Did you know there are two islands that have black sand beaches in Hawaii? If your trip takes you to the Big Island or Maui, experience these magical beaches with black sand as you relax to the sound of crashing waves.
Why are there black sand beaches in Hawaii?
Black sand beaches are created when hot lava meets water and because of the drastic temperature differences, the lava quickly solidifies and then explodes into small pieces – creating sand.
Some beaches will have softer, finer sand, while others may have more abrasive, pebble-sized sand.
Which Beaches in Hawaii have Black Sand?
1. Punalu’u Black Sand Beach
Punalu’u Beach is considered the most famous black sand beach in Hawaii, located on the southeastern coast of the Big Island. Punalu’u isn’t only known for its unique color of sand but also a popular nesting spot for the endangered Green and Hawksbill sea turtles.
If you are staying in the Kailua-Kona area and are planning a visit to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, make sure to check out the black sand at Punalu’u Beach.
Another interesting fact, the popular beach has cold fresh spring water that feeds into the ocean. According to legend, Ancient Hawaiians would swim down to collect the fresh water in times of drought.
Many people ask if you can swim and snorkel at Punalu’u Beach? Yes, you can, but only when the surf is down. There can be strong rip currents and conditions change regularly, so it is best to check with the on-duty lifeguard.
When you visit Punalu’u Black Sand Beach and are lucky enough to see endangered sea turtles, here are a few rules to follow:
- DO NOT touch, feed or pour water on the turtles.
- Stay at least 10 feet away from the sea turtles at all times.
- Follow all posted signs and do not cross any ropes in place to protect the turtles and their nesting spots.
2. Pololu Valley
Pololu Valley is on the Northeastern shore of the Big Island and includes an overlook and a short half-mile hike. Located at the end of Highway 270, the lookout gives you dramatic views of the Pololu Valley cliffs and the beautiful coastline.
Unfortunately, the black sand beach isn’t obvious from up top, so you’ll need to put on your hiking shoes to get a closer look.
Awini Trail is a .5-mile round trip hike that starts at the overlook and descends 300 feet to the valley floor. The switchbacks are your friends here because they give you some great photo opportunities and help the 300 feet of elevation change not feel so daunting.
Once you reach the Pololu Valley beach, you’ll notice the black sand and polished dark lava rock. Swimming is not recommended as the waters are dangerous with strong currents and no lifeguards on duty.
FYI: The trailhead has no cell phone service or restrooms.
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3. Pohoiki Beach
Pohoiki Beach, also known as Isaac Hale Beach Park, is on the Big Island and was recently created in 2018 by the Kilauea Volcano eruption. Considered one of the youngest black sand beaches in Hawaii, Pohoiki Beach has 2-acres of dark lava sand and is lined with coconut palm trees.
Like most Hawaiian beaches, swimming can be dangerous at times of high surf, so heed all warnings. The lava flow also created thermal ponds, but they are not disinfected, so do not enter the water if you have any open wounds.
4. Kehena Beach
Kehena Beach is on the east shore of Hawaii in the Puna district. Although illegal, nude sunbathers frequent this beach.
If that isn’t your thing, I’d recommend seeking another black sand beach in the area.
It isn’t very easy to get down to the Kehena Beach shoreline. You must navigate a steep, narrow pathway – but are rewarded with dark black sand at the bottom.
No lifeguards are on duty at Kehena Beach, so I strongly advise you not to swim in the ocean waters. However, you can stand at the shoreline and check out the Spinner Dolphins that regularly visit the beach.
Just relax, bask in the sun and enjoy the company.
5. Waianapanapa State Park
Waianapanapa State Park is home to Maui’s only black sand beach on the island, located off the Hana Highway. There is more to explore than just the fascinating black sand, though.
Waianapanapa State Park blow holes, stone arches, and even a cave are just a few unique natural wonders you can expect.
With the beautiful scenery comes Hawaiian culture and legends – so be prepared to indulge yourself in what makes the islands special.
Advanced reservations are required to enter the Waianapanapa State Park – no same-day reservations.
6. Richardson Ocean Park
Located just south of Hilo on the eastern coast of the Big Island, Richardson Ocean Beach offers up black sand with speckles of green mixed in.
You read that right, green sand!
Black sand comes from lava, but where does green sand come from?
Olivine crystals are the culprit of the colorful sand specs and are even more on display if you get a chance to visit the Papakolea Beach (Green Sand Beach) on the Big Island.
Richardson Ocean Park is a family-friendly beach option due to the ‘mostly’ calm waters. Because of the calm, shallow waters, Richardson Park is known for having one of the best beaches for snorkeling on the island’s east side.
Of course, Hawaiian water conditions change quickly, so always check with the lifeguards on duty before getting in the ocean.
Marine life is also on display at Richardson Ocean Beach, and you might get lucky enough to see honu turtles (Hawaiian green sea turtles), endangered monk seals and humpback whales (during whale season).
Remember, please do not touch marine life and always keep a safe distance.
7. Kaimu Black Sand Beach
Kaimu Black Sand Beach is near Pahoa in the Puna district on the Big Island of Hawaii. With creation comes destruction, which is exactly what happened back in 1990.
The brand-new beach now sits on top of 50 feet of lava and what was once known as one of the Big Island’s most stunning beaches.
To reach the new beach, you will have to trek 300 feet across the black lava fields. There are areas where you’ll have to climb down six feet of lava rock to get to the beach, and then there are a few spots that are much easier to get to the shoreline.
Lava rock can be slippery and sharp (I’ve learned from experience, unfortunately), so be careful.
Kaimu Beach is best for a visit to check out volcanic history but isn’t well suited for swimming or even sunbathing. The dangerous currents and waves are too strong to swim safely, and the beach has no reprieve from the sun (think shade).
The waves can be so strong that the black sand is swept out to sea and washed back to the shoreline weeks later.
5 Tips for Visiting Black Sand Beaches
- Consider bringing or buying water shoes. Not only does black sand get hotter from the sun, but the lava rock can be sharp and abrasive on your feet.
- Do NOT take any black sand home with you. Just don’t do it!
- Black sand beaches are a popular spot for marine life. Do not touch marine life and stay at least 10 feet away.
- Know the conditions before attempting to swim in any body of water in Hawaii.
- Don’t forget your reef-safe sunscreen and a hat to stay protected from the sun.
Is it bad luck to take black sand from Hawaii?
Yes, it is bad luck to take black sand home with you from Hawaii since legend has it that Pele, the Volcano Goddess of Hawaii, puts a curse on any visitor that does so. This also includes lava rock, so make sure you leave that where you found it as well. Not only is it considered bad luck, but it is also illegal to remove any elements from the Hawaiian Islands. So whether you believe in legends or not, leave the black sand and lava rocks where they are.
How many black sand beaches are in Hawaii?
There are at least 10 black sand beaches in Hawaii. Some more popular than others with the bulk of them being on the Big Island.
Does Oahu have a black sand beach?
No, Oahu does not have any black sand beaches. So if you want to see a beach with black sand, book an interisland flight to the Big Island or Maui.
Wrapping It Up…
Experiencing the black sand beaches in Hawaii is an opportunity you don’t want to miss. No matter what island your vacation takes you on, try to plan a trip to hang out at one of these Hawaiian beaches with black sand.