The summer is here, and that is the time when you can truly enjoy going to the beach. The ocean is calm and warm during the summer months, the trade winds are gone, and it gets warmer earlier in the day. That means you can hit the beach early in the morning and enjoy being in the water or just chilling and relaxing in the sun, soaking up all that vitamin D. If you are visiting Big Island this summer, here are the 5 best beaches on Kohala Coast you have to see.
1. Hapuna Beach State Park
The largest and finest of the island’s white-sand beaches, Hapuna Beach has consistently been rated on international Top Ten lists of the islands’ best beaches. This year Hapuna Beach State Park was ranked the best beach in the U.S. by Dr. Beach, who has been doing annual beach reviews for over 3 decades.
The contrast of black lava rock, white sand, and blue water makes you feel like you have arrived in paradise. The sand is fine and white, the water is turquoise-blue, and there is plenty of surrounding trees and grass where you can find some shade. When the sea is calm (usually in the summer months), this beach is ideal for swimming, sunbathing, and snorkeling. In the winter, the swells get bigger, fun for bodyboarders of all kinds. During the early part of the year, it’s possible to spot migrating whales in the distance as well.
It is also an easy beach to visit: you will find ample parking, picnic areas, restrooms, and showers.
2. Mauna Kea Beach
Just a few minutes drive north is a little less known but equally beautiful Kauna’oa (Mauna Kea) beach. Located in the Mauna Kea Beach Resort, it is a family-friendly beach with soft white sand that slopes gently into the water and the palm trees along the fringe to provide shade. The beach fronts the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, has good access to facilities, and is great for sunbathing. During the calm summer months, this is also a good beach to go snorkeling. During the winter months, waves can get higher in which case a pounding shore break and strong rip currents can make entering the ocean hazardous.
Kaunaʻoa Beach itself is – like all beaches here – public access, but the parking lot belongs to the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel. The hotel has parking space for visitors that are not staying in the hotel, but these are limited to 40 and fill up quickly. If you want to go to Kaunaʻoa Beach, get there early to get one of the 40 public parking spaces.
3. Waialea Bay Beach (Beach 69)
A long crescent-shaped beach with fine white sand and semi-private coves between trees reaching to the water, Waialea Bay Beach, also known as Beach 69 is a sort of off-the-beaten-path but still popular beach in Puako, a small neighborhood situated between Mauna Lani and Mauna Kea Resorts. It has come a long way over the years, and now has an official parking area, cold water showers, and bathrooms. Yet it is still more secluded than other nearby beaches such as Hapuna State Beach Park. Although it is one long beach, there are different coves nestled in between trees that reach into the ocean.
The white sand of Waialea beach erodes during the winter due to strong surf but is pristine during the summer. There is plenty of tree cover providing shade and privacy. In the bay itself, you can find a rich diversity of marine life, which makes it a popular site for snorkel and SCUBA activities. The best reefs are on the southern side of the bay but there is also plenty of coral around the large rocks rising out of the water inside the bay, and close to the rocky point on the right (north) side of the beach.
4. Kukio Beach
Kukio Beach, located approximately 18 miles north of downtown Kailua-Kona, is a lovely white-sand beach that can be reached through the entrance gate to Kukio, a high-end gated community just south of Four Seasons Hualalai Resort. Framing Kukio Beach’s white sands, you will find coconut palms, ironwood, and mesquite trees with a few small brackish-water ponds next to the shoreline. A good access point is a sand-bagged spot at the north end of the shoreline.
The water in Kukio Bay is relatively calm in the morning and excellent for stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking, and canoeing. During the winter months, the swells are abundant, but the rocky shoreline discourages many board sports. You can often spot Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles (honu) resting along the shores or even spinner dolphins out in the bay’s expanse.
To get there, turn off of Highway 19 onto Kaupulehu Drive, just south of the Four Seasons Hualalai Resort sign. Drive to the security hut and let them know you would like to go to the public beach. You will turn left just after the security hut and follow the road until you reach the parking lot. There is a nice restroom and showers here. After you park, follow the walkway to Kukio Beach.
5. Shipwreck Beach
You will likely not find this beach in any of the Big Island’s tour guides, as it is not known to many (even locals). Located south of the A-Bay (Anae’hoomalu Bay Beach) in Waikoloa Beach Resort, it is a secluded wild white sand beach perfect for sunbathing, swimming, and snorkeling.
To get there, go to the A-Bay Beach in Waikoloa Beach Resort. Park your car in the parking lot and walk to the beach. Once there, turn left (south) and keep walking along the shoreline past the restaurant, then under the trees, for about 15-20 minutes. You will know that you arrived when you see an old, rusted engine (probably a remnant of a shipwreck decades ago, hence the name) on the beach. You can stay right there (that is the best spot) or keep walking farther – it is all beautiful there.
The beach is idyllic during the summer months. If you get there early in the morning, there likely will be no one else there, and you can have the whole beach to yourself. The reef is situated right off the shore, and there is plenty of marine life including fish and green sea turtles, perfect for snorkeling. You can find some shade under the trees, and if it gets too hot, a quick dip in the ocean will cool you down.
Since it gets hotter in the summer months, it is advisable to avoid the beach between noon and 2 p.m., unless you can find some shade. That is the time when the sun is strongest. The best time to go is in the morning or later afternoon – you will still get plenty of sun and fun. Make sure to drink plenty of water, use sunblock, and protect yourself from overheating – it can creep up on you without you even noticing it.
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We hope to see you soon – a hui hou!
Images courtesy of LoveBigIsland.com, BigIslandGuide.com, Inoptia.