The Big Island of Hawaii consists of a whole lot of lava. And what color is lava? It’s black. With so much lava lying around it is bound to make some sand. So what was all the fuss about? Why did people say there were only a few black sand beaches on the island? We drove all over the island and there was lava rock everywhere. Weren’t black sand beaches all over the place too?
Well, no. More often than not they were a mix of black and white sand. Heck, I only saw one truly white sand beach at Kua bay. I’m sure there were more, in fact I saw pictures of them, but they seem to be the rarity on the island, not the norm. The same went for a truly genuine black sand beach. This island was not shaping up to be what I expected.
So why are the black sand beaches so famed? Well for one thing they are rare. Not many islands are active volcanoes and have lava flowing into the ocean. For another, it is true that not many of the beaches are actually fine sand. The one near our rental house was made up of mostly small black rocks with just a few spots of sand. According to our guidebook, a genuine black sand beach is “created when a chunky a’a lava flow meets the ocean and shatters into small pieces on contact with the water. These small chunks are quickly pulverized by the ocean, forming a delicious black sand.”
We headed down to Punalu’u Black Sand Beach least we miss our chance to see this truly black beach. As Mike loved to point out to me, once the lava stops flowing the black sand erodes into the ocean and won’t be back. Obviously I needed to see what all the fuss was about.
The fuss is worth it people. The water was a bit too cold and rough for our family to really dive into. The top layer was cold fresh water bubbling up just offshore. There was also a nice breeze whipping across the sand. Of course this didn’t stop Dek from diving right in. Thank goodness I had a disposable swim diaper in my bag. When will I ever learn to just keep that kid in a swimsuit the entire time we are in Hawaii?
The beach wasn’t overly crowded. We were visiting late in the afternoon. Most of the west side day-trippers were long gone. There were a few people camped out, but mostly just shutter bugs looking to score a great shot of the turtles sunbathing on the beach.
A note about the turtles: There are signs clearly stating that federal law protects the animals and you must keep your distance. Respect that please. I saw too many people with huge zoom lenses almost standing on top of the sea turtles. This is not necessary. How close to a turtle’s eyeball do you really need to get with a 200mm lens in order to get the shot? Even with my measly 135mm zoom I was able to get some nice images of these loveable sea creatures.
We ventured down the beach and into the tide pools so Dek could do a little digging while Mike and I took turns exploring the lava rocks jutting out into the sea. Water crashed over the lava creating mini waterfalls. I found a turtle trying to turn himself around in a tide pool. I’m not sure if he was coming or going. He didn’t seem to know either as each incoming wave knocked him around.
After taking my required 1,200 shots of the beach and my son, I sat back and enjoyed the view. Sure I had mocked the fact that the whole island is made of black sand, but sitting there on that beach giving my feet a much need exfoliation I realized I had been wrong. This right in front of me was what people marveled at and came home talking about. The refined sand made by a tumultuous mother nature had created a beach worth exploring and learning about.
My toes dug deeper into the sand as the sun set and the other visitors headed back to their hotels. This was good living. This was why people flocked to the islands. This was a black sand beach at its best.
Know Before You Go
- Punalu’u Black Sand Beach, between mile marker 56 and 55 on HWY 11 (south of Hilo)
- Restrooms are available
- Picnic tables are on sight
- Water shoes or flip-flops are highly recommended if you are doing any exploring. The lava rocks that go out into the water and around the beach can be very sharp.
- Guidebook- Hawaii: The Big Island Revealed