I love visiting the Big Island, my favorite of the Hawaiian Islands. I think the main reasons are because of its active volcanoes and large stretches of undeveloped land. The volcanoes especially fascinate me and draw me to see them again and again. It’s because of its volcanoes that Big Island has so many black sand beaches — black sand is only formed by the breakdown of lava rock, often when hot lava encounters the ocean, solidifies, then shatters in the powerful surf. White sand generally is due to the breakdown of shells, corals, and other organic matter.
An excellent example of a black sand beach is Punalu’u Black Sand Beach Park, located on the southeastern Kau coast. Since black sand beaches are created by lava flows they tend to be rather short lived as the lava often is not replenished. As such, it is illegal in Hawaii to remove black sand from any of the beaches. Also be forewarned that black sand is hotter than white sand as it absorbs more heat, so use proper footwear to prevent burns when strolling on the beach.
I’ve visited lovely Punalu’u Black Sand Beach twice. It’s not very large but pretty, with the black sand framed by coconut palms. And it’s an excellent place to see honu, or Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles, basking on the beach. Of course as with any wildlife spotting, there’s luck involved. But these large animals often crawl onto the sand to rest so your chance of seeing them is very good. It’s tempting to touch them, but that’s forbidden as these animals are protected.
The beach itself is not ideal for swimming, but it’s a nice place for a picnic and just to enjoy the scenery. During my last visit to the island, I traveled with my elderly father who had never been to a black sand beach before, an experience he said he’d never forget.
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