The most picturesque black sand beach on the Big Island can be found in the
Kau District, the most undeveloped part of the island. The Kau District is on
the Big Island's far southern tip, which also is the location of Naalehu,
the southernmost community in the United States. Punaluu Beach is popular as
a day excursion and with people en route to or from Volcanoes
National Park. The name of the beach literally means diving (luu) spring
(puna). Numerous freshwater springs bubble up into the saltwater offshore, and
the native Hawaiians would swim out with gourds, lower them upside down over
a spring, place a finger over the opening, and swim back to shore with a gourd
full of drinking water.
Punaluu Beach Park has picnic tables, showers, restrooms, and picnic pavilions
with electricity. There is drinking water available, and there are camping
sites, though permits are required. There is also good parking. Hiking trails
take you to a nearby ruined temple and along the rocky cliffs.
This black sand beach on the Big Island is excellent for snorkeling, and the main draw is wildlife. Green sea turtles, called hone, and the critically endangered hawksbill turtle frequent these waters. It is not unusual for snorkelers to be swimming underwater with them, and they often bask amid the shoreline rocks. The beach itself is a nesting area. There are strict regulations protecting these precious creatures, and you must remember to remain at least fifteen feet away from them and never to touch the turtles, as you can contaminate them with fatal bacteria. Overlooking the area of largest sea turtle concentration is a picnic table constantly occupied by locals whose only purpose is to remind tourists of the regulations protecting the turtles. The endangered monk seal, endangered nene (the goose that is Hawaii's state bird), and several species of ducks who swim in nearby freshwater ponds also frequent the beach. The sand of Punaluu Beach is also protected, and you are asked not to take any away with you. When swimming, stay close to the beach to avoid strong offshore currents.
To reach Punaluu Beach Park take Highway 11 to Puunaluu Harbor, which is about halfway between Pahala and Naalehu. From Volcanoes National Park, the drive will take about twenty minutes. From Hilo the drive will take about one hour and from Kona, about 90 minutes.