Planning a trip to the Hawaiian islands? Whether you choose to stay on one island or go for a Hawaiian island hopping adventure, you’ll be spoiled with breathtaking scenery. One of the unique natural wonders are the beaches. Apart from the classic golden beaches, the tropical white sand beaches, the spectacular green sand beach and the intriguing red sand beach, you’ll find various black sand beaches on Hawaii. Visiting such a rare find is a must when you’re in Hawaii. And when you plan on visiting Maui and/or Big Island, which are also the most family-friendly Hawaiian islands, then you’re in luck. Are you ready to discover the mesmerizing black sand beaches of Hawaii?
How the black beaches of Hawaii were created
As you know, the Hawaiian archipelago is a collection of volcanic islands. Oceanic lava, as produced by the Hawaiian volcanoes, is rich in dark minerals. When the hot lava clashes with ocean water, it can fragment into smaller cinders. As the waves keep grinding those fragments, they turn into sand. So basically, the black sand beaches in Hawaii consist of crushed volcanic debris. The more recent the glassy volcanic sand, the deeper the black color.
Since it takes quite some power to crush the volcanic rocks, the black sand shores are known for their strong currents, rocky ocean floors and hazardous surf. That’s why the Hawaii black sand beaches don’t offer the best swimming conditions.
Which Hawaiian islands have black sand beaches
Since the sun is responsible for fading the black sand over time, you’ll find the only black sand beaches on Hawaii’s youngest islands (the ones closest to the volcanic hot spot). That’s why you’ll only find black sand beaches on Maui and Big Island of Hawaii in this article.
There’s no black sand beach on Oahu. And, while some travel guides mention black sand beaches on Kauai, these are really salt and pepper colored beaches. (Looking at you, Waimea beach.) Don’t expect a similar kind of black sand like you’ll find on the Big Island and Maui.
We haven’t been to Molokai, where the Kalaupapa Peninsula’s Awahua beach is said to be black. This remote beach is very difficult to reach, the only options are a strenuous hike or an organized mule tour. The few pictures that we could find on this beach all show a dark color, but again no actual black sand. The sand originates from a dark sandstone and has a different composition than the other Hawaiian black sand beaches.
Black sand beach on Maui
Planning a vacation on this amazing island? Then check our article on the best places to stay on Maui in which we compare West Maui (Lahaina, Kaanapali and Kapalua) to South Maui (Wailea and Kihei) and give an overview of the most recommended Maui hotels and vacation rentals. Traveling to the island as a family? Then check out some of the best Maui activities with kids. Or up for a challenge? Then these Maui hikes will take your breath away. But for now, let’s have a look at the most unique of all Maui beaches.
1. Honokalani beach (Waianapanapa black sand beach)
A scenic road trip on the Hana highway is the one must-do that you’ll find mentioned in every Maui travel guide. Waianapanapa State Park counts as one of the most popular Road to Hana stops. Its main attraction is the stunning cove with the only black sand beach on Maui. The blue ocean, green palms and black sands of this Maui beach create a picture-perfect scene. The landscape is dotted with other interesting features such as sea arches, blowholes and sea caves. These caves are home to anchialine pools in which fresh water floats above the denser, salty ocean water that flows in via an underground tunnel.
Another so-called Maui black sand beach is Oneuli beach. In reality, though, this beach consists of a mix of black and white sand (a result of crushed sea shalls). One’uli is the Hawaiian word for dark sands. The south side of the beach features a small cinder cone.
Oneuli black sand beach is located next to popular Makena beach in the Wailea area. Getting there involves a small stretch of dirt road.
Black sand beaches on Big Island Hawaii
The Hawaiian island that charmed us more than any other, is the Big Island. This wild beauty brought out the adventurer in us. Spectacular waterfalls, challenging hikes, the most stunning beaches and the unique Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Planning a vacation on this amazing island? Then check our article on the best places to stay on Big Island.
The Big Island of Hawaii is the youngest of Hawaiian islands and therefore home to several black sand beaches. Do note that sandy beaches are a rarity on the windward side of the Big Island: most of the beaches in the Hilo area consist of lava rocks.
2. Punaluu beach
Punaluu beach is located on the island’s south coast. This famous black sand beach on Big Island attracts many tourists so expect at least some crowds. The beach is easily accessible and equipped with picnic tables and restrooms. The sand can get pretty hot yet taking a dip into the ocean is not a safe option since the strong currents make it unsuited for swimming and snorkeling. Green sea turtles (honu) love chilling on the warm black sand of Punaluu beach park as much as we did. You have a pretty good chance of spotting these protected creatures at Punaluu beach.
Exit Hwy 11 towards between mile markers 56 and 57 to Punanlu’u Road. At the end of this paved street, you’ll find a small parking lot, under the palm trees.
3. Pohoiki black sand beach
We were in Hawaii just two weeks before the eruption of the Kilauea in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. In some areas, the landscape has changed dramatically as a result of this major event. The lava flow has brought destruction but also brougt new life to existing attractions such as Pohoiki, the brand new black sand beach on Big Island in Isaac Hale Beach Park. Before the lava disaster, Pohoiki was all rock and had no sand. Now it’s a soft black sand beach, fringed with waving palm trees. The sand still consists of different textures, from fine grains to small rocks, which will be ground to even finer sand over time. Its black color is still very intense since the sun hasn’t had the chance to fade it yet.
Getting to this black sand beach is easy: Just follow Hwy 130 to the end of the road before turning left onto Hwy 137.
4. Kiholo Bay
This magnificent bay, part of the Kiholo State Park Reserve, counts as one of the most picturesque black beaches of the Big Island. Dark lava rocks topped with palms fringe an azure lagoon consisting of a mix of salt and fresh water. The black beach of Kiholo is not a sandy beach but a true rocky stunner. A small lava island can be found in the heart of the lagoon. Bordered by Wainanali’i Pond in the north and Luahinewai Pond in the south – both located on private lands – Kiholo Bay was once a royal site. It’s now a safe haven for Hawaiian green turtles and other fascinating wildlife.
Kiholo Bay is accessible from Highway 19, by taking the exit after mile marker 83, right before mile marker 82. It’s not well indicated but rather a small lantern pole at the corner of a small road. The southern tip of the bay is located about 1 mile (1.6 km) down the road. From there, you’ll need to walk for another good mile to reach the lagoon. There’s also a lookout point at Highway 19, right behind mile marker 82, driving towards marker 81.
5. Keawaiki Bay beach
Just north of Kiholo Bay you’ll find Keawaiki Bay, home to another gorgeous black sand beach on Big Island. Its most remarkable feature is a lone palm tree near the waterline. Since not many people know about this rather remote beach, chances are that you’ll have this beautiful stretch of soft black sand all to yourself. This Hawaiian black beach is part of a sacred site around the Golden Pools of Keawaiki, a series of anchialine pools containing a golden algae. You can also find some temple ruins in this area.
Exit Highway 19 between mile markers 78 and 79 (there’s no sign). The road towards the beach is private, so you’ll need to park near the trailhead and hike along the four-wheel drive road. After about half a mile, take the smaller public acces trail and you’ll reach the black sand beach.
Experienced hikers might take on the 8-mile long hike between Kiholo and Keawaiki bay.
6. Makolea beach (Kekaha Kai State Park)
Kekaha Kai State Park features gorgeous beaches, all of which are picture-perfect but rather secluded. Black lava fields give way to these beautiful sand beaches, creating a beautiful contrast with the azure ocean. All Kekaha Kai beaches are white except for one: Makolea beach. This is the closest black sand beach to Kailua-Kona and located near the airport. You won’t find any palm trees here but the many Hawaiian turtles largely make up for that. This is also one of the best places on the Big Island to enjoy the sunset.
Take the Highway 19 exit in between mile markers 88 and 89 and then drive down the dirt road exit before you reach the West Hawaii Veterans Cemetery (coming from Kailua-Kona). You’ll see the entrance sign for Kekaha Kai State Park after less than half a mile. Note that reaching the beach from the parking lot requires a rather intensive hike.
7. Pololu Valley Beach, Hawaii
On the windward side of the northern Hamakua Coast, in the Kohala mountains, you’ll find seven verdant valleys. Pololū Valley is the northernmost one. Pololū is Hawaiian for long spear and refers to the centuries of erosion that carved out the valley. It’s a mesmerizing place where tome stands still and nature has free play. You can catch a glimpse of the beauty that awaits from the Pololū Valley Lookout before starting your descent along a very steep and rocky trail. The valley views are breathtaking and it’s easy to see why Pololū Valley hike counts as one of the most rewarding short hikes in Hawaii. Depending on the amount of rainfall before your visit, the path can be slippery and muddy. After good half an hour, you’ll reach a long stretch of black sand towered by rugged sea cliffs.
Follow Highway 270, which ends at the Pololu Valley overlook.
8. Waipio beach
Waipi’o Valley is the southernmost of the Hamakua coast’s seven valleys, also known as the Valley of the Kings. Its significant cultural and spiritual importance to Hawaiians is due to the fact that it was once the home of King Kamehameha I, the first monarch of the islands. Waipi’o translates as curved water in the Hawaiian language. The Waipi’o stream winds through the valley before it enters the ocean at the black sand beach.
To reach the Waipi’o Valley, you need to hike your way down from the Waipi’o Valley Lookout, along the very steep but paved Waipi’o Valley Road, for about 1 mile. When you turn right at the fork after the first part of the Waipi’o Valley trail and continue down the muddy path, you’ll reach the black sand beach. If it has been raining a lot before your visit, you could spot the Kaluahine Falls behind the boulders on the east side of the beach. Find more detailed information in our Big Island hikes article.
9. Carlsmith beach park (a.k.a. Four Miles beach)
During our stay in Hilo, we got a tip from a local to check out Carlsmith beach park where we could see turtles. Four Miles beach is not an actual sandy beach but a picturesque lagoon with various shades of blue fringed by black lava rock and a lawn waving palmtrees. The water in the lagoon is only knee-high in the areas closest to shore, which makes it perfect to spot honu. Kids love it here, since it almost seems like a natural swimming pool. And when you head a bit further towards the reef and ocean, you’ve reached a superb snorkeling spot. The water temperature at Carlsmith is influenced by fresh water sources. Restrooms and showers are available on-site.
From downtown Hilo, take Kalanianaole at Naniloa and follow it for about 2,5 mi (4 km). You’ll see a parking lot at the side of the street and, at least when we were there, many cars parked along the road as well. Richardson Ocean Park, another known black rocky beach, is located right next to this one.
10. New Kaimu beach
New Kaimū black sand beach is a special one. It used to be the location for a scenic black sandy beach, fringed with palm trees, and a small town. In 1990, it got covered by lava flowing from the Kilauea. The fine black sand got hidden under a thick layer of lava rocks. Locals planted new coconut palms in order to restore the beach. It’s a special kind of place, showing the force of nature and how it gives and takes. Don’t expect a wide sandy beach, though. New Kaimū is more about the experience than about sunbathing.
If you want to get that tan anyway, then nearby clothing-optional Kehena beach might be what you’re looking for.
Drive down Hwy 130 through Pāhoa, past the Kalapana lava viewing area before taking a right at the Hwy. 137 intersection. Continue to the parking lot near the Kalapana Village Café and follow the eco-path trail to New Kaimū black sand beach. You’ll reach it in under 10 minutes.
Other creatures who love black sand
Local turtles, known as honu, love the warm, the Hawaiian black sands just as much as us humans do. When you visit one of these beaches, chances are you’ll be able to spot several turtles. Since Hawaiian turtles are protected, rememeber to keep your distance.
Hawaiian black sand beach locations
For your convenience, we’ve created this map indicating all black sand beaches in Hawaii as mentioned in this article.
Our experience with the Hawaii black sand beaches
Putting your feet in the black sand for the first time feels very odd: since we’re so used to associate the color black with dirt, you wouldn’t expect to be able to brush it off. The black sand sparkles and when you let it flow through your hands, it almost seems as if the grains are little black diamonds. I just love how the sea foam contrasts with the black sand every time a wave gently rolls in. The ocean seems to take on a much deeper shade of blue because of the dark-colored bottom.
There’s less contrast between the blue water, the green vegetation and the black sand creating an unfamiliar but captivating setting. The sand is also much easier on the eyes than white sand that reflects the sunlight. It can get so hot that you could easily burn the soles of your feet. Just relaxing on a beach towel and absorbing the warmth of the Hawaiian black sand truly is an incredible feeling.
Which one of these black sand beaches in Hawaii have you visited? We want to hear all about your experience? Or which beach will make your bucket list? Let us know in the comments.
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