Beyond the nearly omnipresent green sea turtles basking in the sun, or the rare hawksbill turtles that lay their eggs here (be careful where you walk), this windswept beach is famous for its black sand: pulverized basalt from Mauna Loa eruptions that absorb and reflect the sunlight in a mesmerizing scene fringed by stately palm trees. The rough, cold waters and undertows frequently make swimming undesirable, but a lifeguard is posted and when it's calm, snorkeling is a treat.
The name Punaluʻu means 'spring dived for,' and legend tells us that in times of drought, Hawaiians would collect fresh water bubbling up beneath the bay by plunging under the waves with empty upturned gourds.
The northern part of the beach is backed by a duck pond and the remains of an old resort: a rotting testimony to local economics and the antidevelopment movement. Near the park restrooms, a small rock wall protects easy-to-miss petroglyphs.
The ruins of the Pahala Sugar Company's old warehouse and pier lie on the northeast edge of the bay. The pier was intentionally destroyed during WWII to prevent the Japanese from landing on the unguarded coast. Above it, Kaneʻeleʻele Heiau keeps a watchful eye over the land.
Come in the early morning since the beach park quickly fills with picnickers and tour buses. Camping is allowed with an advance county permit. There are two signed turnoffs for Punaluʻu between mile markers 56 and 57 on Hwy 11.