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by Donald B. MacGowan

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

South Point's Justly Famous Green Sand Beach is a Popular Hiking and Snorkeling Destination, Ka'u Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

There are many places on the Big Island of Hawaii that have undeserved infamous or unsavory reputations for one reason or another–the reputations of the road to South Point and Saddle Road come immediately to mind.  Once difficult, even dangerous, to drive, they have been more or less tame for decades–yet the reputation remains, passed on to unsuspecting visitor’s who trust what they are told.  Recognition of this must be balanced with the sure and certain knowledge that in the same breath they condemn the South Point road, someone may tell the same visitor of the hazards of, say, the road to the summit of Mauna Kea or The Road To The Sea in South Kona–both of which can be truly dangerous roads requiring skill, good weather and four-wheel drive to negotiate.

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Looking Past the Kaomoa Wind Farm to South Point from Ocean View in South Kona, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

We here at Tour Guide have endeavored to collect and present the most up-to-date information on visiting over 500 locations on the Big Island, coloring the material with our decades of personal experience living on the Big Island.  Today, you may access that information here on this blog or by renting our GPS unit which shows location aware video presentations about all these sites.  Recently, we have released a version of our tours downloadable to iPhone and iPod Touch that covers more than 50 areas of island, highlighting the popular and the uncrowded, the famous and the secluded, the adventurous and and the relaxing.

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Fishermen on the Cliffs at South Point, Ka'u Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Our goal is to insure you have the most fun, most interesting and enjoyable vacation here in Hawaii–that you are provided with all the information you need to decide where to go and what to see, and that you are not burdened with out-dated or incorrect information…

So, let’s talk about going to storied South Point on the Big Island which, despite what you may hear to the contrary, is a delightful drive and an amazing place to explore.

Hawaii’s South Point

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Visitor's Contemplate the View South from the Actual Point at South Point. Many People Drive All the Way Out Here, Take Pictures at the Point, and Then Drive Back, Never Dreaming of the Rich Tapestry of Wonders That Await Even Casual Exploration: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Haunting, windswept, wild, empty, beautiful. Imagine the gratitude and wonder of the first Polynesians who, after voyaging at sea without sight of land for more than a month, finally made land here at Ka Lae. This sweeping landscape arches openly and inviting from the tumultuous shore break at Ka Lae to the icy heights of Mauna Kea’s summit almost 14,000 feet above.

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

South Point's Guardian Trucks at Kaulana Boat Launch, Ka'u Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

South Point is the farthest point south in the entire United States…not Key West Florida, as some guidebooks claim. The road to Ka Lae from the Hawai’i Belt Road is infamous, but has been greatly improved in recent years, although it’s still only 1-lane wide in many places. Even today some rental agencies admonish you not to take their cars down this road. Relax. The road is fine, although blind turns and hills command your attention and should curb your desire to speed. Also, all the roads, beaches, boat launching facilities and parking are free and public, despite what some signs and unsavory characters might try to tell you. Just don’t leave valuables in your car, and be sure to lock it up (there also is no “Visitor’s Center”, contrary to the sign).

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

A lone cow contemplates Kamoa Wind Farm at South Point, Ka'u Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Along the road to Ka Lae are the brooding and dilapidated wind turbines of the Kamaoa Wind Farm. This wind farm, when all of the turbines are operating, can generate enough electricity to power 100 homes; unfortunately, usually 1/3 to ½ of the turbines are out of service at any given time. The surreal setting on the green plain with the cows grazing unconcernedly, coupled with the eerie, “sci-fi” sound of the generators makes this a unique place to stop, look and listen.

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

The Actual South Point at South Point, Ka'u Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

At South Point proper are a number of dilapidated structures and foundation ruins. The Army had a barracks here during World War II; the paved road was built in 1955; during the sixties, the Navy built a missile tracking station which the Air Force later took over and renamed South Point Air Force Station, which closed in 1978.

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Although There is Some Disagreement on the Interpretation, These South Point Petroglyphs are Believed by Most to Represent the First Three Polynesian Voyaging Canoes to Reach Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

History: The Polynesian pioneers who first reached South Point routinely made incredible voyages that put European seafaring and exploration of a millennium later to shame. More than a thousand years before Columbus, in tiny, twin-hulled canoes that were entirely of carved wood lashed together, using no nails or wooden pegs and employing sails made of tree bark, Polynesians embarked on a voyages that were thousands of miles farther than those of Christopher Columbus, and without the aid of a compass or charts with which to navigate. Using the stars, currents, patterns of migration of the birds and fish, patterns in the waves, water temperature and the color of the undersides of clouds, these explorers navigated, explored, sailed and paddled all across the Pacific spreading their culture, language and peoples at the time when the Roman Empire was crumbling and centuries before the Age of Vikings.

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.It is thought that voyagers from the Marquesas first landed on Hawai’i, at South Point, quite early in the fourth Century AD; certainly the earliest archeological artifacts found in the Hawai’ian Islands are found here. At Ka Lae the Polynesians established a thriving colony based upon the incredibly rich fishing grounds just offshore. The colony was connected to the rest of Polynesia by trade routes to the Southern Islands and regular trade and travel between the Marquesas, Marshals, and Tahiti continued for centuries. Evidence of their colony can be found at Kalalae Heiau, just below the light tower at the Point.

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Kalalae Heiau, South Point, Ka'u Heiau: Donald B. MacGowan

The small, but extremely well-preserved, Kalalae Heiau is classified as a ko’a, or fishing shrine, to the god Ku’ula. Just below the shrine and in the rocks to the west, one can find grooves and holes cut into the rock. These are attachment and guide points for anchor lines for ancient fishing canoes. The currents at Ka Lae are so strong, and flow uninterrupted to Antarctica, that Hawai’ians could not fish and keep their canoes from being driven away simultaneously, so they fed ropes, secured to the rocks out to the canoes, to keep them from drifting away with the currents.

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Kalalae Heiau has numerous sacred standing stones. On the main platform outside the heiau is a pohaku amakua referred to as “Kumaiea” which means “female”. On the smaller stone terrace just north is another standing stone associated with the god Kanaloa and referred to as “Kanemakua” (male). Inside the heiau wall is a stone called “Ku’ula” after the patron god of fishermen; north of the structure stand Makaunulau (named for a navigational star) and ’Ai’ai (a dependent or ward), south is Wahine hele (“place from where the women leave”): Photo Donald B. MacGowan

Like most animists, Hawai’ians invested worship and respect and intuited spiritual power in a range of natural objects and phenomena: rain, volcanic eruptions, the sea, sharks, fresh water springs, the surf and rocks, among many others. Pohaku O Kane, or sacred rocks, were among the most common spiritual objects of worship, whether they were naturally occurring in the landscape (pohakuia loa), or set on platforms (pohaku amakua) or carved (pohaku iki). Kalalae Heiau has numerous examples of the former two. On the main platform outside the heiau is a pohaku amakua referred to as “Kumaiea” which means “female”. On the smaller stone terrace just north is another standing stone associated with the god Kanaloa and referred to as “Kanemakua” (male). Inside the heiau wall is a stone called “Ku’ula” after the patron god of fishermen; north of the structure stand Makaunulau (named for a navigational star) and ’Ai’ai (a dependent or ward), south is Wahine hele (“place from where the women leave”). Examples of pohakuia loa include the Pohakuwa’a Kauhi (literally “canoe rock by the shrubs”) right at the shoreline, which was used to focus meditations before long canoes journeys, and Pohakuokeau (“stone of the currents” or “stone of the years”), which stands offshore. The name Pohakuokeau reflects the Hawaiian belief that the stones would turn over when there was a political change in government.

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Body Surfing at the Justly Famous Green Sand Beach, South Point, Ka'u Hawaii: Photo Donald B. MacGowan

Hike to Green Sand Beach: Absolutely unique to the island of Hawai’i, beautiful and strange, are the handful of green sand beaches composed of crystals of the semi-precious mineral olivine (also known as peridot). The green sand beach at South Point is the best known, largest and most accessible of these.

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Afternoon sun on bathers at The World Famous Green Sand Beach, South Point, Ka'u Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

The sand grains on this beach are formed from olivine crystals weathering out of the lava and cinders from the cone over an eruptive vent that has been partially breached by the sea. The beach lies in the interior of the cone, and the somewhat protected cove formed by the remnant of the cone makes for a wonderful swimming/snorkeling spot. Be very wary of currents and do not go out far nor in at all if the surf is high or there are strong winds. The bizarre color of the water shrieks for color photographs, particularly underwater photographs taken while snorkeling.

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Hikers on the trail to the Green Sand Beach at South Point, Ka'u Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

To get there, turn left onto a signed, patchy-paved and dirt road immediately when you arrive in the Ka Lae area following signs to the Kaulana boat launch. Proceed down the road and park just to the left (south) of the Kaulana boat launch, where there is a dirt road that leads to the green sand beach; there is gate ¼ mile down this road. The gate is almost always locked and the road primarily provides access for hiking, ATVs or mountain biking: private vehicles are prohibited. Hiking distance is 2 ¼ miles each way along rolling tropical prairie (and if you cannot envision that, you really need to do this hike). Despite the multiplicity of dirt roads, you really cannot get lost as you are never out of sight of the shore.

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Hiking down the cinder cone to the Green Sand Beach is much easier than it appears, South Point, Ka'u Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

When you reach the end of the trail, you are a hundred or so feet above the beach on the rim of the remnant of the crater. Look closely for the faint track to scramble safely and easily to the beach (there is occasionally a blue trash barrel to mark this spot, but always there is a cairn of rocks). There is one sort of tricky spot where you have to inch your way over a 3-foot ledge, but almost anybody from senior to child can negotiate the hike to the beach. One can also easily scramble down from the middle (easternmost) of the cone where there is a short ladderway at the top, but this can be slippery. Although tricky to spot on the way down, from the beach looking up, either way back to the crater rim is easy to follow.

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Cliff diving at the Green Sand Beach is popular with locals. We do not reccomend it--the rip tides and currents around the rocks are very strong, the water is shallow and divers must be experienced and have perfect timing to hit the waves just right, South Point, Ka'u Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Cliff diving at the Green Sand Beach is popular with locals. We do not reccomend it--the rip tides and currents around the rocks are very strong, the water is shallow and divers must be experienced and have perfect timing to hit the waves just right, South Point, Ka'u Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Snorkeling: The waters at South Point are wild, crystalline turquoise and wicked. It is obvious from the surf and the currents that swimming is right out along most of this coastline. However in a few protected areas by the boat hoists there is reportedly safe snorkeling, close to the cliffs and only when the sea is calm. Hardy spear fishermen with mask and fins tether themselves with ropes to the steel ladders in the cliff-side; this is obviously risky for the casual snorkeler. The only recommended snorkeling is at the Kaulana boat launch or at the Green Sand Beach and then only in calm seas. But it is beautiful; perhaps as beautiful and wild a spot to snorkel as anywhere in Hawai’i

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

The Justly Famous and World Renowned Green Sand Beach at South Point, Ka'u Hawaii, Famed in Song, Legend and Fable: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

There are no services. At all. None. And a goodly long way to drive to get to any…plan and act accordingly.

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

About halfway in to the hike, the edge of the cinder cone above the green sand beach becomes visible, South Point, Ka'u Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

To see the new iPhone/iPod Touch App, please visit http://www.tourguidehawaii.com/iphone.html. The best of Tour Guide Hawaii’s free content about traveling to, and exploring, the Big island, can be found here. For more information on traveling to Hawaii in general and on touring the Big Island in particular, please also visit www.tourguidehawaii.com and www.tourguidehawaii.blogspot.com.

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Frank Burgess standing in one of the famous ruts in the old road to the Green Sand Beach at South Point, Ka'u Hawaii. This is why you want to hike instead of drive: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

All media copyright 2009 by Donald B. MacGowan. All rights reserved.

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by Donnie MacGowan

69 West Side Beaches 1_edited-1

Waialea Beach (Beach 69) Is a Hidden Gem That Is Just Waiting For You To Explore: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Whether you visit the Big Island for a few days, a couple weeks or a few months, you want to make the most of your time in Paradise.  With such a wide variety of natural and commercial attractions, it is natural for the visitor to get a little overwhelmed in the “Option Overload” and not be able to make balanced and informed decisions on what they want to do and how best to spend their time.

Even choosing the beach you want to spend time on…which beach?  How do you find the right beach for your particular needs?  Are you going just to relax and sunbathe somewhere near your hotel?  Or is the trip to snorkel, boogie board or to explore?  Do you want a beach that’s alive with fun people or one hidden, secluded and empty?  Do you want a beach near your resort or one that’s at the end of a day of delicious wandering?

Kua Bay Sunbathers: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Kua Bay Sunbathers: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Ranked in order, with the best on top, are our picks of the best beaches on the Island of Hawaii—we tried to choose beaches with a range of attributes and interesting features, rather than beaches that are all very similar.  Ranking these beaches is an onerous task since each is a gem and we’ve had to leave off many that are equally fine for their own reasons.  This list at least provides an excellent starting point for deciding where you want to spend you beach time.

Hapuna Beach: A mile long, 200 meters wide and with warm, calm, crystal clear-turquoise waters, always one of the top-ranked beaches internationally, Hapuna is clearly the “Alpha Beach” on the island.  Sometimes crowded, this beach is usually fairly empty until about 11 a.m.  A great beach for sunbathing, it has only fair boogie boarding and rather passe snorkeling.

Hapuna Beach from the south: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Hapuna Beach from the south: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Anaeho’omalu Bay: A long crescent of sugary sand backed by swaying palm trees; snorkel, sail, paddle boat and kayak rentals on the beach and interesting hikes both north and south, make Anaeho’omalu is a great place to spend the day for any family.  Anaeho’omalu is one of the most sought-after sunset images to photograph in the state of Hawaii. Although spectacular for its scenery and beach social scene, the water at Anaeho’omalu is a bit cloudy for ideal snorkeling.

The Justly Famous Anaeho'omalu Beach is a Long Crescent of Gorgeous Sand: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

The Justly Famous Anaeho'omalu Beach is a Long Crescent of Gorgeous Sand: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Punalu’u Black Sand Beach: The large, beautiful beach with acres of jet black sand, backed by a jungle of palm trees and with clear waters stuffed with endangered green sea turtles make Punalu’u not just one of the loveliest beaches in the world, but also one of the most interesting.  Although a little cold due to near-shore springs, the clear waters and black sand bottom at Punalu’u offer fabulous and unique snorkeling.  Madly crazy rip tides and strong currents out near the surf zone make Punalu’u a dangerous place for beginning boogie boarders.  There are numerous historic and pre-contact ruins in the area that make this a great place for exploration.

Bradford MacGowan Filming at Punalu'u Beach: Photo By Donnie MacGowan

Bradford MacGowan Filming at Punalu'u Beach: Photo By Donnie MacGowan

Waialea Beach: Another lonely crescent of sugar sand which is relatively unknown, even by many locals, Waialea is generally uncrowded, lovely beyond description, and has a wild underwater features to tempt even the most jaded snorkeler.  Fine snorkel exploring, hiking and scrambling both north and south of the beach yield secret treasures of small coves, private inlets, sea arches and wild underwater topography.

Happy Bathers Relax in the Warm, Crystaline Waters of Waialea Bay: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Happy Bathers Relax in the Warm, Crystalline Waters of Waialea Bay: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Makalawena Beach: Perhaps the loveliest beach in Polynesia, Makalawena is the perfect sand crescent beach backed by palms and iron wood trees and with morning-glory-draped sand dunes.  A easy mile hike in from Kekaha Kai State Park keeps this beach uncrowded. Snorkeling here is better than perfect, camping here is so wonderful we don’t know why it’s not actually mandatory.  The coastline hike a few miles north from Makalawena to Kua Bay along the ancient, paved Ala Ali’i (Trail of Kings) is one of the finest, most rewarding shoreline hikes on the island.

Long, Lonely and Wholly Wonderful Makalawena Beach in Kekahai State Park: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Long, Lonely and Wholly Wonderful Makalawena Beach in Kekaha Kai State Park: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Mahana Green Sand Beach (South Point): One of a handful of true green sand beaches in the world, the Mahana Green Sand Beach near South Point is not to be missed.  Beautiful, haunting, intriguing. Although the hike is 2 ¼ miles each way, the trail is relatively flat and easily followed. Snorkeling here, due to the green sand and vibrant water color is delightfully weird—be sure to purchase an inexpensive, disposable underwater camera.  Scenery is best viewed early morning and afternoon, although afternoons tend to be quite windy.  Swimming is safe in the protected bowl of the bay, but strong, relentless currents in the open ocean call for extreme caution beyond the bay.

Mahana Green Sand Beach in the Afternoon: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Mahana Green Sand Beach in the Afternoon: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Kua Bay: One of Hawaii County’s newest beach parks, Kua Bay is a true gem of a beach—although somewhat small, it is a lovely setting with warm waters perfect for snorkeling, boogie boarding or just relaxing in. In recent years, Kua Bay has become Kona’s leading “social beach” with scores of young visitors and locals coming to chill in the sand and sun every day.  Snorkeling is superb on both the north and south ends near the rocks, boogie boarding is great when the surf is up…like all Hawaii’s beaches, Kua can become hazardous in times of high surf.

Kua Bay from the north: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Kua Bay from the north: Photo by Donald MacGowan

For more information about traveling to Hawaii in general and exploring the Big Island in particular, please also visit www.tourguidehawaii.com and www.tourguidehawaii.blogspot.com. Information about the author can be found here.

All media copyright 2009 by Donald B. MacGowan.

by Donald B. MacGowan

Sometimes lost in the shuffle between visiting the mile-long sugar-sand beaches of Kohala and the spectacular snorkeling at the Kona-side beaches, the southern beaches of Hawaii Island are by no means second class, poor cousins. Beautiful and alluring in their own right, many are highly unique, offering unusual conditions and rare scenery, and all are well worth visiting. Here is a smattering of the best of the Southern Beaches of Hawaii Island. All these beaches are a bit off the beaten track and, with the exception of Punalu’u, aren’t on any standard tour of the island. Many of these are remote, none are crowded.

We always advise visitors to be careful with their possessions and leave no valuable in the cars. The locals are friendly and open, so smile, talk story with them and open yourself to an adventure that only begins with visiting the beaches.

Mahana Green Sand Beach

The Beautiful Green Sand Beach at South Point of the Island of Hawaii is Reached by an Easy 2 1/4 Mile Hike: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

The Beautiful Green Sand Beach at South Point of the Island of Hawaii is Reached by an Easy 2 1/4 Mile Hike: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Absolutely unique to the island of Hawai’i, beautiful and strange, are the handful of green sand beaches composed of crystals of the semi-precious mineral olivine (also known as peridot). The green sand beach at South Point is the best known, largest and most accessible of these. The sand grains on this beach are formed from olivine crystals weathering out of the lava and cinders from the cone over an eruptive vent that has been partially breached by the sea. The beach lies in the interior of the cone, and the somewhat protected cove formed by the remnant of the cone makes for a wonderful swimming/snorkeling spot. Be very wary of currents and do not go out far nor in at all if the surf is high or there are strong winds. The bizarre color of the water shrieks for color photographs, particularly underwater photographs taken while snorkeling.

To get here drive to South Point and, when the road splits, take the Mahana Boat Ramp branch of the road. Park just above the boat ramp for the 2 1/4 mile hike to the Green Sand Beach. Road conditions along the road to the beach vary dramatically from week to week and the road becomes impassable with even a gentle rain; therefore we do not suggest driving it at all but enjoy the short, pleasant hike. There are no services or facilities here. At all. None. And a goodly long way to drive to get to any…plan and act accordingly.

Punalu’u Black Sand Beach Park

Bradford MacGowan Filming at Punalu'u Beach: Photo By Donnie MacGowan

Bradford MacGowan Filming at Punalu'u Beach: Photo By Donnie MacGowan

A truly remarkable place of great peace, beauty and spiritual healing, Punalu’u’s black sand-lined coves and beaches are world-renowned. Dozens of endangered Hawai’ian Green Sea Turtles swim the waters of Kuhua Bay, Ninole Cove and Punalu’u Harbor and frequently bask on Kaimu Beach here. The wildness of the ocean and the serenity of the freshwater fishpond and coconut palm-shaded beaches make this an ideal place to spend some soul-recharge time. Snorkeling, picnicking and camping, or just relaxing on the beach, are major destination pass-times here.

Punalu’u means “springs you swim to”; it is the abundance of these fresh water springs just offshore that makes swimming at Punalu’u so cold and this settlement site so important to the ancient Hawai’ians. In pre-contact times, due to the scarcity of fresh water along the Ka’u coast, Hawaiians would swim out into Kuhua Bay with stoppered gourds, dive down on top the springs, unstopper the gourds and, by upending them underwater, fill them with the fresh spring water emanating from the floor of the bay. These springs are one of the very few sources of fresh water on this entire end of the island.

Available services include water, picnic tables, restrooms, electrical outlets, and pavilions, parking; camping is by permit only. During peak tourist time, there is a souvenir stand with some packaged food items and canned drinks for sale. Due to chilly waters, off-shore winds, strong currents and a fearsome rip, swimmers and snorkelers should use caution when swimming at Punalu’u, but it’s hard to resist getting in and swimming with all those turtles.

Kaimu Black Sand Beach

Kaimu Black Sand Beach near the Village of Kalapana: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Kaimu Black Sand Beach near the Village of Kalapana: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

The state’s newest black sand beach, Kaimu Beach, is a barren crescent of sand fronting an unforgiving expanse of lava from the 1990 flows. The old beach and the fishing village of Kalapana that stood along it are long gone, buried under 50-75 feet of lava. The palm trees growing along this trail are the result of one woman’s commitment not to allow her community, her beach, her culture to die under the lava. Planting thousands of palm sprouts, she encouraged her community, school children state wide and hundreds of others to plant the young trees. Today, the realization of her vision of rebirth is in the growing palm groves out on the barren lava plain. The trail to the new black sand beach is marked with these young palms.

Near the parking area along the path are exposed fossils, lava casts of palm trees and other plants…keep a sharp eye out, they are everywhere. Swimming is hazardous at the new beach, so is surfing, the ocean currents being strong and treacherous. But take some time to relax, wade, feel the sand beneath your feet and contemplate the drive of one dying woman to rebuild a world she loved from a devastation few of us can imagine. From the lava hillocks along the trail are nice views of the eruption plume at Pu’u O’o, on the flank of Kilauea as well as the steam clouds where the lave enters the sea at Waikupanaha. This is one of the few places where both can be seen easily and at the same time.

Kehena Beach

Kehena in Puna is a Gorgeous Gem of a Beach; Frequently Clothing Optional, There Is a Sense of Both Community and Welcome Here: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Kehena in Puna is a Gorgeous Gem of a Beach; Frequently Clothing Optional, There Is a Sense of Both Community and Welcome Here: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

When the eruption of 1955 created this beautiful black sand beach, the County was swift to capitalize on it and, creating a wonderful beach park, built stone steps down the cliff to the beach. When the beach dropped a full 3 feet during an earthquake in 1975 the stairs were shattered. Like so much else around this island, these stairs were never rebuilt and today terminate about ten feet above the current level of the beach—if you want to get down to the beach, therefore, you must take the dirt path that goes out of the left side of the parking lot.

Once on the beach the first thing that may strike you is that many of the locals who frequent this park have forgotten to put on proper beach attire…or any other attire whatsoever, for that matter. The second thing that will strike you is what a lovely, wonderful spot this is. In the shade of palms and ironwood this wonderful beach is generally sunny even when the rest of Puna is rainy. Swimming here is great, but ocean currents are strong and dangerous not far from shore. The locals are friendly but frisky, so don’t leave valuables in your car.

Pohoiki Beach at Isaac Hale Beach Park

Looking Across Pohoiki Beach to Isaac Hale County Beach Park: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Looking Across Pohoiki Beach to Isaac Hale County Beach Park: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

A lovely black sand beach with an expert surf break, Pohoiki Beach is one of the very few real beaches and boat ramps in Puna District; as such this park sees a lot of traffic. It is also the site of the best surfing and some of the wildest snorkeling and scuba diving in Puna. If you do get in the ocean here, go in left of the boat ramp—be alert to bodacious boat traffic (they won’t be alert for you) and for fairly dangerous ocean currents. Understandably, given the crowded nature of this small place, some locals are less than welcoming of visitors. Graciously share this ocean treasure with the residents, but and leave no valuables in your car.

A short path along the shoreline leads from the parking lot, past a house with abundant “No Trespassing” signs, just a few minutes stroll then turns about 20 yards into the jungle to a secluded, perfectly lovely natural hot spring that is wonderful for soaking. Locals usually don’t bother with swimwear here, you shouldn’t feel required to, either.

The facilities at Isaac Hale Park Beach Park have been recently rebuilt, refurbished, upgraded and expanded considerably—this once run-down park is now a quite well-appointed. The facilities include of expanded parking, soccer fields, picnic tables, showers and port-a-potties. Camping is allowed with a Hawaii County permit.

Kapoho Tide Pools

The Kapoho Tide Pools Offer a Unique, Fascinating Snorkeling Experience: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

The Kapoho Tide Pools Offer a Unique, Fascinating Snorkeling Experience: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Stuffed with abundant sea life, this sprawling basin of lava tidal pools is a remarkable treasure for snorkelers of all abilities from the starkly frightened to the seasoned veteran. Moorish idols, yellow tangs, various wrasses and eels, sea urchins and sea cucumbers abound and there are even some nice corals in the deeper pools. The largest pool is called “Wai Opae”, which means “fresh water shrimp”. Keeping to the left of the main channel keeps one away from most of the ocean currents, which can be surprisingly strong, even in small channels, where ponds empty into the ocean.

An amazing place to spend the day, Kapoho Tide Pools has wonderful snorkeling for people of all levels as well as other general beach activities, including just plain beach exploring, shell collecting, swimming and fishing. No real facilities exist here beyond the parking lot, so come prepared.

Hawaii's Beaches Offer Much More Than Just Sunbathing and Snorkeling--Many Are Associated With Cultural or Historical Sights and Have Intersting Tidepools and Wildlife.  Here, Endangered Green Sea Turtles Leave Enigmatic Tracks In The Sand At Punalu'u Beach: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Hawaii's Beaches Offer Much More Than Just Sunbathing and Snorkeling--Many Are Associated With Cultural or Historical Sights and Have Interesting Tidepools and Wildlife. Here, Endangered Green Sea Turtles Leave Enigmatic Tracks In The Sand At Punalu'u Beach: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

For more information about traveling to Hawaii in general and exploring the Big Island in particular, please also visit www.tourguidehawaii.com and www.tourguidehawaii.blogspot.com.  Information about the author can be found here.

All media copyright 2009 by Donald B. MacGowan

My name is Donnie and I live in Hawaii…I wanted to tell you a little bit about our beautiful colored sand beaches here on the Big Island. Going to the beach is a big thing in Hawaii, because we are blessed with not only weather consistently gorgeous year round, but also with numerous beautiful beaches on which to enjoy our golden days. Because our Big Island is geologically quite young and the landscape is immature, our beaches tend to be smaller than those on the older islands, and are therefore all the more precious. What the Big Island has that some of the other islands lack, though, are beaches with spectacularly colored sand…white sand, black sand, green sand and even grey sand.

But of course, the most beautiful beach in Hawaii, is the beach you are on…so get out there and enjoy the beach!

For more information, go to www.tourguidehawaii.com or http://tourguidehawaii.blogspot.com