If you’re looking for black sand beaches, Hawaii is a great destination choice. Why? Because the great state of Hawaii was raised upon the slopes of volcanoes. There are over 130 islands that make up the state of Hawaii, though most people have only heard of a handful. The island of Hawaii itself, or the Big Island, still has active volcanoes including Mauna Loa and Kilauea.
Black sand beaches are formed when volcanic rock is broken down until the rock becomes no more than tiny grains of sand. Erosion can cause this, through the natural effect of water running over volcanic rock. Black sand beaches also form when hot lava flows meet the sea. The lava breaks down as it hits the cold water, and hardens as it cools. Some volcanic eruptions create a new black sand beach almost instantly in this way.
Being so different from the white sand we are used to is what makes black sand beaches so enchanting. Be careful though – black sand can get very hot! If you are planning a visit to the state of Hawaii, read our guide to the most famous black sand beaches.
Punaluʻu Black Sand Beach Park, Big Island
Also known as Punaluu Black Sand Beach, this must-see beach is located on Hawaii Island. One of the Big Island’s best-known beaches. On the eastern side of the southern tip, this beautiful beach is one of the most popular destinations for travelers to the Big Island.
The black sand offers a stark but mesmerizing contrast to the backdrop of tropical palm trees, and green sea turtles can be frequently spotted here, adding to its appeal. Don’t be one of those tourists that think it’s ok to pose for a photo whilst sitting on a turtle (*shakes head*).
Facilities: This black sand beach has free parking, a shack selling coconut water, and restrooms.
Swimming: You can swim at Punaluu Black Sand Beach, and there is a lifeguard station on the beach. You’ll need beach shoes, apart from the heat of the black sand, the shoreline is rocky.
How to get there: Find it between the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and the town of Naalehu.
Kehena Beach, Big Island
Kehena Beach is on the eastern side of Hawaii island in the province of Puna. Located near the town of Pāhoa, it’s a long black sand beach, backed by palm trees and popular with free-spirited locals. It formed in 1955 from a lava flow and is one of the best black sand beaches in Hawaii for those hoping to spot green sea turtles.
This is the only beach on the Big Island where clothes are optional. This might be due to the fact that access to it is was hindered in the 1970s after an earthquake resulted in the beach dropping several feet, affording it great privacy. You’ll need shoes though, because of the rocks.
Facilities: There is a small parking area nearby. There are no places to get food or drinks so take your own.
Swimming: This beach doesn’t have a lifeguard station, and the sea can be dangerous with strong currents. Check the conditions first and don’t go alone.
How to get there: This beach is located at mile 19 on highway 137 in Puna. You’ll see a parking area where you can park for free. To the left of this area (looking at the ocean) is a small path. A little hike down this rocky path for about five minutes will take you to the beach. Not suitable for very small children.
Pololu Valley Beach, Big Island
This rocky black sand beach is found on the northeastern coast of the Big Island. Pololu Valley is the northernmost valley on the slopes of the volcano Kohala. Don’t worry – Kohala has not erupted for over one hundred thousand years! These valley areas are very popular with hikers on the island of Hawaii, offering stunning views of the coast. There are seven valleys in total on Kohala, and the better known Waipi’o, or Waipio Valley is to the south.
This black sand beach is reached via a trail that is clearly marked at the top. It takes between thirty and forty minutes depending on your speed – do heed the warning signs before you head down. It’s best to attempt it on a dry, calm day, and wear sensible shoes. If you’re an early bird this is a super spot to catch the sunrise. And if you are here between December and March you might be lucky enough to spot Humpback Whales.
Facilities: No toilet facilities here, or places to get food or drink. Bring a picnic and plenty of water for the climb back up. There’s a small parking area, but you may need to park a little way away.
Swimming: It’s not recommended here because of the really strong currents around this part of the Big Island. There is no lifeguard station.
How to get there: From the town of Hawi, follow Highway 270 (Akoni Pule Highway) until it ends. You will find Pololu Valley Lookout on most GPS maps.
Keokea Beach Park, Big Island
Just to the north of the previous black sand beach, we have Keokea Beach Park. You can travel here from Pololu Valley Beach in about ten minutes by car. This is not your typical black sand beach, but it’s worth a visit if you are in the area. It is small and rocky with boulders. But it does have areas where you can sit down in comfort to eat, watch the waves crash onto the boulders, and soak up the atmosphere.
It’s very popular with locals and gets busy at weekends. It’s a good spot to head to after Pololu Valley because of the facilities, and because it is so close.
Facilities: A shower area with restrooms. Fire pits, BBQ area, and picnic tables. There is a covered seating area which is handy if you need relief from the sun or rain.
Swimming: Not really a spot for swimming, but there are rock pools and a stream for some relief from the heat.
How to get there: From Pololu, head north up Highway 270. After 1.5 miles, turn right onto Keokea Beach Road and drive for about one mile.
Honokalani Black Sand Beach, Maui
Leaving the Big Island behind we now travel north to the Hawaiian island of Maui. Honokalani is the most famous black sand beach on this Hawaiian island. Located in the Waiʻanapanapa State Park area it’s also known as Waiʻanapanapa Beach.
Surrounded by lush green foliage this stretch of black sand formed from lava flow. There is a lava tube on the southern end which you must explore. Beach shoes are a must if you have sensitive feet, and definitely, if you want to venture into the sea.
Facilities: Restrooms with showers. Picnic tables (bring your own food and drink).
Swimming: Swim here when the ocean is calm. There is a steep drop off not too far from the shore, and no lifeguard station.
How to get there: Off mile 32 on the Hana road. There is a free parking area and the beach is accessed down concrete steps.
One’uli Black Sand Beach, Maui
This beach is on the western end of the southern coast of Maui, north of Makena Beach. Located in Makena State Park, One’uli black sand beach is less crowded than the popular Honokalani Beach. Backed by volcanic black cliffs, it’s a popular location for snorkeling. The water is clear here but again can be dangerous, so check currents before going for a swim or snorkel. The Hawaiin word one’uli translates to “dark sands”.
The black sand changes to lava rock when you enter the water, so wear beach shoes because lava rock can be sharp and result in nasty cuts. As well as enjoying snorkeling here, you might get to spot Green Sea turtles.
Facilities: A small parking area near the beach is all you will find here, though food trucks sometimes frequent the car park.
Swimming: Better for paddling or splashing about in the waves. There is no lifeguard station so watch out for strong currents. Take care when snorkeling.
How to get there: Head along Makena Alanui Road, and turn down a dirt track found just before “Pu’u and Big” beach lot.
Waimea Beach, Kauai
We’ve island-hopped again now, north, to one of the oldest Hawaiian islands – Kauai. Waimea Beach is a black colored sand beach, backed by lush green trees, and known for beautiful sunsets. It is the only black sand beach you’ll find on Kauai. There is a pier you can wander along and areas you can sit to enjoy some refreshments – take your own food and drink.
Facilities: There are restrooms and picnic tables here.
Swimming: Be careful going into the water here if the waves are up. There is no lifeguard station.
How to get there: Turn off Highway 50, onto Pokole Road. Follow until it turns into Laau Road.
Which Hawaiian island has a black sand beach?
Several of the Hawaiian islands have black sand beaches. Hawaii and Maui have the most black sand beaches. Kauai has one, and Oahu doesn’t have any.
Why are there black sand beaches in Hawaii?
There are black sand beaches in Hawaii due to the number of volcanoes in the area. Volcanic activity creates black sand beaches when lava flows enter the ocean. Natural erosion of the volcanic rock creates black sand beaches too.
How many black sand beaches are in Hawaii?
There are at least ten black sand beaches throughout Hawaii. The number changes though. Lava flow can demolish a beach, and the sea can slowly erode a beach if it was small enough to begin with.
Can I take black sand from Hawaii?
No, you cannot take black sand from Hawaii! It’s actually illegal to do so. Apart from it being seen as bad luck, you could end up with a fine of up to $100,000!