|Punalu'u Beach Park|
About The Park
Kauila And The Sea Turtles Of Punalu'u
The mystical turtle, Kauila, makes her home in the Ka'ū district at Punalu'u Bay according to Hawaiian Mythology, Kauila was empowered with the ability to turn herself from a turtle into human form and would play with the children along the shoreline and keep watch over them. The people of Ka'ū loved Kauila as the guardian of their children and also for her spring that gave them pure drinking water.
The presence of Kauila can still be felt today by the sea turtles that inhabit this special place. The Hawaiian Honu (Green Sea Turtle) can be regularly seen in the bay feeding on limu (a type of seaweed) growing in the shallows. In addition the Honu'ea (Hawksbill Turtle) sometimes enters the bay at night to crawl ashore and deposit eggs in the black sand. Both species of sea turtles are fully protected under the U.S. endangered species act and wildlife laws of the State of Hawai'i. Enjoy watching these marvelous creatures but do not touch or disturb them in any way.
The above words can be found at Punalu'u Beach Park, inscribed on a bronze plaque along with the beautiful image of a child sleeping on the back of a sea turtle.
Punalu'u Beach Park, in the district of Ka'ū, is a delightful stop, just moments off highway 11 between the towns of Nā'ālehu and Pāhala. The county park is open 24 hours a day and there is no park fee.
The word Punalu'u means diving (lu'u) spring (puna) and comes from the tradition of diving to the bottom of the bay with upside down containers and filling them with the fresh spring water seeping from the bay floor.
The Punalu'u area has changed greatly over the years. Originally the site of a Hawaiian village, the entire village was destroyed by a tsunami and subsequent drop of several feet of the island causing the remains of the village to be under water.
In more recent times the bay had a dock used primarily for sugar cane. A railroad ran to the far end of the bay and you can still see the cement remains of the old dock structures past the boat ramp. The cement landing was dynamited by the US military during WW II to keep it from being used as a landing point by the Japanese navy.
The railroad itself was a road raised about 10 to 15 feet off the ground. The narrow road still exists and is in good condition. It is used by people to access the boat launch. Locals and visitors alike also can park near the boat launch and enjoy that side of the bay. Sitting above the cement remains are several Hawaiian structures including the Kane'ele'ele Heiau. To find the railroad simply continue through the park out toward the Hilo direction. Just past the abandoned resort you will find the dirt road on your right. The road is extremely narrow and offers only a couple of pull over spots to avoid oncoming traffic, but it is only a short drive to the beach.
The bay and beach itself are very beautiful. Between the far end of the bay and the abandoned resort is a large fresh water pond usually inhabited with a variety of ducks. The beach is a black sand beach and the coarse black sand can be quite hot. However, an ample selection of tall palm trees provides shade for those who prefer to escape the sun.
Swimming is popular in the bay but you must be careful to stay near the beach. You should not swim past the boat ramp as constant rip tides are in the bay and are very strong and dangerous.
Even more popular are the many turtles you can find on the beach. It is illegal to approach the turtles or disturb them in any way, as this area not only is their feeding ground, but also their breeding ground. The turtles are protected by both federal and state law.
The turtles are huge and both the Green Sea Turtle and the Hawksbill Turtle can be seen sunning themselves or munching on the tasty vegetation in the ocean.
Past the bay is the park itself with parking, pavilions, bathrooms, water, showers and even electricity hookups for camping. On weekends this is a favorite local picnic spot so it is better to visit on the less busy weekdays if you want to get a picnic table or pavilion. No matter what day you will always find other visitors as well as tour buses making frequent stops.
If you are looking for a perfect spot to relax, enjoy a black sand beach, sparkling cool water and wild turtles - Punalu'u offers one of the best stops on the long drive between Kona and Hilo.
Punalu'u Beach Park is in the district of Ka'ū between the towns of Nā'ālehu and Pāhala.
The park is accessible from the highway by a loop road that not only takes you to the park, but also to the Sea Mountain condos and golf course.
If you are driving from the Kona direction you will make a right hand turn near mile marker 57 and drive past the golf course and condos till you reach the park.
If you are driving from the Hilo direction you will make a left hand turn near mile marker 56 and drive past a bit of golf course before having a number of choices. The first choice will be a dirt road on your left. This narrow road is an old raised railroad and takes you to the far end of the beach. If you go past the dirt road you can drive straight, past the abandoned resort and up onto the middle of the beach. There is parking near the houses, or you can follow the beach to the right to the park's official parking lot.
Click here for a more detailed map.
Portions of the park are easily wheelchair accessible. There is drinking water, showers, restrooms, camping sites with electricity and three picnic pavilions, some with grilling pits. There are no phones or food service and there are no lifeguards or other park personnel.
Punalu'u Beach Park sits at sea level in the Ka'ū desert. This area typically receives much less rain and has warmer temperatures than the East side of the island.
This stitched photo shows the bay and far side.