This Stunning Hawaiian Beach Is A Must-Visit For Wildlife And Sea Turtle Viewing

It's no secret that Hawaii has some of the best beaches in the world, but the state's Punalu'u Beach might be unlike anything you've ever experienced. Punalu'u is located on Hawaii's Big Island, known for its five volcanoes. Because of the area's volcanic activity, Punalu'u has striking black sand, rather than the pearly white kind found on many Hawaiian beaches. When the hot lava seeping under the water cools, it bursts into tiny black "sand" pieces, which eventually make their way to shore.

While black volcanic sand might be enough reason to visit this beach, one of the spot's biggest draws is its unique wildlife. Visitors can expect to see Hawaiian green sea turtles crawling along the coast here. If you're lucky, you might also spot an endangered hawksbill turtle hanging in or around the water.

Punalu'u is also a prime spot for Hawaiian monk seals, who enjoy sunbathing on the rocks and black sand. If you look a little closer around the beach, you'll find other wildlife hiding in plain sight too. Gaze up at the trees and you might spot the nesting colonies of the beach's native birds, including the endangered Hawaiian hawk. Put on some goggles and go snorkeling to see colorful fish, or hop on a boat and sail away from the shore to catch a breathtaking glimpse of dolphins and humpback whales.

Tips for interacting with Hawaii's wildlife

Spotting the wildlife at Punalu'u Beach will likely be more exciting than any trip to the zoo or aquarium. At this beautiful locale, you get to see the animals in their natural habitat, without any barriers or cages blocking your view. With that said, it's very important to keep your distance and refrain from touching the wildlife.

Turtles are the animal Punalu'u Beach is best known for, and they're also the animal you should be most aware of. These small, shelled creatures are a protected species, according to Hawaii's Division of Aquatic Resources. Green sea turtles are considered a threatened species, while the hawksbill sea turtle is categorized as endangered. As a result, the Division of Aquatic Resources suggests remaining at least 10 feet away from sea turtles. If you get too close and disturb the animals (such as by touching or scaring them), you might violate federal or state laws and be punished accordingly. With this in mind, also be sure to keep an eye out for turtle eggs. Watch where you walk, and avoid picking up any eggs you might stumble upon.

The beach's monk seals, too, are endangered, according to NOAA Fisheries. One of the seals' primary threats is human interaction, including feeding, injuries from boats, and other human contact. It's crucial to not interfere with these animals for their safety and protection.

Planning your trip to Punalu'u Beach

Punalu'u Beach is located on the southeast side of the Island of Hawaii, tucked between Kamehame Beach and Whittington Beach Park. If you're coming from the northern part of the island, following the Hawaii Belt Road will lead you there. Consider combining a trip to the beach with a day at Hawaii's Volcanoes National Park (though be sure to check for park closures first) — Punalu'u is about a 30-minute drive away.

If you'd rather savor an entire day in the Punalu'u area, make a pit stop at the nearby Punalu'u Bake Shop, known as the southernmost bakery in the U.S. Grab some sweet bread and coffee for a snack at Punalu'u Beach, or pack a lunch to enjoy at the beach's picnic area.

For a little more wildlife, head to Punalu'u Pond, situated just behind the beach. It may not be as exciting as the turtles and seals near the ocean, but you still might spot some ducks and other wildlife. If you're more interested in history, find the Hokuloa Church on the other side of Ninole Loop Road. In case the beach gets overcrowded with tourists, this old open-air chapel and cemetery can serve as a peaceful escape.