Many of the best beaches on Hawaii Big Island share the rugged volcanic terrain that the island is known for. The continual lava flows from the centre of the island are partly responsible for the colourful variety of seascapes, especially on the southern coast with its range of white, grey, and jet-black beaches.

    Big Island’s western shoreline is home to its widest stretch of white sand, which also happen to be among the most accessible and well-equipped beaches, ideal for families and casual beach bums. For a bit of adventure, there’s a selection of remote beaches that promise rewarding features for those who find them. To help you find out which Hawaii Island beach is right for you, read through our shortlist, below.

    1

    Hapuna Beach

    Big Island’s widest stretch of white sand

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    West-facing Hapuna Beach offers the quintessential Hawaiian island beach experience with beautiful views, protected nature, and great accessibility. Hapuna is the Big Island’s largest beach, with the soft sand between lava cliffs stretching for half a mile. It’s about 200 ft wide in the summer, too. The Westin Hapuna Beach Resort overlooks the beach and you can easily drive along Hapuna Beach Road down to its adjacent car park.

    It may be the most popular beach on Big Island, yet the ample space means it hardly feels crowded. The waves are calm through the summer months (from June to August), perfect for swimming and snorkelling, and you can expect friendly encounters with sea turtles in the clear blue waters. Relax and stay on for a spectacular Hawaiian sunset.

    Location: Old Puako Rd, Waimea, HI 96743, USA

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    2

    Magic Sands Beach

    Small and rocky, but big on action

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    Magic Sands Beach is a popular coastal strip near Kailua-Kona that’s a bit rocky and just about 200 ft long yet is a seaside mecca in summer. The family-friendly beach is also very easy to access, just a hop off the road and a short stroll from the many vacation villas and modern facilities along Alii Drive.

    Summertime sees sand covering most of the otherwise rocky coast, and it’s when the waves near the shore are also calm, making way for great sunbathing, swimming and snorkelling. Sea turtles are common sightings, either underwater or resting on the lava rocks. Surfers and bodyboarders paddle a bit out for ridable waves, but extra caution should be taken near the rock-strewn ends of the beach. The beach has restrooms and showers, as well as lifeguards on duty.

    Location: Ali'i Drive, Kailua-Kona, HI 96740, USA

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    photo by Blake Handley (CC BY 2.0) modified

    3

    Carlsmith Beach Park

    Snorkel with sea turtles in the lagoons

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    What Carlsmith Beach lacks in sandy shores, it makes up for with its wonderful lagoons for swimming and snorkelling with its friendly residents – sea turtles. The lava-rock-strewn shoreline borders calm and shallow waters in gradients of blue, where the turtles in their natural habitat swim around – and often up to – snorkellers and stand-up paddleboarders. The seabed is quite sandy, too.

    After the natural encounters and fun in the water, head back to the beach park. It has picnic tables and barbecue spots laid out around its leafy and grassy lawn, from where you can share your family lunch while taking in the calming view.

    Location: 1815 Kalanianaole Ave, Hilo, HI 96720, USA

    Open: Daily from 7 am to 8 pm

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    4

    Kekaha Beach Park

    A golden stretch of sand with smaller crowds

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    Head to Kekaha Beach Park on the southwestern coast of Big Island for a slightly out-of-the-way beach experience and great surf. There aren’t many facilities available on the beach, so bring your own beach chair or towel and umbrella. Morning hikers and sightseers from Waimea Canyon can park by the road and walk down to the beach to chill through the rest of their day.

    Kekaha has soft, golden sand and is part of the Mana Coastal Plain that stretches for a good 15 miles. It offers plenty of space and hardly gets crowded. Experienced surfers and bodyboarders often make their way to Kokole Point and ride the longshore currents of various surf spots down to Kekaha.

    Location: HI-50, Kekaha, HI 96752, USA

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    photo by Falco Ermert (CC BY 2.0) modified

    5

    Manini’owali Beach

    Blue waters, lava rocks and soft white sand

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    Manini’owali Beach treats you to gorgeous sunsets over Kua Bay, with its coast featuring soft white sand surrounded by lava rocks. By day, there’s plenty of fun in the sun to be had, be it sunbathing or strolling on the shore or playing in the waves, which are consistent and great for bodyboarders. At certain times of the day, sea turtles and cetaceans like pilot whales and spinner dolphins are common.

    Manini’owali Beach has a complete range of facilities such as restrooms and showers, and you can easily take a stroll down from the parking close by. Note that the winding Kua Bay Access Road closes at 7pm, so you should get there earlier if you want to take in one of Big Island’s most gorgeous sunsets.

    Location: 723990 Mamalahoa Hwy, Kailua-Kona, HI 96740, USA

    Open: Daily from 8 am to 7 pm

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    photo by Falco Ermert (CC BY 2.0) modified

    6

    Anaehoomalu Beach

    A seaside escape since ancient times

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    West-facing Anaehoomalu Beach in Waikoloa Village is best known for its strip of white sand that uniquely stretches north-to-south between 2 bodies of water. It has the shallow, clear blue waves of the namesake bay to its west and 2 large, ancient Hawaiian loko or fishponds, called Kahapapa and Ku’uali’I, to its east. The Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa overlooks the ponds and the palm-fringed coast.

    You can either swim out or snorkel right from the sand, go paddleboarding or boating, or even watch sea turtles occasionally clambering to shore. Some gear is available for rent at an onsite ‘beach hut’. And if you’re interested in local history, there are petroglyphs to discover in addition to the massive loko.

    Location: 69-275 Waikoloa Beach Dr, Waikoloa Village, HI 96738, USA

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    photo by John Menard (CC BY-SA 2.0) modified

    7

    Kauna’oa (Mauna Kea) Beach

    For some of the best stargazing in the world

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    At Mauna Kea, you need only look up at night to see Hawaii’s other great natural attraction: a dazzling display of twinkling stars. Favourable atmospheric conditions and a lack of light pollution make the Big Island one of the top stargazing destinations on Earth, and the tip of its tallest mountain is the top spot to marvel at this heavenly display.

    Stargazers can either jump on an organised tour to the snow-capped summit of Mauna Kea or drive up themselves (you’ll need a 4x4 with a full tank). At the peak, the Visitor Information Station welcomes you with a free stargazing session given by a group of knowledgeable and enthusiastic volunteers. Be sure to arrive in time to watch the sunset over the clouds.

    Location: Mauna Kea Access Rd, Hilo, HI, USA

    Open: Daily from 8 am to 3.30 pm. Stargazing every Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday from 6 pm to 10 pm

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    8

    Makalawena Beach

    Wade in calm waves and tide pools

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    Makalawena Beach is a gorgeous beach overlooking the azure waters of Puu Alii Bay on the north-western edge of Hawaii’s Big Island. Getting to the beach requires a bit of extra effort since it’s remote and not connected to any main roads. This seclusion makes it one of the best beaches for escaping from the crowds of Big Island’s more popular shorelines.

    To get there, you can head to Mahai'ula Beach first, from where a trail on its norther end leads you through barren lava land towards the pristine coast. Once there, you’re treated to soft white sand, with calm shallow waters and lava tide pools that you can soak in, sometimes with sea turtles waiting for the next tide to come in.

    Location: HI-19, Kailua-Kona, HI 96740, USA

    Open: Daily from 7 am to 7 pm

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    9

    Punalu’u Beach

    Big Island’s exotic black-sand beach

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    Punalu’u Beach is a striking black-sand beach on the south-eastern edge of Hawaii’s Big Island. The beach’s black, glassy sand was formed after molten lava from Mauna Loa, the world's largest active volcano to its north, drastically solidified and shattered when it met the cold waters of the Pacific. The waves continued to pound and grind the coarse sand into finer grains over time.

    The glistening jet-black coast is fringed by palms and the exotic scene is complemented by the occasional green sea turtle basking at one end. Note that you’re not allowed to pet any turtles or take any black sand home with you, no matter how tempting. There are facilities for picnicking together with restrooms on-site.

    Location: 96-884 Mountain View, 96-884 Government Rd, Mountain View, HI 96771, USA

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    10

    Ho’okena Beach Park

    Discover the canoeing heritage of Big Island

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    Ho’okena Beach Park is a secluded local beach on the western edge of Big Island that’s best known for its Hawaiian canoeing and fishing heritage. Requiring a bit of extra effort to get to along narrow roads, the grey-sand beach offers those who make it a rewarding sight in a tranquil fishermen’s village setting.

    The shoreline offers pleasant walks while an onsite campground offers a rustic setting to be one with nature. You can swim and snorkel in the calm waters and even paddle out for ridable waves. Dolphin sightings are common, and you can also spot locals boating or fishing with traditional spears.

    Location: 86-4322 Mamalahoa Hwy, Captain Cook, HI 96704, USA

    Open: Daily from 6 am to 9 pm

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    photo by amanderson2 (CC BY 2.0) modified

    Ari Gunadi | Compulsive Traveller

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