This trip marks part two of my friend Kim’s stay on the Big Island. Today we spent our time on the southern part of the island, visiting Punalu’u Black Sands Beach (famous for its sea turtles) and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, with a short stop for some sweet bread in between. Two of those were new experiences for me and let me check one more item off the list. Below is our travel map.
8:00 – 10:00: Drive South
10:00 – 11:00: Punalu’u Black Sand Beach
11:00 – 12:30: Drive to Na’alehu, Eat Lunch Hawaii Style (#84), Follow the Scent of Sweetbread (#91)
12:30 – 5:00: Drive to Volcano and Hike the Kilauea Iki Crater Trail (again)
5:00 – 8:00: Dinner and Drive to the end of Chain of Craters Road and explore
8:00 – 10:00: View Kilauea Crater by night and make the journey home
Punalu’u Black Sand Beach
Despite being a famous black sand beach well known for the frequent sea turtle (honu) sightings, Punalu’u Black Sand Beach was not listed as one of the 101 Things to Do on the Big Island. It did receive a small mention in the item “Pick a Beach,” but it might deserve it’s own number in my opinion. The drive here from Hilo took a little less than two hours and we arrived mid-morning. It was crowded, but not too crowded. Clearly, most of the other people were there for the sea turtles. Very few people were swimming, and it seemed like those who were swimming were locals. The waters did seem a bit rough, which made it much more of a “stop and look” beach for us, rather than a “stop and play” beach. There were restrooms and concessions though if you needed a quick snack or drink. During the hour we were there, we probably saw 5-10 sea turtles. Not a bad first visit!
Remember, the southern part of the island is where all of the most recent and the currently active lava flows are. This new land hasn’t had enough time to be broken up by ocean waters and thus the beaches are black sand rocky beaches. Further north on the Big Island is where you start seeing white sand beaches again. On a grander scale, this is why the Big Island isn’t normally considered the best island to go to for beach time; the northern islands that formed much longer ago have the beautiful resort type beaches seen in photographs.
There was a consistent ocean breeze all along this beach, and we all agreed that it would be a great place to relax even without swimming. Alas, we had other plans this day. Next stop, sweet bread!
Punalu’u Bake Shop
Punalu’u Bake Shop was a bit further south from the black sands beach (ironically located in Na’alehu, not Punalu’u), and we stopped here for a sweet treat as well as a quick lunch. The Bake Shop has a garden out back that shows how all of the common Hawaiian fruits and vegetables are grown, such as pineapples, papayas, sweet potatoes and bananas. This visit checked two items off of my To Do list: Eat Lunch, Hawaii Style (#84) and Follow the Scent of Sweet Bread (#88).
I’ve actually become quite fond of these plate lunches during my time here, and frequently order these when out and about. Plate lunches are two parts rice, one part mac salad and one part meat. There are many many different combinations, inspired by various cultures that have influenced Hawaii in the past, but I normally go for the chicken katsu. These meals are normally absolutely huge and I don’t finish all of one, but they’re not that expensive either!
And finally, you can’t leave the Bake Shop without trying their free samples of sweet bread!
One of the most famous root vegetables grown in Hawaii is taro, and it appears in many foods around the island. Most notably, poi is a paste-like sweet mixture made from taro – apparently this snack isn’t very well understood by many (our “MC” at the luau joked about how nobody ever wanted to eat the poi). This made me apprehensive of taro, but I have to admit every other taro-based food I’ve tried has been very good. Taro chips are yummy and the taro sweetbread was actually my favorite!
After our quick lunch and a tour of the back gardens, we went on our way to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
This is now my fourth trip to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, and my third time doing the Kilauea Iki Crater Trail. I’ll refrain from posting any more pictures of those and instead refer you to Day Trip IV: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park II. What was new however was our journey to the end of Chain of Craters road, which takes you 20 miles from the park entrance down to the coastline, right up to where lava crossed the road in 2003. Lava stops for nothing!
At the end of the road there is no parking, so cars line the side for quite aways. But it is easy to tell when you’ve arrived and where the interesting sights are if you just follow the other tourists in the area. A quick walk from where we parked was the Holei Sea Arch, formed by waves crashing through lava rock of differing densities. This one is 80-90 feet tall! These arches are supposedly fairly common, but this is one of the only places where it is easy or advisable to view one.
After spending a bit of time photographing the sea arch, we walked a little over half a mile along the road to see where the lava flowed across in 2003. The sight was easily out of this world, to imagine what it must have been like to stand there just one decade ago.
Who knows? Maybe in ten years I will be back in Hawaii, walking over land where lava is currently flowing now.
Next Up: Hiilawe Falls