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Hawaii (Big) Island
Article Source: Copyright © 2012 by Fodor’s Travel, a division of Random House Inc. All rights reserved.
Kaunaoa Beach (also known as Mauna Kea Beach) is a beautiful palm-lined golden crescent.
Towering coconut trees provide some shade and lend a touch of tropical beauty to this pretty little beach park (also called La'aloa), which may well be the Big Island's most intriguing stretch of sand. A migratory beach of sorts, it goes away in winter when waves wash away the small white-sand parcel (hence the name). In summer, the beach re-forms; you'll know you've found it when you see the body- and board surfers. Just south of Jameson's restaurant (closed at this writing), this is a popular summer hangout for young locals. Amenities: lifeguards; parking (no fee); toilets; shower. Best for: surfing.
This white-sand beach is popular with local families because of its reef-protected waters. It's probably the safest beach in West Hawaii for young children. It's also safe for swimming year-round, which makes it a reliable spot for a lazy day at the beach. There is a little shade, plus a volleyball court and pavilion, and the soft sand is perfect for sand castles. It does tend to get crowded with families and campers on weekends, and the beach can be spotted with litter. Although you won't see a lot of fish if you're snorkeling here, in winter you can usually catch sight of a breaching whale or two. The beach park lies just below Puukohola Heiau National Historic Park, site of the historic temple built by King Kamehameha the Great in 1795. Amenities: lifeguards (weekends and holidays only); parking (no fee); showers; toilets. Best for: sunset; swimming.
Safe swimming, proximity to downtown Hilo, and a freshwater-fed swimming hole, called the Ice Pond, that flows into the backwaters of Hilo Bay are the enticements of this cove. No, there really isn't ice in the swimming hole; it just feels that way on a hot sultry day. The large pond, between Hilo Seaside Hotel and Harrington's Restaurant, is a favorite of local kids who enjoy jumping into and frolicking in the chilly fresh- and saltwater mix. The water is usually calm but there is no real beach here. Amenities: parking (no fee); showers. Best for: swimming.
On the North Kohala peninsula, this is one of the Big Island's most scenic black-sand beaches. After about 8 mi of lush, winding road past Hawi town, Highway 270 ends at the overlook of Pololu Valley. Snap a few photos of the stunning view, then take the 15-minute hike down (twice as long back up) to the beach. The trail is steep and rocky; it can also be muddy and slippery, so watch your step. The beach itself is a wide expanse of fine black sand surrounded by sheer green cliffs and backed by high dunes and pine trees. A gurgling stream leads from the beach to the back of the valley. This is not a particularly safe swimming beach even though locals do swim, body board, and surf here. Dangerous rip currents and usually rough surf pose a real hazard. And because this is a remote, isolated area far from emergency help, extreme caution is advised. Amenities: none. Best for: hiking.
A great stop on a south southeast-bound trip to the volcano, this easily accessible black-sand beach is backed by low dunes, brackish ponds, and tall coco palms. The shoreline is jagged, reefed, and rocky. Most days, you'll see the stunning sight of large groups of turtles napping on the sand. Resist the urge to touch or disturb them—they're protected by federal and state law and fines for getting too close can be hefty. Removing black sand is also prohibited. Extremely strong rip currents prevail, so only experienced ocean swimmers should consider getting in the water here. Popular with locals and tour buses alike, this beach can get very busy, especially on weekends (the north parking lot is usually quieter). Shade from palm trees provides an escape from the sun, and at the northern end of the beach, near the boat ramp, lie the ruins of Kaneeleele Heiau, an old Hawaiian temple. The area was once a sugar port until the tidal wave of 1946 destroyed the buildings. Developers tried to bring a resort experience here in the early 1990s, but that has mostly failed. (You'll drive by a few abandoned resort buildings on your way to the beach.) Bring your camera and a picnic lunch. Amenities: parking (no fee); showers; toilets. Best for: walking.
Tired of the same old gold-, white-, or black-sand beach? Then how about a green-sand beach? You'll need good hiking shoes or sneakers to get to this olive-green crescent, one of the most unusual beaches on the island. It lies at the base of Puu O Mahana, at Mahana Bay, where a cinder cone formed during an early eruption of Mauna Loa. The greenish tint is caused by an accumulation of olivine crystals that form in volcanic eruptions. The dry, barren landscape is totally surreal. The surf is often rough, and swimming is hazardous due to strong currents, so caution is advised. Take the road off Highway 11 down to Ka Lae (South Point); at the end of the 12-mile "paved" road, take the road to the left and park at the end. Anyone trying to charge you for parking is running a scam. To reach the beach, follow the 2¼-mile coastal trail, which ends in a steep and dangerous descent down the cliff side on an unimproved trail. The hike takes about two hours each way and it can get windy, so make sure to bring lots of drinking water. (Four-wheel-drive vehicles are no longer permitted on the trail). Amenities: none. Best for: solitude.
Shallow, rock-wall-enclosed tide pools and an adjacent grassy picnic area make this park a favorite among Hilo families with small children. The protected pools are great places to look for Hawaiian marine life like sea urchins and anemones. There isn't much white sand, but access to the water is easy. The water is usually rough beyond the line of large boulders protecting the inner tide pools, so be careful if the surf is high. This beach gets crowded on weekends. Amenities: lifeguards (weekends and holidays only); parking (no fee); showers; toilets. Best for: swimming.
This beach hugs the coast adjacent to the runway that served as Kona's airport until 1970. The old terminal building is now a public pavilion. The long shoreline is flat and spotted with rocks; calm waters make for good snorkeling. The sand is dotted with coral and generally clean. There is easy access to a few small coves of white sand with safe entry to the water and tide pools for children, while the shady areas are good for picnics or admiring the Kona "skyline," complete with a cruise ship or two. A well-cared-for walking and jogging trail on the other side of the runway is worth checking out for its landscape. Just north, an offshore surf break known as Old Airport is popular with local surfers. It's usually not crowded, but this area can be busy on weekends. Amenities: parking (no fee); showers; toilets. Best for: snorkeling; sunsets; walking.
The shoreline is rocky with only a sliver of beach but don't let that deter you—this is a popular and historically significant park. Captain James Cook first landed in Hawaii here in 1778 to refurbish his ships. When he returned a year later, he was killed in a skirmish with Hawaiians, now marked by a monument on the north end of Kealakekua Bay. The area is surrounded by high green cliffs, creating calm conditions for superb swimming, snorkeling, and diving. You'll see a variety of marine life here, including colorful reef fish, corals, and, most likely, dolphins. The trails behind the shore, leading to Hikiau Heiau, are rocky but walkable. Parking is limited. Be aware of the off-limits area (in case of rockfalls) marked by orange buoys. Amenities: parking (no fee); toilets. Best for: snorkeling; swimming.
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