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Top 5 Big Island Beaches

Blue sky and beach

Groggy from the long flight, surrounded by black lava, many Big Island visitors are mesmerized by the view of shocking lava fields at Kona International Airport.  This is Hawaii?  Yes, it is.  The Big Island of Hawaii is known for it’s vast expanses of barren land, a wide variety of climatic zones, Kona coffee, and Kilauea.  What many visitors don’t know about are our beaches; they are incredible!  With beaches that range in color from green to black to sugar white, the island of Hawaii has it all!  Locals may not give out directions to their favorite beaches, but we’ll fill you in on our Top 5.  It’s up to you to find them.

5.  Punaluu Black Sand Beach – Located on the South Shore of the Big Island, Punaluu is a beach to behold.  Black Sand!  Formed when lava meets the sea, Punaluu Beach can be found just 30 minutes short of Kilauea Volcano.  Not only can you snorkel here, you may find yourself bumping up against Green Sea Turtles (Honu).  These sea turtles are everywhere!  They took up residence to bury their eggs in the perfect incubating sand – black sand!  Try to not to get too close when they’re on the beach.  Take pictures from a distance and enjoy one of the most unique beaches in the country.

4.  Hapuna Beach – This is where you go to beach for the morning, a lazy afternoon, sunset, or an entire day.  Hapuna Beach 200 ft. wide and 1/2 mile long – the quintessential Hawaiian beach.   As a state park, it is well-maintained and gorgeous – the perfect Hawaiian beach.  Those who come for sunset are in for a treat.  There are decent facilities available, a shack that occasionally rents out beach gear, and plenty of parking.  On clear days during the winter, you may spot a humpback whale breach in the distance.  Hapuna is perfect for lounging or playing in small surf.  Leave the snorkel in the car and learn to bodysurf here.

3.  Kua Bay (Manini’owali) – Also known as Mile 88, this is a great beach.  Plenty of parking along a paved road, bathrooms and showers, beautiful sand, and beautiful turquoise water.  You can spend all day at Kua Bay.   In times of big waves, watch the locals rip; enjoy the show.  Snorkeling in rough surf is dicey but there are some big fish to be seen too.  Be safe and soak up the sun!  Just past the airport off of HWY 19 heading North of the airport, turn towards the ocean opposite the Veteran’s cemetery.

2.  Mauna Kea Beach – A shorter, quieter, and more elegant version of Hapuna Beach, Mauna Kea Beach is where you go to “get away.”  Ask for a parking pass at the hotel entrance off the highway.  If you’re lucky to get one of the 30 or 35 beach passes, you’ll feel like you won the lottery.  The hotel guests lounge next door but there’s plenty of room for those with a pass.  It’s a bit of a walk from the parking lot, but this beach is perfection.   Hapuna Beach is a fantastic consolation prize if you can’t get in.

1.  Makalawena – Close your eyes.  Picture the perfect beach.  Wanna go?  Strap on a backpack, fill the cooler, and wear comfortable shoes because if want to see the perfect beach, you’re going to have to work for it.  As far as beaches go, it doesn’t get any better than “Maks.” There are no outdoor showers, bathrooms, or food trucks – this is heaven on earth.  This is unspoiled perfection that will bring you to your knees as you come upon it.  After driving over lava trails and hiking 40 minutes one way, you’ll never forget Makalawena Beach.

Can’t get enough?  Try these other options below…

Almost Top 5:

Richardson’s Ocean Beach Park in Hilo – Great location and perfect for anything beach related. Along with Puna’s Pohoiki Bay, this is the best beach in Hilo.  Watch for high surf.

Magic Sands Beach in Kailua – The beach disappears after the Winter’s heavy surf but ideal for body surfing and centrally located in Kailua.

Kiholo Bay – Just before Waikoloa along HWY 19, you’ll see it from the lookout, but the walk in is worth it.  Not a real beach but amazing for snorkeling and communing with the turtles.

Kahaluu Beach – Ideal for snorkeling or learning to surf.  This is the perfect all-in-one beach for anything ocean related, but because of the dark sand, the water doesn’t have the postcard appeal.

Spencer Beach Park – Perfect for shark watching.  What?  Black tip reef sharks circle the bay daily; that’s why nobody swims here.  However, for picnicking, suntanning, or simply enjoying the outdoors, this beach has all of the facilities to spend the entire day.

Let the controversy begin… What’s your favorite place to dig your toes?

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