Punaluu Beach

Punaluu Beach

Punaluokinau Beach (also called Black Sand Beach) is a beach between Pāhala and okinaālehu on the Big Island of the U.S. state of Hawaiokinai. The beach has black sand created by lava flowing into the ocean which explodes as it reaches the ocean and cools. This volcanic activity is in the Hawaiokinai Volcanoes National Park.

Punaluokinau is frequented by endangered Hawksbill Turtles and Green Sea Turtles, which can often be seen basking on the black sand. Visitors must remain 15 feet from the turtles at all times. The swimming area is very rocky, and it can be dangerous to swim. The beach also has a large amount of underground fresh water that flows in it. This fresh water is very cold and looks almost like gasoline mixing with the water. Legend has it that in the time of drought, the early Hawaiians living in the area would dive underwater with a jug to get their fresh water.Fact|date=June 2007

Taking black sand and volcanic rocks from the area is prohibited.Fact|date=June 2007

Local tradition says that if any volcanic rock or black sand ifrom Punaluokinau Beach is taken away from Hawaiokinai, that the person that took it will be cursed by the Hawaiian volcano goddess Pele until it is returned. While purportedly an ancient Hawaiian belief, historians can trace this legend only to the mid twentieth century, and it is widely believed to have been invented by park rangers to keep visitors from taking rocks. Nevertheless, the lobby of Kīlauea Military Camp (now a vacation area for military personnel) has a cabinet displaying rocks returned by people attempting to atone for the bad luck that has befallen them, and letters describing their predicaments.

Russ Apple may have been the originator of this myth; as National Park Service Pacific historian and 30 year veteran of the National Park Service, Apple was instrumental in restoring Hawai'ian cultural resources in Kīlauea and Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park in Kailua Kona, Hawai'i.Fact|date=September 2007

Camping is permitted at the Punaluokinau Black Sand Beach Park.

Wahi Pana O Punalu'u

Punalu`u and adjacent areas provide evidence of the shifts in use of sacred space over time. Monumental architecture in the form of large heiau complexes (ritual centers) speak to the power of na ali`i (the Chiefs) and the social stratification of Ka`u’s ancient feudal society. With the advent of Missionaries arriving in the district as early as 1833, Christianity left its distinct architectural hallmark on the landscape of Ka`u. Sitting high on the ridge above Punalu`u is the Opukahaia Memorial Chapel and graveyard built on the birthplace of Henry Opukahaia (1792-1818) who inspired the missionary movement that forever changed Hawai`i.

There are three pre-contact heiau within the immediate vicinity of Punalu`u. The walled heiau was introduced to Hawaii about A.D. 1100 and Punalu`u is one of the last places in Hawaii where one can enjoy an unaltered view from one heiau to the next.

To the south lies Ka`ie`ie Heiau. Thought to be a fishing shrine the heiau was built on a prominent bluff overlooking the ocean to the south, what were once the Ninole fishponds to the west and Koloa Bay to the east—home of the legendary na `ili`ili hanau (birthing stones) said to have supernatural ability to propagate. These smooth, water-polished stones were highly desired and were used for paving heiau, for arming slingshots and as game pieces for the Hawaiian game konane. The name Ka`ie`ie is thought to refer to a type of fishing trap or weir made of the fibrous `ie`ie vine. Considered to be in good condition by early surveyors, several walls and a raised stone platform are all that remain of Ka`ie`ie today. Recent scholarship has interpreted the site as multi-functional. It likely served as a place of offerings and tributes, an observation point for monitoring the fishponds as well as a communications relay and dissemination location.

The heiau complex of Lanipau has not fared as well. Heavily impacted by the construction of the Sea Mountain Resort golf course. Once the largest of the three, today what remains of Lanipau is in essence an “island” swallowed up by a sea of putting and driving greens.

The heiau complex that sits overlooking the ocean and Punalu`u Beach is referred to by many names including Halelau, Kane`ele`ele; Mailekini or Punalu`u Nui. This hieau likely extended to the edge of the cliff at Punalu`u Bay. Its westernmost boundary was destroyed to make way for the construction of a wharf–warehouse complex for the sugar company in 1906. Identified as a heiau luakini (human sacrifice temple), a large table-like stone rests outside the southernmost wall and is known locally as Pohaku Mohai (sacrificial stone). Early site surveys noted possible kauhale (houses) adjacent to the heiau that were likely the residences of na kahuna (religious specialists).

Another important cultural feature is ala kahakai (trail by the sea) that served as an important link between ritual centers and coastal communities. A path with divine origins, the ala kahakai was thought to be the original route taken by the God Lono from North Kohala to the southernmost tip of the island and then windward along the Ka`u coast to Puna. This trail once paved with the `ili`ili hanau, (birthing stones) was designated as a National Historic Trail by President Clinton in 2000 and remnants can be found at both Punalu`u Nui and Ka`ie`ie heiau.

Ki‘i pohaku (petroglyphs) can be found near the County Park Pavilions within a protected area surrounded by a rock wall just past the parking area. It is easy to miss these “unmarked”ancient carvings.

Endangered species

Rare and endangered native animals known at Punalu`u and Ninole are the honu ea (Hawksbill Turtle ) and honu (Green Sea Turtle), Hawaiian monk seal, native bees, orange-black damselfly, and other anchialine pool fauna. Native birds are seen near the shore and cliffs or fly over the area on their way to the sea from upland nesting colonies, including the endangered Hawaiian hawk ('io) that nests in the trees at Punalu`u. Spinner dolphins and humpback whales can also be sighted offshore from Punalu‘u. Residents say such sightings are common. A rare sighting of a Hawaiian monk seal was reported at Punalu`u in Sept. of 2006 near the boat ramp, and several known nesting sites of the endangered Hawksbill Turtle (honu ea) are located along the Punalu`u and Ninole area. Such occurrences indicate a healthy environment with adequate resources to support large marine animals.

The Hawksbill Turtle, or honu ea (Eretmochelys imbricata) is a federally listed endangered species and is the rarest sea turtle in the Pacific Ocean. In the Hawaiian Islands, more than 90% of honu ea nests are found on the Big Island. Researchers estimate there are fewer than 80 nesting honu ea in the Hawaiian islands, of which 67 nest on the island of Hawai‘i. More than half of the known nesting population statewide, 40 individuals nest along the southeast boundary of Hawai‘i Volcanoes National park to Waikapuna. The shoreline should be considered a critical and ecologically significant nesting coastline for honu ea.

The threatened green sea turtle or honu (Chelonia mydas) feeds on marine plants in shallow waters along the coastline. Punalu‘u is an especially well known site for honu. Red seaweed, a favorite food of the honu flourishes on the coral-encrusted rocks in the shallow waters of the bay and the turtles are found basking on the black sand beach despite the presence of beachgoers. Researchers with the National Marine Fisheries have been studying the honu at Punalu‘u since 1982 along with groups of Hawai‘i students.

The endangered Hawaiian Hoary bat, ‘ope‘ape‘a, (Lasirus cinereus semotus), is known to fly over and reside at Punalu`u. The Hawaiian Hoary bats habitat stretches from sea level to over 13,000 feet It usually weighs about 5 to 8 ounces, is nocturnal and feeds on insects. Relatively little research has been done on this endemic Hawaiian bat and data regarding its habitat and population status is very limited.

One of the largest populations of the rare orange-black damselfly (Megalagrion xanthomelas) can be found at Ninole. It is a candidate endangered species and thrives in the aquatic habitat of the extensive spring complex that stretches from Nīnole Springs to the estuary at Honu‘apo. Systematic surveys have observed damselfly populations at Kāwā‘a, Hīlea, Nīnole, and Honu‘apo. The highest densities occur at the back of estuarine marshes, at the mouth of Hīlea and Nīnole Streams, and at Kāwā‘a Springs.


The native plant communities generally appear as a narrow strand of vegetation, mostly a flattened growth of various shrubs, vines, grass-like plants, scattered trees and herbs. The varied habitats of pāhoehoe (smooth, ropy lava), and ‘a‘ā flats, drifted sand, anchialine pond shores, protected beaches, and sea spray battered bluffs each support different native plant communities. In the reconnaissance survey, fourteen species of coastal strand plants (six trees, seven ground cover or shrubforms and the invasive aquatic water hyacinth. Native plants such as naupaka kahakai, ‘ilima ku kahakai, and pöhuehue. were found in the area.


The second largest spring complex on Hawai‘i Island is located at Punalu‘u and Ninole Cove. Stretching from Punalu`u to Nīnole Springs through Kāwā‘a to Honu‘apo, is a series of wetlands fed by basal springs and intermittent streams that support a broad range of native fauna. These spring and pool complexes contain individuals, particularly juveniles or recruits, of several marine invertebrates and fishes, suggesting it may be a significant refuge or nursery area for nearshore marine fauna on the southern coast of Hawai‘i Island.

Anchialine pools

Anchialine pools of various types occur near and around Punalu`u and Ninole Cove. These pools are rare and localized brackish waters along coastal lava flows that exhibit tidal fluctuations without a surface connection to the sea. They include open pools near the shore as well as undisturbed pools in collapsed lava tubes, cracks, and caves. Endemic and native shrimp species live in pools and travel between and through them through underground cracks. The orange-black damselfly breeds in the anchialine pools while native insects perch on the nearby vegetation. Throughout the state, anchialine species are severely threatened by alien insects, by habitat loss due to coastal development, and by other human impacts.

Anchialine ponds are one of Hawaii’s most threatened ecosystems. Anchialine pools are landlocked brackish ponds located close to the shoreline connected to the ocean via subterranean tunnels. Characterized by tidal fluctuations, these rare and fragile ponds are home to unusual plants and animals.

In the U.S., this habitat exists only in the Hawaiian Islands and, of the approximately 700 known anchialine pools, the majority are located on the island of Hawaii. Formed by volcanic activity, these pools are home to a unique assemblage of invertebrate and algal species, some of which are known to exist only in this habitat. In the last 20 years, alien fish species have been introduced and/or invaded a majority of the pools. These alien species have gradually destroyed the ecological balance in many of the pools by eliminating many of unique endemic species.


Punalu`u has long been know for its koa (“fish houses”) where specific species of fish live in specific areas offshore. The pristine, spring fed waters of Punalu`u mixing with the salt water of the ocean provide ideal habitat for a variety of fish that live in these naturally created koa. There are several koa just offshore from Punalu`u still used by local fishermen. Each koa is identified by the species of fish that live there, including yellowfin tuna (ahi) and mackerel (ono, or wahoo). In the old days, Hawaiian families would feed the fish in the koa cooked taro and pumpkin and the fish, in return, would provide a constant source of protein.


The Civil Code of the Hawaiian kingdom did not allow the sale of fishponds or wetlands as these were resources of the common people. After 1850, when the Hawaiian government began selling land, the Privy Council refused to permit any fishponds to be sold. They were all reserved for the government, to be used by the people.


External links

* [http://oeqc.doh.hawaii.gov/default.aspx?RootFolder=%2FShared%20Documents%2FDRAFT%20EIS%2FHawaii&View=%7BF4E3E6A9-2607-49FC-B7A5-2928B79F10B4%7D Draft Environmental Impact Statement for Sea Mountain Resort at Punaluokinau]
* [http://www.fmschmitt.com/travels/Hawaii/punaluuBlackSandBeach/index.html Photo Essay on Punaluokinau Black Sand Beach]
* [http://www.kaupreservation.org/ Kaokinau Preservation]

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