Hawaii, a tale of 3 beaches: Searching for the Big Island’s sweetest sands

Kailua Beach is a favorite of former president Barack Obama, who grew up in Honolulu.Kailua Beach, Hawaii
Kailua Beach is a favorite of former president Barack Obama, who grew up in Honolulu.Kailua Beach, Hawaii /

When traveling to Hawaii, what are the best beaches you need to visit?

I think it is a little funny when I hear that the Big island of Hawaii isn’t known for its’ beaches. I guess when there are active volcanoes oozing lava and creating new land all the time; said land, despite the beauty, peacefulness and general pull on our consciousness that great beaches tend to have, will usually play second fiddle no matter what. That’s perfectly understandable. It’s also hard when there are 13 different climatic zones, snow-covered peaks, one of the nation’s most unique national parks, some of the best diving and snorkeling sites in the state, copious waterfalls shrouded within verdant jungles and a world-class food scene to contend with.

But make no mistake, the Big Island of Hawaii has its’ share of sun-bathed beauties waiting for you no matter what kind of experience you are looking for. Maybe it’s a lightly-populated bay with powdery-soft sand and turquoise water, while palms and pines sway gently in the breeze? Then maybe you should check out Kekaha Kai State Park, right outside of Kona, the Big Island’s most cosmopolitan “city”, to escape to the paradise and reason you came to Hawaii for in the first place. Well, me anyway.

It requires a short but bumpy ride over a lava road to access, but you can also get there with some seriously hot hiking or driving over a 4WD track that could do serious injury to your wallet via your rental car contract. The end in this case may justify the means. While the parking lot seems full, the beaches are usually not. You also have a choice of sands with various levels of access so there is plenty of room to spread out and take in the fabulous scenery and swimming, some of the best on the Big Island.

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There are basic facilities while short walks take you to a couple of the prettiest beaches the Big Island has to offer. Mahai’ula Beach takes five minutes to get to, has ample shade and a deep sandy bay to swim in. There are photo ops and historical remnants to explore on land, while a fifteen minute trek over an exposed lava trail leads you to the even powderier, not a word but go with it, expanse of sand and crystalline waters of Makalawena Beach. I may be 44, but playing in the tidal surge makes me feel like a full-on kid again as I body surf with squeals of laughter and do flying kicks into the waves to shakes of my wife’s head.

Something different perhaps. Well, turn into the nicely landscaped grounds of the Mauna Kea Beach Resort in the Waikaloa area, further north from Kona along the west coast of Hawaii’s Big Island. Make sure you get there early as you leisurely wind through the picturesque and palm-laden grounds to one of the public-parking spaces which fill up quickly. While you may not be staying at the exclusive five-star resort you will share the beach with, and unfortunately neither was I, you may enjoy the good life if you manage to snag one of those thirty coveted spots. You can also evoke this feeling by rinsing off the sea and sand at the outdoor shower and change into some fine island attire to wine and dine at the resort.

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Maybe next time, but I enjoyed the beach just the same. It is a flat, wide expanse of fine sand gently sloping into a crescent bay with rocky outcrops and fine snorkeling at its’ edges. As I watched people enjoy the beach, I especially noted the families’ revelry and thought of my own kids back home. It is a great beach to explore with the kids as it has gentle waves and one of the most gradual drop offs on the Big Island of Hawaii with lots of sandy shallows to frolic in. On land, trails lead over rocky outcrops to secluded coves with turtles sleeping in the sun. According to the cordial staff at the resort, they offer a day pass for purchase that lets the public access their lounges and chairs, pool and other beach amenities, but sans children, again maybe next time.

Since it was just my wife and myself on our trip, we knew what we really wanted. We wanted a break. A break from the noise and chaos associated with raising four kids under ten. Yeah, we’re gluttons for chaos. But here and now we weren’t. We were gluttons for our own well-earned enjoyment, and we wanted nothing.

No noise. No crowds. No responsibilities other to slather up in sunscreen and leave no trace behind. Finding that secluded beach might be easier to do on the Big Island than any of the other major Hawaiian Islands outside of Lanai and Molokai. We wanted the bright sun and gentle shade of the swaying trees. We wanted to swim free and easy in deep-blue bays and hear nothing but the breeze rustling through the palm fronds. I wanted to snorkel over lively reefs and meekly free dive the mini wall that dropped away beyond my reach. My wife wanted to shimmy down into the black sand and rounded, volcanic pebbles to read a book and soak up the sun. We both wanted to forget the cold and darkness of our Alaskan-winter home.

We did it at a lonely, black-sanded beauty at the end of a short walk through a lava field, about halfway between Kona and Mauna Kea Beach. We found our peace and quiet at Ke-awa-iki. It was just us and another couple, spread well apart but enjoying the same moment for a couple of hours. Then it was just us. For a while we didn’t have a care in the world as the sun started to color and fade behind the clouds on the horizon. We just had each other and another perfect day, at another amazing beach, on the Big Island of Hawaii.