by Donnie MacGowan
Whether you visit the Big Island for a few days, a couple weeks or a few months, you want to make the most of your time in Paradise. With such a wide variety of natural and commercial attractions, it is natural for the visitor to get a little overwhelmed in the “Option Overload” and not be able to make balanced and informed decisions on what they want to do and how best to spend their time.
Even choosing the beach you want to spend time on…which beach? How do you find the right beach for your particular needs? Are you going just to relax and sunbathe somewhere near your hotel? Or is the trip to snorkel, boogie board or to explore? Do you want a beach that’s alive with fun people or one hidden, secluded and empty? Do you want a beach near your resort or one that’s at the end of a day of delicious wandering?
Ranked in order, with the best on top, are our picks of the best beaches on the Island of Hawaii—we tried to choose beaches with a range of attributes and interesting features, rather than beaches that are all very similar. Ranking these beaches is an onerous task since each is a gem and we’ve had to leave off many that are equally fine for their own reasons. This list at least provides an excellent starting point for deciding where you want to spend you beach time.
Hapuna Beach: A mile long, 200 meters wide and with warm, calm, crystal clear-turquoise waters, always one of the top-ranked beaches internationally, Hapuna is clearly the “Alpha Beach” on the island. Sometimes crowded, this beach is usually fairly empty until about 11 a.m. A great beach for sunbathing, it has only fair boogie boarding and rather passe snorkeling.
Anaeho’omalu Bay: A long crescent of sugary sand backed by swaying palm trees; snorkel, sail, paddle boat and kayak rentals on the beach and interesting hikes both north and south, make Anaeho’omalu is a great place to spend the day for any family. Anaeho’omalu is one of the most sought-after sunset images to photograph in the state of Hawaii. Although spectacular for its scenery and beach social scene, the water at Anaeho’omalu is a bit cloudy for ideal snorkeling.
Punalu’u Black Sand Beach: The large, beautiful beach with acres of jet black sand, backed by a jungle of palm trees and with clear waters stuffed with endangered green sea turtles make Punalu’u not just one of the loveliest beaches in the world, but also one of the most interesting. Although a little cold due to near-shore springs, the clear waters and black sand bottom at Punalu’u offer fabulous and unique snorkeling. Madly crazy rip tides and strong currents out near the surf zone make Punalu’u a dangerous place for beginning boogie boarders. There are numerous historic and pre-contact ruins in the area that make this a great place for exploration.
Waialea Beach: Another lonely crescent of sugar sand which is relatively unknown, even by many locals, Waialea is generally uncrowded, lovely beyond description, and has a wild underwater features to tempt even the most jaded snorkeler. Fine snorkel exploring, hiking and scrambling both north and south of the beach yield secret treasures of small coves, private inlets, sea arches and wild underwater topography.
Makalawena Beach: Perhaps the loveliest beach in Polynesia, Makalawena is the perfect sand crescent beach backed by palms and iron wood trees and with morning-glory-draped sand dunes. A easy mile hike in from Kekaha Kai State Park keeps this beach uncrowded. Snorkeling here is better than perfect, camping here is so wonderful we don’t know why it’s not actually mandatory. The coastline hike a few miles north from Makalawena to Kua Bay along the ancient, paved Ala Ali’i (Trail of Kings) is one of the finest, most rewarding shoreline hikes on the island.
Mahana Green Sand Beach (South Point): One of a handful of true green sand beaches in the world, the Mahana Green Sand Beach near South Point is not to be missed. Beautiful, haunting, intriguing. Although the hike is 2 ¼ miles each way, the trail is relatively flat and easily followed. Snorkeling here, due to the green sand and vibrant water color is delightfully weird—be sure to purchase an inexpensive, disposable underwater camera. Scenery is best viewed early morning and afternoon, although afternoons tend to be quite windy. Swimming is safe in the protected bowl of the bay, but strong, relentless currents in the open ocean call for extreme caution beyond the bay.
Kua Bay: One of Hawaii County’s newest beach parks, Kua Bay is a true gem of a beach—although somewhat small, it is a lovely setting with warm waters perfect for snorkeling, boogie boarding or just relaxing in. In recent years, Kua Bay has become Kona’s leading “social beach” with scores of young visitors and locals coming to chill in the sand and sun every day. Snorkeling is superb on both the north and south ends near the rocks, boogie boarding is great when the surf is up…like all Hawaii’s beaches, Kua can become hazardous in times of high surf.
For more information about traveling to Hawaii in general and exploring the Big Island in particular, please also visit www.tourguidehawaii.com and www.tourguidehawaii.blogspot.com. Information about the author can be found here.
All media copyright 2009 by Donald B. MacGowan.