More Hawaiian Legends and Fun Facts

Honu at Punaluu

The Legend of Kauila at Punalu'u

Long, long ago, a magnificent turtle appeared on the moonlit shores of Punalu'u. Honu-po'o-kea was no ordinary sea turtle. Her head was as white as the snows of Mauna Kea. Honu-po'o-kea paused at the ocean's edge, searching for the perfect place to build a nest. Gentle waves tugged at the black sand beneath her. With a deep sigh, she pulled herself ashore.

Honu-po'o-kea dug a shallow hole and laid an egg, as dark and smooth as polished kauila wood. Her mate, Honu-'ea, had been waiting offshore, his reddish-brown shell bobbing in the surf. As Honu-po'o-kea covered her nest, Honu-'ea joined her. Together the turtles dug into the black sand and created a spring. Then, as silently as they had come, they disappeared into the ocean.

In time, the egg hatched into a magical turtle named Kauila. Kauila made her home at the bottom of the freshwater spring that her parents had made. People called it Ka wai hu o Kauila, the rising water of Kauila. Children would come to play in the spring, and if they saw bubbles rising from its depths they knew that Kauila was sleeping. Sometimes Kauila would transform herself into a girl so that she could play among the keiki. Always, she kept a watchful eye on the children, insuring their safety.

Honu, or green sea turtles, still come to the black sands of Punalu'u on the Big Island. They can be seen grazing on seaweed in the surf or basking in the warm sun, oblivious to the people that gather to watch them. At night the rare honu 'ea, or hawksbill turtle, has been known to nest in the area, just as Honu-po'o-kea did so long ago.

Here and there the black sand bubbles as cool mountain water from Mauna Loa percolates through the porous lava. This was Kauila's gift: fresh water for the people of Punalu'u. Long ago Hawaiians would dive to the floor of the bay to collect the fresh water in gourds. Hence the name Punalu'u, which means diving spring.

Punalu'u is a favorite family stop on the long drive from Volcano to Na'alehu. My two boys are always eager to count the honu in the bay, and the occasional basking turtle. Inevitably, their attention is always drawn to the pahoehoe tide pools, and the chilly springs that arise within. As my boys build dams to channel the freshwater as it flows seaward, it is not difficult to feel Kauila's benign presence. Watching over the keiki, as she has done for eons.


School paper got you down? Need info on wildlife? Visit The Animal Diversity Web

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Copyright 2000 Tammy Yee. Photo by Tammy Yee. All rights reserved.