Punalau Beach

Punalau Beach: Don't Overlook This Small, But Remarkable Photo Spot
Local Expert's Rating:
4 / 5
The Bottom Line:

A true hidden gem, Punalalau Beach is an often-missed destination that tends to attract local surfers more than it does vacationers. Its rocks and parking complications may keep some beach lovers away, but there's no denying the appeal of this rugged gem from an aesthetic standpoint. Take a quick stop for photos or to stretch your legs before you continue on to Nakalele Blowhole.

- The HawaiianIslands.com Local Expert Team

Not everybody’s idea of the perfect beach vacation involves cocktails at a luxurious resort. In fact, even vast expanses of white sand aren’t preferred by one and all. If you would rather explore a destination that’s a bit more rugged, you’ll be pleased to find several beaches along Maui’s northwest coast that fulfill your wildest expectations. These take a little extra work to pinpoint and access, but the reward will prove more than worthwhile: a serene experience complete with picture-perfect vistas. 

One of the best options for escaping the hustle and bustle? Punalau Beach. Small and secluded, this beach offers plenty to love for vacationers who thrive on exploration.

Most tourists have no idea Punalau Beach exists, even though many come within a few hundreds of yards of it en route to the popular Nakalele Blowhole. It’s a prime hangout among local surfers, who appreciate the unique challenges that “The Mill” delivers.

This surfing opportunity should not be tackled by novices, as its waves are notoriously challenging. Still, that doesn’t mean you need to be an advanced surfer to check out the delights of Punalau Beach. If you want to gaze at the waves and enjoy dramatic scenery, you’ll find few places that deliver as intriguing of a panorama. 

Unfortunately, some of the attributes that limit crowds at this attraction also represent major drawbacks for the visitor in search of beach-based relaxation. For example: rocks are a chief source of complaints. They are incredibly abundant near the beach, to the point that it can be difficult to wade in the water. Interestingly, however, the very rocks that make some people wary of this beach can be an advantage for others, as the formations are picturesque in their own unique way.

Don’t expect to take advantage of restroom facilities or other amenities at this location, which even lacks the porta-potties found at some other secluded beaches in the area. In all likelihood, however, you won’t stay at this particular location long enough for the lack of amenities to be an issue. While it’s great for a brief stop, there’s probably not enough here to occupy you for more than half an hour — unless you’re a committed photographer, and then your mileage may vary. A few nearby parks (such as D.T. Fleming) do have restrooms, so consider stopping by one of these destinations first. 

Swimming and snorkeling opportunities may be limited once you arrive at the beach, but that shouldn’t necessarily stop you from visiting — even if you don’t plan on surfing. If nothing else, this is a great place for taking dramatic photos. You can feel confident in your ability to score crowd-free snapshots that focus exclusively on the natural beauty of Hawaii. 

With the right expectations, Punalau Beach can be a wonderful stop on your way to other local attractions. Take a moment from your busy day to witness the awe-inspiring scenery and enjoy some peace and quiet. After a brief break, you’ll be ready to return to your jam-packed day of Lahaina exploration.

Insider Tips:
-This beach can be easy to miss, particularly if you rely on phone-based directions. Your best bet for finding it: keep an eye out for the 34-mile marker on Honoapiilani Highway, as this is less than a mile from the beach.
-The dirt road that leads from the highway to the beach can be difficult to navigate. As such, the full drive to the beach is best undertaken by vehicles with high clearance. If you arrive in a small car, consider parking at the beginning of the dirt road and walking down to the beach. A short trek could save you a lot of stress.