Big Island Beach Guide
The Big Island of Hawaii offers a rugged coastline indented with an amazing collection of beaches that feature sands of many hues – perfect for active couples enjoying a beach holiday or romantic getaway.
Walk on ancient black- and green-sand beaches formed by volcanic action, as well as ivory, white and golden beaches, mainly natural but occasionally man-made.
Hapuna Beach (Kohala Coast) – Hawaiian beach cognoscenti flock to the Big Island’s best beach for swimming, snorkelling and boogie boarding when the waves pick up.
Often voted as the most beautiful beach in Hawaii, Hapuna’s 800m-long crescent of fine, soft, ivory-coloured sand gently dips into crystal clear waters. Framed by rocky headlands, the 60m-wide beach offers room for everybody and flows into a shallow sand bar that extends for 20m into the bay.
Discover the best snorkelling at the rocky southern edge of the beach or snorkel along the coast to Wailea Bay amid abundant coral and tropical fish. In winter, thundering waves turn the beach into a favourite for surfers, but not for swimmers as strong rips threaten safe swimming.
Fringed by the shady trees of Hapuna Beach State Park, facilities include toilets, showers, picnic tables, barbecues, pavilions and lifeguards in summer. Hapuna Beach is located on the Kohala Coast.
Mauna Kea Beach (Kohala Coast) – Protected from rough surf by a rocky reef, this crescent of golden sand lies to the north of Hapuna Beach and is also known as Kauna’oa Beach. Fringed by the manicured gardens of the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel and palm groves, the beach flows into a calm sheltered bay of clear turquoise water framed by two black lava points.
Walk down the gently shelving beach into the warm waters and look out for colourful tropical fish, sea turtles and perhaps even manta rays while snorkelling beneath the rocky headlands. Beach facilities include showers, toilets and hotel restaurants. There are no lifeguards here as the sea is typically calm.
Waikoloa Beach (Kohala Coast) – This narrow strip of golden sand shelves into the calm turquoise waters of Anaehoomalu Bay (A-Bay), which offers year-round safe swimming. Fringed by a grove of palm trees and backed by the Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa, Waikoloa Beach features a scenic walking path that meanders alongside manicured tropical gardens and ancient royal fish ponds packed with mullet.
Go kayaking, snorkelling, diving or windsurfing – the Marriott offers windsurfing and diving lessons. Other facilities include showers, toilets, picnic tables and watersports equipment hire at the northern end of the beach.
Makaiwa Bay Beach (Kohala Coast) – Discover this charming little beach that is backed by the manicured lawns and palm trees of the Mauna Lani resort. The white-sand beach flows into turquoise waters framed by rocky breakwaters that are perfect for snorkelling and learning how to scuba dive.
Mahaiula Bay (Kona Coast) – This 8km-long coastline offers several stunning secluded beaches for those wanting to escape the more crowded resort beaches further south on the Kona Coast. Access is buy hiking or four-wheel driving along the dirt road that roughly parallels the coast.
Kekaha Kai Beach (Kona Coast) – Follow the dirt road off Queen Kaahumanu Highway to discover this gorgeous tree-fringed curve of white sand a short walk north of the main Kekaha Kai Beach (by comparison, relatively unimpressive).
Off the beaten track along the shoreline of Kona Coast State Park and fronting Mahaiula Bay, this beach is framed between rocky headlands and offers great swimming, snorkelling and diving in summer and good surfing in winter. Facilities on the nearby main beach include toilets, picnic tables and barbecue pits.
Makalawena Beach (Kona Coast) – A 15-minute walk north of Kekaha Kai Beach lies this picturesque and generally uncrowded white-sand beach, with excellent boogie boarding, snorkelling and swimming.
Maniniowali Beach (Kona Coast) – Further along the coast sits one of Hawaii’s prettiest beaches, a stunning small crescent of pristine white sand that shelves gently into Kua Bay. Framed and protected from rough seas by rocky headlands, Maniniowali offers great swimming and snorkelling in calm and sheltered waters.
Kikaua Beach (Kona Coast) – This beautiful man-made beach is one of the few white-sand beaches on the Big Island. It shelves gently into crystal clear water perfect for swimming and snorkelling in sheltered Kikaua Bay. With limited parking opportunities, this palm-fringed beach is typically uncrowded.
Papakolea Beach (South Shore) – Hike or four-wheel drive 5km to the unique Papakolea Beach, also know as Green Sand Beach due its deep green crystal sand. The unique green sand is formed almost entirely of crushed olivine, a green semi-precious crystal usually found in eruptive rocks – in this case from the nearby volcano cone of Puu o Mahana.
The beach is tiny and accessible by a steep trail that drops down over and around huge volcanic boulders. Stroll along the water’s edge or swim at high tide if the sea is calm. Otherwise, view this unique beach from the edge of the ancient cinder cone that overlooks the beach. Papakolea is one of only two green-sand beaches in the world; the other is in Guam.
Punaluu Beach (South Shore) – Admire Hawaii's most famous black-sand beach, derived from crushed lava rock. Also known as Punaluu Black Sand Beach, this is a good place to watch endangered Hawksbill turtles and green sea turtles, often seen sun bathing on the black sand. Swimming is not advised at this beach due to strong rips and waves.