showers:After a day of salt water and sandy feet, there’s nothing like a good shower. That’s why Punaluʻu Beach also has an outdoor shower. It’s the ideal place to wash off the sand before heading back to your car or grabbing a bite to eat. What’s more, camping is also allowed for those who want to stay, adding another layer of adventure to the beach experience.

How to Get to Punaluʻu Beach

First of all, to get to Punaluʻu Beach you need to get to the Big Island of Hawaii. If you’re flying in 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 depending on where you’re staying, but either way, the whole island is at your feet when you land.

Finding Punaluʻu Beach: Getting to Punaluʻu is pretty simple. The beach is right off Highway 11, easily accessible when coming from Volcano Village or the town of Naalehu.

From Volcano Village: If you’re exploring the mesmerizing landscapes of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Punaluʻu is the perfect addition to your trip. Drive 31 miles (about 50 kilometers) from Volcano Village to reach the beach. Follow Highway 11 in the direction of Kona. Watch for mile markers 56 and 57, then turn onto Ninole Loop Road in the direction of Ma Kai, i.e. “toward the ocean.”

If you find yourself on the shores of Whittington Beach Park, you’ve gone too far. Don’t worry, turn around and you’ll find the black sand paradise waiting for you between the aforementioned mile markers. Also, Punaluʻu is not just a beach, it’s also a park. Punaluʻu Beach Park at the southern tip is one of our recommended stops, offering a unique experience on the windward side of the island.


As we end our exploration of Hawaii Island, the mesmerizing beauty and rich history of Punalu’u Beach leaves a lasting impression. This black sand beach is not just an eye-catching sight; it’s a living canvas that beautifully illustrates the intertwining of nature and culture.

With a unique black sand beach that is home to green turtles and endangered native animals, Punalu’u is the place to witness turtles sunbathing and feel the rhythm of the nearby Hawaiian Volcanoes National Park.