Saturday, December 1, 2012

Big Island: Non-White Beach

When I go to the beach, I am easy to please. As long as there are no used syringes poking up out of the sand, I’m happy.

However, my wife has very exacting standards regarding beaches. Not too narrow, not too wide, not too crowded. The surf must be calm, the water must be warm and clear. And then there is the sand. Coarse brown sand is simply unacceptable. The sand must be white, clean and sugary, no rocks or shrubbery. She will drive for two hours past other beaches to get to the “good” beach.

But there is a problem with “good” beaches. They’re boringly identical.

In Hawaii, there are beaches in various colors. Of course, the standard brown sand beaches exist. On Maui, there is a red sand beach caused by the erosion of a nearby iron-rich cinder cone. On the Big Island, there is a green sand beach, caused by a nearby deposit of the mineral olivine.

These beaches are interesting, but remote and not very hospitable for swimming. But Punalu’u beach on the Big Island is easy to find, located on a calm bay, and composed of black sand.

Years ago, I knew a woman who had triplet girls. She bought three identical toy cars for them: two blue and one orange. The kids fought like caged animals over the orange one, because it wasn’t blue.

Naturally, we had to go see Punalu’u.


A nearby monument tells the story of Kailua, a turtle who could turn herself into a girl.


The beach itself is almost shocking in appearance. I had seen black sand before in Panama. But not this black. This beach was black as black can be.





Black sand is created when hot, glassy lava flows into the sea. The sudden cooling causes it to fracture into granules, which are then washed to a beach by currents and tides. If you dig far enough, you will find ordinary brown sand. For this reason, black sand beaches are transient phenomena, which may only last for a few hundred years until the last of the black sand washes away. It is strictly forbidden to take even small amounts of the sand away; if it were permitted, tourists would have removed it all long ago.


One nearby sign warns you to watch out for falling coconuts, and another declares that public nudity is prohibited. I had not seen that nudity warning at other beaches, so I wondered if there is something about black sand that compels people to throw off their clothing.


Suddenly, my wife called out to me, and it a little cove, we saw this green sea turtle catching some rays.


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