Sunday, August 4, 2013

Progress Halted at Punaluu on the Big Island of Hawaii

by Steve Reiss (Dalmdad Landscape Photography - and
June, 1991: It was the Big Island leg of our Hawaiian island hopping portion of our honeymoon and we were making the long drive back on Hawaii SR-11 from Volcanoes National Park on the southeast side of the Big Island around the southernmost point in the US (the remote and difficult to access South Point or Ka Lae (one of the few places on the Big Island where taking your rental car will void any insurance), to Kona on the west side of the Big Island.

The Punaluu Black Sand Beach Restuarant (PBSBR) appeared out of nowhere in the dark of the summer night.  When we had reached the restaurant, back in 1991, it was pitch black out, so the Black Sand Beach was not really viewable.  However, with the restaurant’s lack of windows (a common construction motif in Hawaii), you could hear, albeit faintly, the night surf coming up on the beach combined with the bristling of wind-blown coconut tree palm fronds.

We don’t remember what we ate that night, but we do remember the restaurant being an upscale, pleasant experience.  It was our first time eating at a restaurant where geckos stuck to and climbed along the walls.  The place was a real trip!


March, 2013: When we decided to go back to the Big Island in 2013, besides making sure we saw flowing lava (like we did on our Honeymoon), one of the things I absolutely wanted to do on this trip was go back to the PBSBR for dinner.  While researching the trip, I looked for the restaurant on-line, but it was not to be found; there was not even a website for the place.

So, I had to dig deeper for information.  While finding out when exactly the restaurant closed was impossible, I was able to confirm it had long been closed and deteriorating since at least 2006.   The war over development and progress in the Punaluu area between the locals and the developers went on so long, that the developers went out of business with the collapse of the Japanese economy.  When we saw a youtube video of some people exploring the restaurant ruins and web posts where others are asking about the history of the ruins of the place, our hearts fell.  I wondered what it would be like when we actually got to these ruins in a few months?

June, 2013: The drive from Volcano to Punaluu Black Sand Beach (the same drive along HA-11 we made 22 years ago) was on and off rain and on and off overcast.  This was the major weather theme from our entire 2013 trip.  After 32 miles on HA-11, we turned right on Ninole Loop Road for Punaluu and Punaluu Black Sand Beach.  We passed some natives picking coconuts from the road side as we drove down the coconut tree-lined road.  The road ended next to a snack-bar and souvenir stand.  This was the outermost portion of the black sand beach.

Views of Punaluu Black Sand Beach

Looking north towards the Snack Bar/Souvenir Stand

Us at Punaluu Black Sand Beach


There was a lot of excitement down towards the center section of the beach.  The excitement was created by a huge green sea turtle sleeping on the beach.  The turtle was probably about 4-5 feet nose to "tail".

Jade Relief Depicting Sea Turtle Carrying Hawaiian Goddess

As can be seen by this sign, and many similar signs all over the island, Hawaii takes the obligation to protect the sea turtles very seriously.

Ruins of the Punaluu Black Sands Beach Restuarant

After roaming around the beach, it was time to look for the restaurant.  As I mentioned, we sort of just found the place in the dark of night back in ’91, so I wasn’t exactly sure where it was.  We got back in the car and had not driven 10 feet from the snack bar when Joanie spotted the Tiki Style buildings surrounded by an overgrown portion of the coconut grove.  The “parking lot” was filled with garbage, smashed coconuts, fronds, and assorted other “tropical waste”.  The restaurant was so overgrown, that I did not realize that the far end of the lily pond was the wall of the restaurant.  It was so eerie walking around the area not even realizing that the place we were looking for was right there, behind the souvenir stand.

Views of the restuarant ruins and beach from the satellite


Pat Tillett said...

I hate to see places allowed to rot like this. However, I do have to admit that I love exploring them.

Dalmdad (Steve Reiss) said...

We were so depressed. We were really looking forward to going back there to eat.