Big Island and Kauai Exotic Beaches

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Hawaii is known for many things, and beautiful beaches are at the top of the list. There are too many beaches to count, and so many of them aren’t just the garden variety golden sand beaches, but rather green beaches, black beaches and others as well.

Mom and I aren’t dedicated beach goers in the sense that we will go to a beach and stay there all day. We simply like to do too much on vacation and don’t stay in any one place too long. As I always joke, you know you had a good vacation when you need another vacation to recover when it is all over.

Even though we had visited most of the best beaches on the Big Island and Kauai on our first trip, there were still some beaches to see on our second trip. The Big Island offers many different types of beaches, just because that island is younger than the other Hawaiian islands, so it is still transforming (and the ever erupting Kilauea ensures that the island is frequently changing landscapes).

I had visited Green Sand Beach on our first trip to the Big Island, but my mother elected not to go at the time, and regretted it later. Since I enjoyed the trip the last time, I had no problem doing it again.

This beach takes more effort to get to than most beaches, because there is no road near it, so you have to hike over two and a half miles from the parking lot to get there. To get to the parking lot, you take the turnoff for South Point Road between mile markers 69 and 70 on Hwy 11. You then drive down several miles, and follow the signs to Green Sands Beach. You can’t really miss the makeshift parking lot, and there should be plenty of cars already parked.

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From the parking lot, you have a decision to make. You can walk all the way to the beach if you desire. The walk isn’t difficult, but it can feel longer than it is at times, and it is exposed to sun and wind. If you choose to walk, most of the path is fairly easy to traverse, though there are sections where you have to negotiate rocks. There isn’t one path per say, but rather you just pick the best  of the available paths, which is usually the one that is flattest. Basically you just walk east and head toward Green Sands Beach. Eventually you will see the cliffs surrounding the beach, so you know you are almost there.

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Like I said, it isn’t HARD, but the walk can feel long and if the sun is beating down on you or the wind is strong, you will feel it. So make sure you take a lot of water and sun protection with you if you decide to walk the way.

However, you don’t have to walk out there if you don’t want. There is a cottage industry of locals and their 4WD vehicles who will gladly take you out to the beach and back, for a fee of course (roughly $10 per person for a round trip). Mom and I decided to walk out there, to get the full experience and some exercise, but we decided to take a truck back to save time and energy.

Once we got to the cliffs overlooking the beach, we just spent some time marveling at the beauty. The cliffs are rather magnificent in and of themselves, and the green sand of the beach just makes it all the better. The green sand comes from olivine, and its really only found in Hawaii on this beach. It’s not a bright green, but the sand definitely has a greenish tint.

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It’s fairly easy to make your way down to the actual beach, because of the steps and ladders. It is possible to swim in the ocean, though you need to be careful not to swim too far out, because there can be strong currents in the area.

If you like beautiful nature and unique beaches, you’ll probably like Green Sands Beach. It’s not a stop you can just spend a little time at, just because of the time it takes to get there (even if you take a truck). So if you plan to go, definitely allot enough time to get there, enjoy the beach for as long as you want, and get back. But it really is worth your time.

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About a 30 minute drive from the turnout to Green Sands Beach is the turnout for Punalu’u Beach, or Black Sand Beach. This beach is much easier to reach, because the parking lot is only a short walk from the beach itself. It’s located between mile markers 56 and 57 on Hwy 11 off Alanui Road. The road to the beach is well marked and easy to follow.

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Punalu’u Beach is a nice contrast with Green Sands Beach, both in the ease of access and the color of the sand. At the time we visited, the weather was a bit overcast and it was windy, so the waves were a bit too strong for me to want to swim. But it was pleasant to walk along the beach, admire the view and even take in the sight of a turtle.

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The beaches of Kauai are very beautiful, but almost uniformly a golden sand. However, there is one beach that takes more of an effort to reach. At least a beach that is not off the Na Pali Coast, because those beaches are much, much harder to reach.

Mom and I debated visiting Waimea Canyon on this trip, even though we visited it at length  during our first trip. However, we got a late start on our designated travel day, and we could see the dark clouds rolling in, so we figured it would not be worth our time to make the long drive up, only to have the surrounding views obscured.

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Instead, we decided to visit Polihale State Park, which we had not visited before. Polihale State Park is on the west side of the island, and it is about as far west as the road goes before it peters out, just before it reaches the Na Pali Coast. It’s not exactly EASY to get to Polihale, but it is worth your time if you have the time. Getting to the turnoff is easy, because you follow Hwy 50 all the way down the road, until you see the turnoff for the park. However, this is when the trip becomes more of an adventure. The access road to the beach is approximately five miles over an unimproved dirt road. I honestly don’t know why money isn’t spent to improve the road, but for whatever reason, the road is decidedly unimproved, though I read there is periodic maintenance to make it somewhat driveable.

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Generally speaking it is recommended that you take a 4WD vehicle to the park, though it isn’t absolutely required. You can take a 2WD vehicle like we did (though I wouldn’t recommend one if it is wet outside, because I can just see how the road would turn into mud when the rain falls). The road is deeply rutted in places, so you have to drive carefully, but eventually you will get there. Even though the road goes further up for camping access, it is easier to park at the spaces for the Queen’s Pond. There isn’t a parking lot per say, but rather you just pull your car off the road into the sand. Just make sure that the sand isn’t too loose, so you won’t get stuck trying to leave.

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From where you park, you just follow the road until you hit the beach. Once you arrive, it is pretty much up to you. Polihale State Park makes up several miles of golden sand, and if you come during the week, you are liable to have the park to yourself. We visited on the weekend, and there were plenty of locals camped out, but it was definitely not crowded.

If you want to swim on the beach, the safest place is within the reef of Queen’s Pond. Outside of it, the waves and current are a bit stronger. There really isn’t much else to do on the beach, but relax, swim if you want, and walk up and down taking in the views. We saw the dark clouds were getting closer and the rain was threatening to come down, so we left before the road was too difficult to traverse.

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If you choose to go to Polihale State Park, just know that it is out of the way for most other sites (though you could combine it with a day trip to Waimea Canyon), and the road is somewhat difficult to traverse. But you aren’t likely to find many more isolated places on Kauai (though some of the most isolated Na Pali Coast beaches would give it a run for its money).

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Journey to Hana and Back (All the Other Beautiful Nature)

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The absolutely gorgeous Hana Highway is most known for the abundance and variety of waterfalls, but there is also other beautiful nature to behold as well. One of the first stops out on the Hana Highway was at the Waikamoi Nature Trail. It is located between mile markers 9 and 10, and there are a couple nature loops. I did these walks myself, because it was raining and Mom decided to guard the car while I got wet and sort of muddy. It wasn’t pouring down rain, but there was sort of a constant drizzle. Both trails are pretty easy, though like I said, they were a bit muddy when I visited. However, at one point, there was a nice view of the green valley (a common theme at many of the stops along the Hana Highway).

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Thanks to my guide book, Maui Revealed, I knew that you could walk a bit from the main trail and come to a pretty waterfall. Yes, I did say that this post was going to be about everything but waterfalls, but just one more (since my Hana Highway waterfall post was just packed to the gills with them). I followed the directions in the book, where I took the longer trail out to a picnic area and then walked past the “End of Trail” sign. The book said to take the trail to the left and walk a few minutes, where it would lead to a stream an dam. I think I must have missed some critical step because I didn’t find myself where the book described. I took one path down a bit, but then it started getting super steep and slippery so I hiked back up and tried another wider path that was more like a road. I eventually did come to a nice view that overlooked the top of a waterfall, but I don’t think I was where I was supposed to be. However, the rain started picking up and we had many, many more stops along the way, so I turned back and walked to the car.

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We made a stop in Ke’anae, and the turnoff road is between mile markers 16 and 17. You pass a stand called Aunt Sandy’s selling pretty good banana bread and then come to the end of the road at the Ke’anae Peninsula, which opens up right onto the seas. In the past, there used to be a small village there, but thanks to a massive tsunami in 1946, all the buildings but the stone church were destroyed. However that church still remains standing to this day.

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In addition, the view of the sea is absolutely marvelous from this vantage point, and the day we were there, the sea was churning mightily with some powerful waves crashing against the young lava rocks.

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We made a brief stop at Wailua Valley State Wayside, which is just before mile marker 19. It is a short trip up the stairs, but at the top, you have a wide open view of the Ko’olau Gap with the lush green valley laid out before your eyes and a far off waterfall visible (at least at the time I visited, because it was raining).

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My next stop is probably the weirdest, and it is extremely easy to miss if you don’t keep your eyes out for it. But there is a small lava tube cave just off the right (mountain side) two turnouts past mile marker 23. But if you know what you are looking for, you will spot it and know you are in the right place.

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Yeah, on the face of it, it might seem stupid to crawl into a hole off the side of the road when you don’t know what’s down there. But Hawaii really isn’t filled with creatures that can kill you, so you are probably safe. I crawled into the cave (make sure to bring a flashlight, because it does get dark, and there are plenty of loose rocks to fall on if you aren’t paying attention). But inside, you can scramble through the 140 foot long cave and come to an opening in the forest where you can climb out and see inside. Overall, it is a different diversion and a nice break from all the waterfall beauty.

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Just a few miles before you reach the town of Hana, there is a very nice beach stop at Wai’anapanapa Park. The turnoff road for the park is located just after mile marker 32. There is ample parking there, and plenty of signs for things you might want to see. Most of our time was spent enjoying the coastal view and sort of frolicking on the gorgeous black sand beach (sort of frolicking, because the surf was pretty rough that day- even though there were a couple local surfers riding the waves out there).

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There is an easy trail that leads down to the  volcanic black sand beach, known as Pa’iloa Beach and right when you get down to the beach, there is a small sea arch that looks like a cave. You can walk into it and enjoy the sea view from a different angle.

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We spent some time just enjoying the texture of the beach and the beautiful black stones.

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We eventually left, because the tide was coming in and we were only a couple hours from sunset and we wanted to get to Hana and settle in at our inn before it got dark. But it was still amazing to witness the awesome power of the ocean crash into the beach. I have always had a thing for stormy beaches and crashing waves, and there was an abundance of both on this day.

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The town of Hana is small, but nice. There aren’t THAT  many hotels out there (since most tourists do the Hana Highway as a day trip), and most the hotel rooms are sort of inn rooms or Air BnB type rooms in someone’s house. Our particular inn room was very nice with an outdoor shower, which is one of my favorite things when visiting the tropics. We got up early the next morning to head out to Haleakala National Park for some hiking and waterfall viewing (subject of my next blog post), but we had a nice sunny morning to start the day in Hana.

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If you have the time, I would highly recommend staying overnight at Hana. It gives you that much more time to stop and see the numerous beautiful sights on the Hana Highway. It allows you to really enjoy the scenery rather than just zooming by it or just taking a minute, because you have a packed itinerary to complete in a day. It is also likely to help you avoid the crush of the tourists. Overall, I think taking your time on the Hana Highway will allow for a deeper traveling experience.