Black sand beaches in Hawaii: Where to see a black sand beach on the Big Island + are they on Oahu, Kauai, Maui?
Hawaii is a beautiful chain of islands 2,000 miles off the west coast of the United States. Despite the start differences between Hawaii and the mainland US, it is actually the 50th state.
In 1898 the islands were annexed, and thanks to the famous TV show, has the nickname Hawaii 5 0.
But Hawaii is not only known for being a state of the US, but also for its insane natural beauty.
The chain is made up of a series of islands and islets, but the 8 main ones are Big Island, Maui, Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, Niihau, and Kahoolawe.
The island chain is littered with surreal beaches which give you an idea of what paradise must be like. However, some of these beaches are a little unusual.
Instead of the pure white sand that you are used to, they have dark, imposing black sand.
Hawaiian black sand beaches differ from their white sand counterparts in several ways, and are part of what makes Hawai’i such a special place.
So grab your passport, and let’s hop over to the island chain to explore its black and beaches.
What Are Black Sand Beaches?
Despite not being as common as white sand beaches black sand beaches are in fact found in counties in all parts of the world.
And many people find them interesting because the idea of a tropical island paradise is always depicted with pristine white sandy beaches lined with palm trees.
Because of this, it can come as a surprise when you see an idyllic beach, just as beautiful as the white sand paradise beaches, but with dark, light-trapping sand.
The term ‘black sand’ sounds self-explanatory. It is sand that is black in color…
But that does not explain what it is made of, where it comes from, or even why it is black. Geologists do not have a straight-forward answer to these questions.
But we will cut the jargon and answer them in a simple way for you.
What Is Black Sand?
Black sand is generally split into two categories, and both of these categories have sub-divisions.
Most black sand beaches around the world are made from grains of volcanic minerals and dried lava fragments.
This explains why volcanic islands such as Hawaii, the Canaries, and other island chains have black sand beaches.
Why Is Black Sand Black?
The most common types of volcanic rocks are basalt, andesite, along with volcanic glass. And these range in color from black to dark gray.
There are several different minerals which give these volcanic rocks their dark color. But some of the most common are iron oxides.
The minerals weigh more than white sand, and so feel heavier in your hand. And along with feeling heavier, they are also hotter to the touch.
This is because the dark mineral pigment absorbs more sunlight, and traps the heat.
Depending on how sunny it is, this can sometimes make it impossible to walk barefoot on a black sand beach
Where To See A Black Sand Beach On Big Island
ust like the name suggests, Big Island is the biggest island of Hawaii. But here is the confusing part. Although it is generally referred to as ‘Big Island’ its real name is actually Hawai’i.
The island is made up of 5 major volcanoes called Kilauea, Mauna Loa, Mauna Kea, Hualalai and Kohala. And these have created 9 major amazing black sand beaches on the shores.
Each beach has something special that the others do not. So they really are all worth a visit.
They are located throughout the island, and are usually in areas where surf and currents are strong, so swimming can be dangerous. However, there are a couple where locals and tourists do swim.
Punalu’u beach is easily one of the most, if not the most famous beach in all of the Hawaiian islands.
You will find it on the southeastern tip of the island, and just a short drive away from Naalehu town. The beach is long and lined with palm trees. And at points there are clusters of large dark rocks.
Aside from the black sand, the beach attracts tourists who want to see the green sea turtles who come ashore. The turtles love to relax in the warm sand, using it to regulate their body temperatures.
Hawaiian green sea turtles are an endangered species, and it is illegal to go within 10 feet of them. This is to protect them from any human germs which the turtles have never been exposed to before.
Punalu’u black sand beach is actually a beach park. So there are facilities and lifeguards.
This means that it is one of the safer beaches to swim at on Big Island. But be careful, because currents can still be strong there.
But if you want to see an even more exotic beach, head down to the Green sand beach close to Papakolea in the South Point area.
The beach itself is carved out of the cone of the volcano Mauna Loa, which contains the green olivine crystals that give the sand its distinct color.
Waipio Valley Beach
This beach is truly stunning, and is one of the reasons why Hawaii has such a strong reputation as a place of beauty.
The black sand beach here is over a mile in length, and at one end has a rocky formation perfect for getting a birds eye view. Getting to the viewpoint and looking down on the beach and valley is no hassle.
But if you want to get down and walk barefoot in the sand, then you will have to put in a little work.
You will either have to take one of the steep roads down to sea level, and the trek to the beach. Or you can book a shuttle bus. So the question is will you put your muscle, or money to work?
From beach level you can gaze at the 2,000 feet walls and get a different perspective on the valley area. And at the far right end you will see the waterfall which pours directly into the ocean.
It is not a good idea to swim here. The water is extremely dangerous and rip tides can drag you out to see and under.
There are also little amenities at the beach. However, not too far away is the town of Honka’a, where you will find everything you need.
Pohoiki Black Sand Beach
Pohoiki beach formed as recently as 2018 and was the result of volcanic activity of Kilauea. It has an impressive coastline and is located on the far eastern side of Big Island.
Pohoiki belongs to the Isaac Hale beach park. You are advised not to swim here because strong undertows and extreme surf make it dangerous.
But to make up for the lost swimming opportunity are other fun things to explore. Dotted around, just away from the beach are hot ponds.
And these are within the forest area. This means that you can hang around the trees and nature whilst having a warm bath.
And when taking the Red Road, stop off at MacKenzi state park. There are some breath-taking cliffs and hiking trails for those who are feeling adventurous. And for those who are not, there is the local Pahoa town to visit.
Pololu Valley Black Sand Beach
Now we head over to the western side of Big Island to check out Pololu Valley beach. Like many Hawaiian beaches, there is an incredible overlook area that gives unreal views.
Getting down to the beach from this viewpoint is not as difficult as other beaches on the island, but it still has its challenges. After heavy rains the trails can be slippery, so it is best to be cautious.
In some parts of the beach the black sand is fine and slips through your fingers like the lighter white sand. And at other points there are rocky, large boulders.
These are the ends of the beach where you can see the cliffs sticking out from the base of the valley. This looks amazing and adds to the drama inspired by the scenery.
The journey down to the beach lasts around half an hour. Again, swimming is not a great idea here. The undertow is really rough, and no lifeguards work at the beach.
Once you have had your fill of the beach, you can take the Kohala mountain road to experience one of Hawaii’s most scenic drives.
Richardson Ocean Park
Richardson Ocean Park is one of the string of beaches which make up Hilo Side. It is the last beach in the string of sandy shorelines, and has something unique.
Not only are its sands black, but they are also green. We have already seen green sand, but not on the same beach as black sand!
The black sand beach is small and secluded, and there are also other rocky areas to see. Green sea turtles also frequent this beach, so it is another great spot to do some wildlife observing.
A fun way to see what is going on beneath the waves is to grab your snorkeling gear and dive in. The rocky areas are the best for this, because tropical fish like to congregate around the formations.
The shallow bay at the front of Richardson Ocean Center is the most popular snorkeling site on the east side of Big island. It is just outside of Hilo, which is located just two miles away.
The beach scene at Richardson is family oriented, and so is fun for people of all ages.
And along with being the most popular snorkeling location, it is also one of the most enjoyed beaches in general on its side of the island.
Away from the beach in Hilo, you will find the farmers market. Here you can try the poke, tropical fruits, or other local dishes that Hawai’i has to offer.
Kehena Black Sand Beach
It is over to the east side of Big Island we go to Kehena black sand beach. It is just off the Red Road which follows the Puna coastline, and is a popular one on this side of the Island.
If you like a busy beach bustling with happy people, then Sunday is a great day to go. This is because on this day there are drum circles, dances, as well as singing and chanting.
Kehena is a local’s swimming spot, so follow their lead and you should be ok to get into the water. But keep in mind that the wavs here are strong, and the undertow can be rough.
A good indicator of whether swimming conditions are safe is to see how many people are in the water. Many people, and you are good to go. No people, stay out of the water.
At Kehena beach you will not find amenities or lifeguards, so play it safe, and bring everything you need.
And if you are up for some land-based exploring, head to MacKenzi state park to check out more of the Puna coastline.
Ohh, and a word of warning. Kehena beach is clothing optional…
Kaimu Black Sand Beach
Kaimu beach is another recently formed black sand beach in the Puna area. It has an interesting, but also sad history.
In 1990 lava flows destroyed over 150 homes of locals in Kalpana and Kaimu. Lava poured through the streets of the two towns, covering cars, as well as parks and shops.
And in some places, the lava was up to 85 feet deep. The surge of lava broke through the town and traveled eastward to the sea.
In the process it almost completely destroyed Kaimu, and reformed the already existing black and beach.
This was not a quick event, as the lava flows moved over a period of 10 month.
However, geological changes finally created new vents and the lava flow was eventually diverted by the course of nature.
The current Kaimu black sand beach is only in its 30’s. It is not the best place to swim as the waters are rough, but it is a scenic place to hang with friends and enjoy nature.
Kapoho Black Sand Beach
The Puna coastline is renowned for its volcanic activity, and is the reason why there are so many new beaches there.
Kapoho is another of these, and it is so new that nobody has officially named it. But people are going with Kapoho.
It is set about an hour off from the main road, so you will have to walk to get there. However it is well worth the trek, because the beach is beautiful.
Not only is the beach pristine, but being an hour away from the road means that not many people make it out there.
At the far left side there is a rocky point. And throughout the beach you will see green sand spotted amongst the black. This gives it a nice tinge, and makes the beach a little more wondrous.
When the tide is right, pools also become explorable, but rough surf will stop this.
In and around the area there are also a lot of black sand coves, or ‘beachlets’. Even fewer people know about these.
So if you are looking for a hidden gem, do some exploring down from Kapoho beach and you are sure to find one.
Getting to the beach is also amazing. The drive from Pahoa town takes you from green forests to dense, black lava fields, showing the duality of Hawaii’s nature.
Honomalino Black Sand Beach
Last but not least on Big Island, we have Honomalino beach. This is one of the least visited black sand beaches on the island, and so is an ideal get away from the crowds.
Despite being unpopular, it is only a short hike away from the local village of Milolii. The surrounding area may look barren due to lava flow devastation, but the trail leading to the beach is green with thick jungle.
Within this lush jungle grows a medley of plant life, including coconut trees, mesquite and cereus.
The trail dips winds through lagoons and hidden coves along the coastline, until you reach a group of coconut trees. These mark the edge of the black and green sand beach.
The beach is a crescent shape, just like the ones you see in picture perfect travel photography.
The lack of people makes it extra special, but you might have the pleasure of meeting a few locals, as they do visit the beach.
Are There Black Sand Beaches On Oahu?
Unlike Big Island which is littered with black sand beaches, Oahu does not have a single one. But that is not to say that it does not have its own beaches worth visiting.
Along with its own beaches, you will also find the capital city of Honolulu on Oahu.
Are There Black Sand Beaches On Kauai?
No, there are actually no black sand beaches on Kauai. Although, the island does have some astonishing light sandy beaches, where you can also spot turtles.
Are There Black Sand Beaches On Maui?
Yes! Maui does have black sand beaches. And one of them is Honokalani. It is in Waianapanapa State Park.
Located 3 miles from the town of Hana, the beach has cultural significance to Maui locals, and has an ancient ruined temple along with intriguing caves.
The combination of crystal blue water, black and green sand, and leafy surroundings make this beach an extra special space.
It is a must see beach on any trip to Maui, and should not be missed.
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