Punalu’u Black Sand Beach is one of the only easily-accessible beaches on the south side of the Big Island. The sand is black due to the volcanic basalt rock from lava flows. It is common to see green turtles and the endangered hawksbill turtle resting on the black sands, which makes this a popular pitstop while circumnavigating the island. Just beyond the beach are fishponds that boast diverse aquatic life and flora. On the west side of the beach there is a coastal trail (2.5 miles) to Kāwā Bay, which was a popular surf spot for the chief Nu'uanupa'ahu, and is a local surf spot today. Along the coastal trail you’ll pass two heiaus and other ancient structures before reaching the freshwater springs and brackish pools of Kāwā Bay. Make sure you respect these places and do not enter the heiaus or remove rocks. Kāwā Bay used to be a popular local spot to bring children because of the hundreds of tide pools, but a gate now makes it harder to drive into Kāwā Bay.
Because there are no other beaches in the area, Punalu’u can be a great camping option if you want to be close to the ocean. This is also a great option if you are not prepared to brave the colder evening weather of Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, where the campsites sit at 3,000 feet. Keep in mind that this is a popular spot for locals to fish at night, particularly on the weekend. You might hear activity throughout the night as fisherman use the showers for rinsing. The shelter has electricity and electrical outlets. There are no real private or secluded campsites, though some more private spots can be found within the vegetation closer to the ocean.