Punalu’u Black Sands Beach

punaluu black sands turtle

Driving from Hilo to Kona on our Big Island road trip, we stopped at Punalu’u Black Sands Beach. The unique black sands and the beautiful tree line created an ideal picturesque tropical location and are a hot spot for sea turtles!

The Green Sea Turtles

Punaluu black sands turtle
This green sea turtle looked exhausted.

If you’re looking for sea turtles on the Big Island, it shouldn’t be too difficult. We came across sea turtles at most of the beaches, but Punalu’u seemed to have the most. You’re likely to find several hawksbills (honu ea) and green turtles (honu) warming themselves on the black sand.

Sea turtles are protected in Hawaii, and you don’t want to disturb their natural behavior, so don’t touch them or get in their way!

turtles on black sand beach
Carefully walking past the turtles of black sand beach.

The Black Sand Beach

punaluu black sand beach hawaii
photo by Poco a Poco

The black sand at Punalu’u is coarse and not the kind of thing you’d expect the kids to build sandcastles with. Historians believe the black sand was deposited around the 1700s when a basalt lava flow met the cold sea and exploded.

black sands beach tide pools
Stretch of tide pools located at Punalu’u Black Sands Beach, Hawaii.
coconut palms line the beach
The contrast between the black sand and the coconut palm trees that line the coast is pretty awesome.

In our research, we saw a few articles that claimed this is a good snorkeling location and fishing spot for octopus. It was overcast when we visited, and we were pressed for time, so we passed on the chance to snorkel. We’ll definitely come back to this beach in the future and if weather and time are permitting, we’ll try it out.

Some History

The beach gets its name from the underground freshwater that flows through the area. Puna luʻu means “spring diver,” and legend has it that during times of drought, Hawaiians would dive down below the saltwater layer with water jugs to get fresh water from the pools along the coast. The brackish water in the pond has wavy lines that look like gasoline or oil as the salt and freshwater mix.punaluu black sands pond

The pond at Punaluu black sands beach.Some historians believe Punalu’u might be the location of the first Polynesians landfall. The location also shows evidence of use by the ruling class during Hawaii’s history, including post-missionary contact. Sitting on the ridge above Punaluʻu is the Hōkūloa Church, a Memorial Chapel, and graveyard built near the birthplace of Henry ʻŌpūkahaʻia, who inspired the missionary movement in Hawaii.

pnaluu black sand beach family picture
Making memories at Punalu’u Black Sand Beach on the Big Island, Hawaii.

The black sand made from crushed lava rocks, contrasted against the blue water and the lush flora surroundings, made a beautiful setting for our family to enjoy. The boys loved exploring the tide pools and observing the sea turtles.


  • During low tide you can find all kinds of cool sea creatures in the tide pools.
  • Those rocks are slippery! Where proper shoes and walk carefully.
  • If you are going to snorkel, the best place to enter the water is from the small boat ramp on the far left of the beach. From the parking area, walk toward the beach and make a left. Stay out of the water if the surf is high.
  • Did I mention that sea turtles are protected in Hawaii? Don’t touch them or get in their way!
  • Google Maps Punalu’u Black Sands Beach
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