The black sand beach at Punalu'u, one of nature's rarest wonders and the largest black sand beach on the Big Island, strikes visitors with its serene beauty. The stretch of black sand at the southern tip of the island is offset by a grove of coconut palms, and as cresting blue waves crash gently on the sand, the effect is truly breathtaking. The open stretch of shore is perfect for picnicking or simply gazing at the beach vista.
Punalu'u's black sand formed when molten lava from the active Mauna Loa and Kilauea volcanoes spilled into the water and quickly cooled, breaking into the granules that became the "sand." Because the creation of the sand is such a rare natural occurrence, many signs warn visitors against taking any of it away from the beach.
The name Punalu'u literally means "diving spring" and is derived from the bay's bubbling springs, where Hawaiians once swam out to sea and obtained their fresh water.
Punalu'u has also gained fame as the home of 2 endangered turtle species, the green turtle and the hawksbill turtle, which both can be seen swimming in the water just off the main beach. The hawksbill turtle often crawls ashore at night to deposit eggs, an incredible sight for nature lovers to witness.
The beach provides the perfect setting for picnics or sunbathing, but the bay's choppy waters and a lack of lifeguards make it less than ideal for swimming.
Punalu'u Beach Park
Can't get enough of the unusual black sands of Punalu'u Beach? Spending a night near the crashing waves and endangered hawksbill turtles is within reach at the small Punalu'u Beach Park campground. To protect the turtles, which crawl on the sand at night, the campsite is located in the park, a few yards south of the beach. Few accommodations can rival a night under the stars by a black sand beach; amenities include parking, showers, electricity, picnic pavilions and drinking water.
Best House Rental
Black Sands Beach Vacation Rentals
Web site: blacksandsbeach.com
Visitors to Punalu'u can opt to sleep footsteps away from the black sand beach in the comfort of a private vacation home rental. Black Sands Beach Vacation Rentals offers a three-bedroom/two-bath house (sleeps eight adults) with a porch, 2-acre lawn, and views of the beach and bay. A smaller 1-bedroom cottage is also on the property. Both houses provide dishes, cookware and linens.
Macadamia Meadows Farm Bed & Breakfast
Web site: www.macadamiameadows.com
Tucked into 8 lush acres and nestled in the midst of a macadamia nut farm, the Macadamia Meadows Farm B&B boasts spacious rooms, with many featuring private lanais (decks), vaulted ceilings, canopy beds and claw-foot tubs. Breakfast lovers will swoon over the inn's morning meals, which incorporate locally grown fruits and macadamia nuts, and freshly ground Kona coffee. Employees offer tours of the macadamia nut orchard, and the farm features tennis courts, basketball courts and a pool.
Best Luxury Accommodation
Hale Ohia Cottages
Web site: www.haleohia.com
For more than 75 years, Hale Ohia has been treating its guests to a number of plush guest rooms, carefully manicured grounds, a peaceful botanical garden and a prime location: the resort lies within 1 mile of Volcanoes National Park. Some of the more notable accommodations on the property include the refurbished Cottage No. 44, which features a fireplace, redwood interior and a Jacuzzi tub; guests seeking privacy, however, may want to stay in the Ihilani (heavenly splendor) Cottage, with its private garden, antique leaded windows, skylight and fireplace.
Food & Drink
Best Fine Dining
Web site: kilauealodge.com
Owner-chef Albert Jeyte's culinary creations provide sumptuous respite for hungry travelers. Housed in the cozy environs of the lodge, the Kilauea Lodge remains one of the Big Island's most popular restaurants and has been serving guests thoughtfully prepared and unusual meals, like the leg of antelope fillet with red wine and shallot sauce or the medallions of venison flamed with brandy. The restaurant's decor is inviting with hardwood floors, koa tables, a centrally located fireplace and sofa, and a collection of island artifacts that embellish the walls.
Best Island Vistas
Ka Ohelo Dining Room
Web site: volcanohousehotel.com
Touting itself as the only restaurant in the world to overlook an active volcano, the Ka Ohelo Dining Room delivers sprawling views of the Kilauea caldera and the fiery Halemauamau crater. Conveniently located in Volcanoes National Park, the restaurant does attract its fair share of crowds. However, while the ambience remains casual, the menu proves to be upscale. Dinner entrees include filet mignon, Cornish game hen and king crab legs; the lunch buffet features roast beef and seafood-stuffed mahi-mahi. To catch the best vistas, arrive early; after dark the crater and caldera are difficult to see.
Best Local Wine
Web site: www.volcanowinery.com
Wine aficionados will delight in Volcano Winery, located between Mauna Loa and Kilauea volcanoes. After a day spent hiking and exploring, visitors can unwind at one of the winery's koa wood bars. Founded in 1986, the winery made a name for itself by producing unique blends of wine that incorporated local fruits. Starfruit, passionfruit, papaya and even honey from macadamia nut blossoms have been blended with grapes to produce award-winning wines.
Best Baked Goods
Web site: www.punaluubakeshop.com
Hawaiian sweetbreads have been a staple of island cuisine since the 19th century, when Portuguese sugar workers introduced them to the island. The traditional sweetbreads at Punalu'u Bakeshop have grown legendary on the Big Island, with native Hawaiians traveling from other islands to purchase crates of the moist breads to bring home. The bakeshop opened in 1991, but the shop's recipes have been in the family since the 1970s. Visitors can sample among a variety of sweetbreads: macadamia nut, guava, taro, cinnamon raison macadamia and Kalakoa (a blend of taro, mango and guava).
Best Zen Retreat
Wood Valley Temple Retreat and Guest House
Web site: www.nechung.org
For visitors seeking an escape from the hectic bustle of everyday life, the Wood Valley Temple Retreat provides 25 acres of refuge. Only a 10-minute drive from Punalu'u Beach, this Buddhist retreat is tucked into a eucalyptus forest; the temple and guest house were dedicated by the Dalai Lama when he visited in 1980. Retreats can last anywhere from a day to a month and include Buddhist philosophy teachings and meditation. Wood Valley offers visitors from around the globe a secluded, peaceful environment to relax and reflect.
Best Wilderness Adventure
Volcanoes National Park
Web site: www.nps.gov/havo/index.htm
With a name like Volcanoes National Park, visitors expect encounters with the fiery mountains, and this park doesn't disappoint. The national park's 333,000 acres encompass Kilauea, the world's most active volcano, and Mauna Loa, the world's largest volcano, at 13,677 feet. Terrain at the park ranges from sea level to the summit of Mauna Loa, and often permits views of burning lava flows. Before hiking the many park trails to explore the volcanoes and their summits, attend a ranger-led presentation or walk at the Kilauea Visitor Center and learn about the amazing phenomena you're witnessing, like lava, lava trees and Hawaiian petroglyphs.
Best Educational Excursion
Volcano Art Center
Web site: www.volcanoartcenter.org
Visitors to the Volcano Art Center can immerse themselves in Hawaiian arts and culture at a gallery that prides itself on preserving the unique cultural heritage of Hawaii's people and environment. The center's gallery features the locally inspired artwork of more than 250 artists; visitors experience firsthand many of the traditional craft techniques through demonstrations held on the gallery porch. Classes and workshops include Hawaiian language classes, lei making, basketry and painting. The hula kahiko performance series draws visitors from around the island to witness traditional hula dancing and chanting that interprets Hawaiian history.