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From the Mountains to the Sea
One of Hawaii's Greatest Natural Treasures.
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Punalu’u (“diving spring”) and its immediate environs contain a rich and storied cultural heritage spanning centuries. Here remnants of the days of stone implements and human sacrifices intermingle with reminders of railroads and steam ships to form an incredible tapestry of the ages.

Prominent scholars believe Punalu`u Beach is thought to be a possible original landfall of the first Polynesian colonists from the South Seas. For nearly 2,000 years Punalu`u has provided its inhabitants and visitors with abundant resources, from its fresh water springs and healing medicine ponds to a wealth of fishing grounds and warm black sand beaches. For generations Punalu’u has served as an oasis in the Great Ka`u desert, supporting the needs of its inhabitants and legions of Hawaiian warriors during the reigns of Keoua and Kamehameha.

The black sand beach we enjoy today was perhaps created as recently as 1790 from the explosive November eruption of Kilauea.

In the 1700’s Punalu’u served as a royal residence and ruling center for Keoua, a prominent Ka’u chief. The legendary place of Ninole may have served Keoua`s army with the source of stones for making weapons. Fishing, both on- and offshore along with fish pond production provided villagers and warriors with a prime protein source. The fish ponds were likely in use until 1868, when a 7.9 magnitude earthquake and resulting tsunamis destroyed them.

In the 1840’s, Chester Lyman wrote of the Punalu’u village he found “romantically situated on the beach, shut in in part by a rough lava stream.” Continuing along the shore he passed the black pebble beach of Ninole and found “a succession of villages whose inhabitants were extensively engaged in fishing.”

In 1843, Rev. Paris reported that a stone meeting house (church) had been built at Punalu`u and that, on average, the school’s attendance was 140, with the average Sunday congregation at Punalu`u reported to be 350.

Throughout the late 1800’s Punalu’u served a shipping port for both the cattle and sugar industries. Punalu`u was known as the “port town of the district” in 1880 and boasted several stores, a hotel, a jail, a warehouse, telephone service and a stagecoach line linking it with Pahala and Honu`apo.

In the early 1900’s Peter Lee owned a small hotel in the Punalu’u area and is credited with building a road from there to Kilauea caldera so visitors could more easily access spectacular lava flows.

Massive tsunamis in 1868, 1946, 1960 and 1975 made direct hits on Punalu`u, shaping its history and its geography. The massive 7.2 earthquake and tidal waves of 1975 sent 20 foot waves smashing through the windows of the Sea Mountain Resort at Punalu`u and portions of the coastline dropped over 10 feet.

The sugar plantations and ill-guided resort complex of the 1900’s devastated what remained of Punalu`u’s fish ponds, springs and sacred sites. Today, many of the decedents of the Hawaiian fishing families who have lived at Punalu`u for centuries serve as unofficial stewards of their kula `iwi (ancestral place) and are dedicated to the restoration and protection of Punalu`u. Continuing the legacy of their ancestors – they are the fierce and proud people of Ka`u.

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Punalu'u Historical Images

punaluu landing punaluu 1925
Punalu`u Landing 1930’s
Punalu`u 1925 with the Protestant Church in the background.
canoe shed punaluu 1891
In the early 1900’s canoe sheds lined the beach.
Punalu`u 1891
ferman bengay emma stone
Local Fisherman Ferman Bengay is seen here with his children after a day of fishing in the 1920’s.
Life at Punalu`u was simple. Here a local family member does the laundry the old fashioned way.

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