Half the fun of seeing a black sand beach on Maui is in finding out where they are hidden. I’ll give you a hint:
East Maui and Hana have the most striking black beaches that will create picture-perfect images in your mind — no camera required. At Honokalani, the black beach stands out against blue or cloudy skies and wild tropical foliage, reminding you that you are in a paradise too breathtaking to be real.
Except it is real — but don’t begin the trek there just yet.
If you are staying on the south or west side of Maui, you are still in luck.
ONEULI BEACH: dark sands in South Maui
This beach is located in Mākena, on the south side of the island. It is on Makena Alanui Road in South Maui right next to Makena Beach. Oneuli beach is known for its black and white peppered sand and strong currents, making it a popular spot for experienced bodyboarders.
This black sand beach consists of ash eroded over centuries off the Pu’u Olai cinder cone near Makena Landing. Oneuli Beach is a relatively narrow strip of black sand on the rugged north side of Pu’u Olai. Snorkeling here is great, if the weather allows and it is not too rough along the edges of Pu’u Olai. Sea turtles can be observed along this stretch of coastline so keep eyes sharply seaward along the beach.
If you appreciate nature, you will marvel at the raw beauty of the cinder cone and coastal environs here. A quite steep trail leads up to the 350 ft high rim of the cinder cone. The dry, sparsely vegetated cinder cone absorbs a lot of heat from the day, so if climbing, go early morning or evening for the magnificent sunset views.
- This beach has no facilities and only a gravel parking lot.
- The rough and hot sand can wreak havoc on your feet, so wear flip flops or reef shoes.
- If the surf is rough, keep out of the water. Swimming beyond the fringing reef can also be dangerous as the currents are at their strongest.
- Do not leave valuables in your car or unattended at the beach.
How to get to Oneuli Beach
Oneuli Beach is located in Makena, after the Maui Prince Hotel, but before you get to Makena Beach.
Traveling along Wailea Alanui Road, you pass the Maui Prince and the Old Makena Road on the right. The road makes a sharp bend to the east then continues on to Ahihi Kina’u and La Perouse Bay. Just after the bend, but before you get to the main paved parking lot at Makena Beach there is a dirt road turnoff (through an orange unlocked gate). Take the dirt road and follow it back until you reach the ocean; park where you can.
HANA AND EAST MAUI FOR BLACK SAND BEACH ADVENTURES
Black sand beaches are formed along waters that are often too rough for swimming, but that doesn’t mean you can’t explore the shoreline. For a fee!
Reservations Now Required for Wai’Anapanapa State Park and Black Sand Beach
An inconvenient change as of 2021: Hawaii state now requires advance reservations for all vehicles, walk-in entry, and PUC vehicles visiting Wai’anapanapa State Park.
- Reservations may be made up to 30 days in advance, and no later than the day before your visit.
- $10 fee per vehicle, plus $5 per person over the age of 3 years. So a visit for two people would amount to $20 if driving and parking, $10 if walking in.
- The fine print: State of Hawaii residents are exempt from the fee/reservation requirement – proof of state residency is required at time of entry, with either a Hawaii State Driver’s License or ID. Visitors accompanying State of Hawaii residents to visit Wai‘anapanapa State Park are not exempt from the entry fee, which can be purchased on this website.
Pa’iloa Beach (Black Sand Beach) – Honokalani – Wai’anapanapa State Park
Best for swimming and walking.
Where: Hana Hwy., Hana, Near mile marker 32
Reservation now required to enter Wai’anapanapa State Park.
On the outskirts of Hana town by Wai’anapanapa State Park, Pa’iloa Beach (Black Sand Beach) is formed from the crushed black lava rock that is pummeled by the crashing waves. Really more of a black pebble than sand beach, Wai’anapanapa State Park is the place to go for an easily accessible visit to a beautiful blackened shoreline.
The black sand beach at Wai’anapanapa State Park is the most popular in Hana and easiest to access. It is called Honokalani, in Pa’iloa bay, in Wai’anapana State Park. A beach by many names and visit to treasure for countless years.
Honokalani beach is easy to discover: you will see the turn off for the park just a few miles before the sleepy center of Hana (and just past the turnoff for Hana Airport).
Reservation to Visit Wai’anapanapa State Park
With the advance reservation requirement now in effect, planning your visit can be annoying.
Entrance and parking fees:
- $10 per vehicle plus $5 per person over the age of 3 years old. (Subject to change.)
What are the reservation time slots for Wai’anapanapa State Park?
- Morning I: 7:00AM – 10:00AM
- Morning II: 10:00AM – 12:30PM
- Afternoon I: 12:30PM – 3:00PM
- Afternoon II: 3:00PM – 6:00PM (must enter by 5:30PM)
If you will be touring the road to Hana, I still recommend making at stop at Wai’anapanapa State Park. You would still have an enjoyable day without visiting this park, but it is worth it, in my opinion, to make the effort to go.
Plan: One-Day Quick Trip to Hana
So, what would I do if I were planning just one day for touring the road to Hana, including a stop at Wai’anapanapa? Here are some options:
- It is going to be tight to fit everything into one day. You will want to stop and enjoy the journey, right? See also: Should you do Haleakala Sunrise and the Road to Hana in One Day?
- Timing and Driving Distance: it takes approximately 2.5 hours to drive directly to Wai’anapanapa from Ka’anapali or West Maui area, and slightly less time from Wailea. 2 hours of driving time from Kahului without stopping.
- Plan to leave before 7:00am or just after sunrise, or you will be in a line of traffic (what passes for traffic in Maui) of others wanting to do the Road to Hana early. The earlier start, the better (driving in daylight is best).
- Plan to spend at least 30 minutes at the black sand beach, if you just want a taste and a stroll around the area. If you just want to take a bunch of photos and check it off your list, a half-hour is enough time. But the swimming here is nice on a calm day, and how often are you in Maui?
- Ideally, choose an earlier time slot in the morning. 10:00am to 12:30pm would work for timing. Then you can spend the rest of your day checking out Hana and the other beaches beyond town, or visiting the O’heo gulch and the Kipahulu side of Haleakala National Park.
What to Do at Honokalani
If you stayed overnight in Hana, or want to make a day of it, aim to be at the park first thing (with a reservation, ugh).
There is a decent-sized parking lot here, and not as many tourists are opting to make a reservation, so bring the family and hang out for the day (or at least until your reservation expires).
From the parking lot, you can choose to explore freshwater caves, or bring a packed lunch and visit the picnic tables and grills. At the edge of the parking lot, stairs lead through a tunnel of interlocking Polynesian hau (a native tree) branches to an icy cave pool, which is the secret hiding place of an ancient princess. Swimming is allowed in this pool but mosquitoes will join you.
To reach the shoreline, simply walk down a paved path from the parking lot of the state park. When you reach the bottom, you’ll be near some arching sea caves you can explore at low tide. Keep in mind that as the beach is formed from lava rock, its consistency is a mix of smooth and rough pebbles — not the most comfortable for your bottom. Bring your water shoes or flip flops, and a blanket or a towel if you plan on swimming and hanging out for a while.
Swimming here is both relaxing and refreshing. Strong currents bump smooth stones up against your ankles, while you take in the views of seabirds contrasted against black, jagged rocks and white foam. Earlier in the day is typically better for swimming.
In the other direction, a dramatic 3-mile coastal path takes you around the cliffs for some nice views of the black sand beaches, past sea arches, blowholes, cultural sites, and even a ramshackle fishermen’s shelter, all the way to Hana town. Consider reverse-engineering the walk and entering the park from Hana town….
Amenities: showers; toilets.
So, with the added red tape of making a reservation online, it’s going to be trickier to plan your day touring the road to Hana if you want to visit Wai’anapanapa State Park. Could you still have an enjoyable day without visiting this park? Yes, but, in my opinion, it is worth the effort to try to include it in your Maui plans.
BEYOND HANA, NEAR KAUPO
Beyond Ohe’o gulch there are few beach areas but many cliffs and shorelines filled with black rocks. Worth the drive around the island.
Finding Nu’u takes a little bit of searching, and unless you have a vehicle suited to off-roading, you’d best park your vehicle on the side of the road by the 31-mile marker and get out and walk. Enjoy the scenery by being outside in it for a bit.
After you park, walk back down the road 100 yards in the direction of Hana. You will see a metal gate on the ocean side of the road held in place by a metal latch. The other locked gate leads to private land — that’s not the gate you want.
Once you are inside the correct gate (and re-latch it), it is another five minutes of walking down to the shoreline. Not so bad now, was it?
The rock beach has areas of black sand, with remnants of ancient Hawaiian fishing villages around the point. Further inland is the Nu’u salt pond and reserve. This wetland is where birders might spot the native a’eo, or Hawaiian stilt. Because of where it is, Nu’u is only sparsely frequented by campers, fishers, and the rare scuba diver. So enjoy the quiet and bask in the healing sounds of nature. Some guides will mention snorkeling on the left side of the bay, but unless you are a professional, the currents can be strong and the surf large, so it’s best to enjoy this beach from shore.
No amenities. Just the way free people like it.
What causes the formation of black sand beaches?
Black sand beaches are formed when black volcanic rock is ground down into pebble- or sand-sized particles. The black color of the sand comes from the iron and other minerals present in the volcanic rock. When lava from a volcanic eruption cools, it often forms a type of rock called basalt, which is rich in iron and other minerals. Over time, waves and weather can break down the basalt into smaller and smaller particles, eventually forming black sand.
Black sand beaches are often found in areas where there are active or recently active volcanoes, as the volcanic activity provides a constant source of new basalt rock to be ground down into sand. Black sand beaches can also be found on the coastlines of islands that have been formed by volcanic activity, such as the Hawaiian Islands.
In addition to being formed by volcanic activity, black sand can also be created by other processes, such as the weathering of black minerals in rocks or the erosion of coal deposits. However, the most common cause of black sand beaches is the grinding down of black volcanic rock.