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Hawaii (Big) Island
Article Source: Copyright © 2012 by Fodor’s Travel, a division of Random House Inc. All rights reserved.
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.
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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