Punalu’u beach is the most famous black sand beach of Hawaii and is also known as just ‘Black Sand Beach’. Besides the obvious black sands, another reason for the popularity of this beach is that you can often see endangered Hawksbill turtles and green turtles basking in the sun on the beach!
Punalu’u black sand beach: swimming, snorkeling and facilities
The sand at the beach is made of small pitch-black fragments of lava, and the beach is lined by rows of coconut palms. The shade below the palms is a good place to hang out because the black sand can get very hot in the sunlight.
Swimming at Punalu’u
Swimming at Punalu’u is possible but be careful when going into the water because there can be strong currents at times. The best place to enter the water is from the small boat ramp on the left (facing the water) of the beach.
There are underwater freshwater springs in Punalu’u bay. The water from these springs is cold and drifts on top of the salt water because salt water is denser than fresh water. This can sometimes give you the strange feeling of swimming in water of two temperatures (cold and warmer) at the same time.
These springs are very likely the name givers of this bay. Punalu’u means “coral dived for” or “spring dived for” in the Hawaiian language.
Stay out of the water if the surf is high.
Snorkeling at Punalu’u
A good place to snorkel at Punalu’u is Ninole Cove. Ninole Cove is a short walk to the south / west of the main beach, and offers a sheltered bay with sand channels that provide decent entry into the ocean.
You can either drive (park below the clubhouse of the sea mountain golf course) or take a short but rewarding hike to the cove from the black sand beach parking lot. Follow the unmarked grassy trail southwards (going right if you face makai/the ocean) for ~5 minutes.
Facilities at Punalu’u beach
You can find parking, a picnic area and restroom facilities at the beach, as well as an outdoor shower in the beach area.
There are no security or lifeguards at the beach.
Directions to Punalu’u Beach:
Punalu’u beach is just off highway 11 between Volcano Village (31 miles) and the town of Naalehu (10 miles).
The beach is easily accessible from the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, and is one of our recommended activities while spending time in Volcano. To get to Punalu’u from Volcano Village, take Hwy 11 towards Kona, and turn Makai (towards to ocean) between mile marker 56 and 57 on Alanui Road. If you pass Whittington Beach Park, you have driven to far.