Dance with Sea Turtles on the Big Island

Punalu'u Black Sand Beach on the Big Island of Hawaii is a delight for kids of all ages and an amazing place to spend time for sun worshipers and sea turtle lovers alike.

Hot Take: We loved Punalu'u beach so much that we went there twice…that should tell you all you need to know (5 stars)

Pro Tip: If you just show up and snap some pictures, then you missed the bounty below the sea…this is the best/easiest place we found to swim with a dozen or more sea turtles feeding in their natural environment (but in only 6 ft of water) so you can go from shore to turtle in less than 30 seconds!

View of Black Sand Beach Punalu'u can sometimes get crowded as tour busses drop of dozens of people at a time. 

While there are a number of black sand beaches in Hawaii (the relatively recent volcanic activity supports their formation), Punalu'u beach was easily our favorite because of the ease of accessibility, facilities, and abundant sea turtles and aquatic life. Of course, let’s start with the natural beauty of the place (pictures hardly do it justice, but we’ll try anyway).

The pond on Punalu'u beach is filled with beautiful lily pads and is just as beautiful as the beach itself - great spot for a picnic.
We thought it would be fun to do our live long and prosper sign with the black sand.
beautiful pond at Punalu'u beach - black sand beach, hawaii

However, as nice as sunning ourselves on a beach towel with a paperback was (and it was 100% as nice as you picture it being when you are on a tropical vacation), Punalu'u beach became our favorite once we got in the water. There are many snorkeling spots in Hawaii, but many require a tricky water entry (with significant wave action) then swimming to a relatively deep depth to float above the coral reef below. Nothing wrong with that, but at Punalu'u beach everything is just easier (and therefor basically better).

Snorkling with sea turtles at Punalu'u Beach.

First, the beach is in a natural bay with a reef break a few hundred meters from the shore (so the waves are very tiny most of the time), this makes it a snap for even the most timid to get in. Second, the beach is actually divided in two by the reef/rocks where the sea turtles hang out…so no swimming far out to deep water, the action literally happens within 20 ft of the shoreline and makes for an easy 1 or 2 direction swim so there is no wasted energy. Third, there are just so many turtles, that we often found ourselves in the middle of 3 or 4 of them at a time (most times you are lucky to see one or two on a swim, but we saw more than a dozen in 20 minutes in the water). The turtles are also engaged in feeding at a shallow depth, so you are so much closer to them doing something really interesting (and they get thrown about by the waves as well). But enough of our superlatives, let’s go to the tape.

We took three separate swims (due to a planning SNAFU we didn’t have snorkels, but a mask and fins were all we needed) before we were so tired that we laid on the beach and thanked God for our good fortune. We will both be dreaming about our swims at Punalu'u beach for many years to come.

Sea turtle at Punalu'u Beach in Hawaii