Are you looking for the best black sand beaches in Hawaii? This guide from a Hawaii local has everything you need to know.
The black sand beaches in Hawaii are one of the coolest natural sights to see in the islands. These natural wonders made of crushed lava rock are rather rare on a global scale, and people travel all over the world just to catch a glimpse of one. However, there are twelve black sand beaches in Hawaii alone!
Why Are the Hawaii Black Sand Beaches Black?
One of the most commonly asked questions about black sand beaches is simply why are they black? The answer is actually quite simple. The rocks created by hardened lava are black, due to high concentrations of dark minerals, such as iron and magnesium. (To be specific, lava produces igneous rock, if you want a throwback to 8th grade geology class.) When huge, powerful waves crash into these black lava rocks, black sand is created.
Over time, the sun will cause the color of the sand to become lighter and a bit grayer. So, the newer the lava rock, the newer the black sand, and the blacker the sand.
How Can I Get to the Black Sand Beaches in Hawaii?
I’ll keep it simple. You pretty much can’t get to the black sand beaches in Hawaii without a car. For a select few, you’ll need a 4WD. For Awahua Beach on Molokai, you either need to hike or even ride a mule. Basically, getting to any of the black sand beaches in Hawaii is quite the endeavor, and it can’t be done with public transportation.
Which Islands in Hawaii Have Black Sand Beaches?
Not all of the Hawaiian Islands have black sand beaches. As a matter of fact, out of the eight major islands, only four of them have black sand beaches: The Big Island, Maui, Kauai, and Molokai.
There are no black sand beaches on Oahu or Lanai. To my knowledge, there aren’t any black sand beaches on Kahoolawe or Niihau either, but these islands aren’t generally open to the public, so I’m not 100% sure of this.
Black Sand Beaches on the Big Island
Punaluu Black Sand Beach
Punaluu Black Sand Beach is one of the most famous black sand beaches in Hawaii. Located on the southeastern coast of the Big Island, Punaluu Black Sand Beach is often visited in conjunction with Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
The black sand at Punaluu Black Sand Beach is already stunning. But imagine this black sand with a turtle or two relaxing on it! Punaluu Black Sand Beach is known for having turtles basking. If you do see a turtle, please give it some space! If you were relaxing, you wouldn’t want anyone getting in your bubble, right? Same for the lovely turtles.
Here’s a post with a little more information about respecting turtles.
*Local Tip: if you want to snorkel at Punaluu Black Sand Beach, walk over to the Ninole Cove area
Kaimu Beach Park
Located in Pahoa on the Hilo side of the Big Island, Kaimu Beach Park is one of the youngest black sand beaches in Hawaii. While some version of Kaimu Beach Park has existed for a while, in 1990, its shores were covered with fresh lava, which then turned into lava rock! This lava rock was then broken down by the waves to make beautiful, fresh black sand.
Access to this new black sand beach may be a little bit difficult. There are still portions of large, sharp lava rock that are about eight feet higher than the sand. Take your time and walk around until you find a path that you are comfortable taking down to the sand. Note this path in your mind, so you can remember how to get back up as well.
Just a few minutes away from Kaimu Beach Park is Kehena Beach. If you’re like me, your first thought is “why not visit both?”
Well, Kehena Beach has a couple of differences from Kaimu Beach Park. First of all, there is quite a steep climb to reach Kehena Beach. Second, Kehena Beach is a clothing-optional beach. So if bare skin is not your thing, perhaps remove this black sand beach from your list.
49 Black Sand Beach
Calling 49 Black Sand Beach a black sand beach is a little bit of an exaggeration. It’s more like a salt-and-pepper beach, which is interesting in its own way.
Located in the touristy area of Waikoloa, this is likely the most easily accessible black sand beach on the Big Island. 49 Black Sand Beach is also one of the only black sand beaches with fantastic snorkeling and swimming conditions.
Located on the Hilo side of the Big Island, Pohoiki Beach, also known as Isaac Hale State Park, is the most recently created (or I suppose recreated) black sand beach in Hawaii. In October 2018, the lava flow from the Kilauea Volcano created the beautiful black sand of Pohoiki Beach.
The highlight of Pohoiki Beach is the fresh black sand. In comparison to other black sand beaches on the island, the sand at Pohoiki is significantly darker, because it is much fresher. The sun hasn’t had time to make it grayer.
I honestly didn’t think I would see a difference between the sand at the “old” black sand beaches on the Big Island and the sand at this new one, but there was a stark color contrast. If you want the blackest of sand, brush away the top level of sand with your foot. The sand beneath the surface hasn’t even seen sun before, so it’s the blackest it can get!
Richardson Beach Park
Just a short fifteen minutes outside of the city of Hilo, Richardson Beach Park is a hidden haven. Besides its sparkling black sand, Richardson Beach Park is also the best place to snorkel south of Hilo. There is a fantastic array of fish and turtles that like to visit this black sand beach. Talk about a snorkelers dream!
As if the underwater world wasn’t enough, Richardson Beach Park gets even cooler. This Big Island beach also boasts calm waters and shallow tidepools, making it one of the best black sand beaches in Hawaii for children.
Waipio Valley Black Sand Beach
Near the northern tip of the Big Island, Waipio Valley Black Sand Beach is another one of the island’s gorgeous black sand beaches framed by stunning lava cliffs. However, it is one of the most difficult black sand beaches in Hawaii to get to.
In order to get to Waipio Valley, you have to either hike or drive a 4WD down one of the steepest roads in the U.S. – and this road is unpaved. It’s safe to say that either way, it’s a little tricky.
If you don’t have access to a 4WD, the strenuous hike from the Waipio Valley lookout takes about 45 minutes to cover a mile. Be sure to pace yourself and drink lots of water.
If you’re physically and mentally equipped to tackle this challenge, the reward will be worth it. After all, you’ll practically have your own slice of black-sand-beach paradise all to yourself!
Pololu Valley Black Sand Beach
Even further north than Waipio Valley Black Sand Beach is Pololu Valley Black Sand Beach. And this one also requires quite a steep hike.
In order to get to the beach, you’ll start at Pololu Valley Lookout and then take Pololu Trail (also known as Awini Trail) down to the black sand beach shore. While this hike is just over half a mile, you’ll go down 500 feet in altitude! And remember: what you go down, you must come up!
Black Sand Beaches on Maui
Honokalani Beach in Waianapanapa State Park
As the only black sand beach on Maui, Honokalani Beach is quite a popular spot to visit, despite the fact that its 32 miles into the windy road to Hana! As if the black sand and breathtaking turquoise ocean weren’t enough, Honokalani Beach and Waianapapa State Park also boast sea caves, lava tubes, and even an ancient Hawaiian heiau (temple)!
Black Sand Beaches on Kauai
Waimea State Recreational Pier
Both of the black sand beaches on Kauai are located in the town of Waimea on the southwestern side of the island. The slightly more popular of the two beaches is Waimea State Recreational Pier. Other than being covered with stunning little gems of black sand, Waimea State Recreational Pier is quite close to where Captain James Cook first landed in the Hawaiian Islands in 1778.
Waimea State Recreational Pier is also a fantastic place to catch the sunset. It’ll set right behind the little island of Niihau, while creating an amazing, colorful sky.
Fort Elizabeth State Park
The primary reason visitors go to Fort Elizabeth State Park is for a history lesson. This fort was built by the Russian-American Company in 1817 as part of an alliance with the High Chief Kaumualii. Now, it is the only Russian Fort in the Hawaiian Islands.
Personally, I’m not much of a history buff, but I’d still visit Fort Elizabeth State Park. Why? Because if you pass the fort and walk towards the shoreline, you’ll be able to spot a small, hidden black sand beach!
Black Sand Beaches on Molokai
Unlike the other black sand beaches on this list, Awahua Beach on Molokai gets its dark sand color from a type of dark sandstone, rather than from lava rocks.
Most things to do on Molokai are rather secluded, and Awahua Beach is no exception. Located on the Kalaupapa Peninsula, you’ll actually have to pass through the old [mostly uninhabited] leprosy colony. And you can’t just drive to Awahua Beach – you have to either hike or ride a mule. Because of this difficult route, you’ll have to take a tourto get to Awahua Beach.
When you finally reach Awahua Beach, you shouldn’t swim because of strong, dangerous rip currents. Instead, you’ll be able to enjoy the black sand and the soaring cliffs behind you.
Interested in other colorful beaches in Hawaii? Take a look at our post on Hawaii’s green sand beach!
Have you been to one of these black sand beaches in Hawaii? Tell me about it in the comments!
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