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What Do I Do When I Visit Hawaii? Hike a Black Sand Beach and See Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles!
Punalu’u and Kane’ele’ele Heiau Black Sand Beach Park
A truly remarkable place of great peace, beauty and spiritual healing, the black sand lined coves and beaches of Punalu’u are world famous. Dozens of endangered Hawaiian 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 fish pond and the beaches shaded by coconut palms make it an ideal place to spend some time rejuvenating. Snorkeling, picnicking and camping, or just relaxing on the beach, are the main destination pastimes here.
Services available include water, picnic tables, restrooms, electrical outlets and pavilions, parking; camping is only permitted with a permit. During peak tourist season, there is a souvenir stand with packaged foods and canned drinks for sale.
Due to cold waters, onshore winds, strong currents, and a fearsome rip, swimmers and snorkelers should exercise caution when swimming in Punalu’u, but getting in and out is difficult to resist. swim with all those turtles.
The story: Punalu’u means “springs where you swim”; it’s the abundance of these freshwater springs just offshore that makes swimming in Punalu’u so chilling and this settlement site so important to ancient Hawaiians. In pre-contact times, due to the scarcity of fresh water along the Ka’u coast, Hawaiians swam in Kuhua Bay with corked gourds, dived over springs, unclogged gourds and, by knocking them under the water, filled them. with fresh spring water emanating from the bottom of the bay. These springs are one of the few fresh water springs on this whole end of the island.
The large brackish pond behind the beach, once a very productive fish pond, is also fed by a large spring called Kawaihu O Kauila (literally, “the overflowing waters of the turtle goddess, Kauila). figure Laka slew the man-eater mo’o Kaikapu (“forbidden water”).
Kaneeleele Heiau, which is also called Mailekini Heiau, is definitely worth visiting but is often overlooked and unnoticed by causal visitors simply due to its extreme size. The heiau, standing on the hill overlooking the ruins of the pier and warehouse, is made up of a stone platform no less than seven hundred feet long and five hundred feet wide. The name, which means “darkness of the father god”, coupled with the massive size of the heiau, lends credence to local legend that it was once the luakini heiau, or place of human sacrifice, for this district. A large sacrificial stone (now removed) outside the entrance and bone pits discovered in the temple grounds during the construction of the pier and storehouse also bear witness to this. Kaneeleele is thought to represent two heiaus built end to end; Punalu’u Nui to the north and Halelau to the south.
West of the parking lot above Ninole Cove stand the collapsed walls, all that remains of Ka’ie’ie Heiau. Bordering the a’a lava flow, this temple once presided over a large fish pond that was destroyed by the a’a flow.
Other ruins in the park include the historic ruins of the Pahala Sugar Company Wharf and Warehouse along Kuhua Bay. After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor at the start of World War II, the military destroyed the wall and pier installations so the Japanese could not use them to land on Hawaii’s unprotected south side.
The beaches and land immediately adjacent to Punalu’u Harbor, Ninole Cove, and Kuhua Bay are all part of County Beach Park. Snorkeling in Punalu’u is chilly due to the number of offshore springs, but very rewarding given the density of sea turtles in the bay. Camping is permitted by lodges by permit only and can be a windy, yet wild and basic exercise in camping. Due to the exposed nature of the terrain, however, there is little privacy.
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