Punaluu Black Sand Beach

Punaluu Beach/Road to the Sea Black Sand Beach - Gorgeous Black Sand Beach on the Big Island
Local Expert's Rating:
4 / 5
The Bottom Line:

Located in South Hawaii on a lonely stretch of coastline, Punaluu Beach is a gorgeous black sand beach that has a lot to entertain visitors. Pretty black sands, towering palm trees, lively tide pools, and unique snorkeling scenes are just a few of the things you can expect on your visit to this Hawaiian beach. You can even apply for a camping permit and wake up to a glorious sunrise!

- The HawaiianIslands.com Local Expert Team

One of the interesting things about the Hawaiian islands is because they were so recently formed from volcanic activities, there have a ton of black sand beaches. Such black sand comes from the long-term erosion of cooled lava by crashing waves and unrepentant winds. One place where you can walk and lounge on exceptionally beautiful black sands is at Punaluu Beach.

Punaluu Beach, also known as Black Sand Beach, is a remote stretch of sand located in South Hawaii. While it will take some driving to get there, the reason they call it the Road to the Sea as it is not a quick jaunt to get out there, That said, once you’ve arrived, Puanluu Beach does have a lot to keep you occupied. We recommend setting aside either a half-day or full day to enjoy the activities here. You might even go longer by booking a campsite and enjoying an overnight stay!

It is important to note that while the black sands of Puynaluu Beach are gorgeous to look at and fascinating to hold, not all these ancient lava rocks are worn down to the size of your standard grain of sand. This is especially true of the ocean floor where larger lava rocks can poke and cause pain for those who don’t wear water shoes. During hot summer days, the black sands on this beach also retain heat, making them hot and painful to walk across with bare feet. So bringing good shoes is a smart idea.

In addition to watching out for sharp rocks, there are other things to be cautious or wary of when swimming at Punaluu Beach. While there are lifeguards posted during day hours, the currents can get quite strong and potentially dangerous. Beachgoers should pay attention to other swimmers and be wary when entering the water. Avoid going on either side of wave breaks as this is where the strongest rip currents will be. There is a small boat ramp on one side of the beach where the water tends to be calmest with a softer ocean floor.

What’s cool about the water here is that it is both freshwater and ocean water. There are underwater springs that erupt throughout Punaluu Bay. The water from these springs is much colder than the incoming seawater and its lighter structural make-up makes it so that the freshwater glides above the seawater instead of mixing in. The result is that swimmers get this unique sensation of hitting consistently cold and warm water.

As you would probably expect, the interesting and special nature of these underwater springs makes it so that Punaluu Bay and beaches like this one have some pretty incredible underwater life. There is a lot of marine life to see just offshore from the beach, and just wading a few feet can take you to another world. But more experienced snorkelers can see even more by checking out neighboring Ninole Cove. 

Lifeguards are certainly the big draw of Punaluu Beach (there are a lot of beaches across the Hawaiian islands that won’t have this reassuring safety measure), but there are plenty of other nice park amenities visitors are sure to likewise appreciate. You will find spacious public restrooms, plenty of private picnic areas, outdoor showering facilities, and plenty of paved parking here. 

If you are booking a campsite, make sure to follow the county’s instructions as the camping area is off of the primary beach area and can be hard to recognize if you aren’t familiar with the park. 

Insider Tip:
Want to bring home some Hawaiian-made items? Then make sure to bring some cash when heading to Punaluu Beach. That’s because vendors are always out on pretty beach days, and not just food vendors (although you will find that). Friendly vendors frequently come out to hawk clothes, carved coconuts, and other souvenirs.