Beaches, Part II: The best stretches on the Islands

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In this second part of a two-part series on Hawaii's best beaches, Travel Weekly nominates the top picks for best strands on Molokai, Lanai, Maui and the Big Island.  

Molokai

The low, flat, western end of Molokai is far older than the island's mountainous eastern half. Wave erosion has created a wide, miles-long stretch of golden sand called Papohaku.

Facing west, this is a wonderful place to come at sunset when Diamond Head on Oahu, about 25 miles away, can be seen in tiny silhouette.

Offshore waters can be tricky, with rip tides and strong currents. There are no lifeguards on duty, so swim close to shore and enter with caution.

The beach is easily accessible via Kaluakoi Resort roads.  

Maui

Maui's 120 miles of coastline includes many miles of beige-sand beaches made up of wave-battered shells, coral and limestone. The longest stretch of beaches lies along the island's south and west coasts, where most of Maui's resort infrastructure is located.

Much of the coast has been developed, but public beach parks, some with shower and toilet facilities, are also numerous. Kihei's beaches, while not great for swimming, are great for walks and, in winter, whale watching. The Kamaole Beach parks and the crescents at the Waimea and Makena resorts are all quite nice.

Here's a look at Maui's best:

" Makena: It almost seems a miracle that Makena's two beaches have remained undeveloped. Once at the fringe of resort development, they now border it. Luckily, there has been grassroots support for preserving the beach. Big Beach stretches for about a mile, with wide swaths of sand and great swimming, although caution is advised because there are no lifeguards. Beach-goers arriving by car can park under the trees at Makena, following one of a number of well-worn, dirt-road turnoffs.

Little Makena is renowned as a clothing-optional beach. Its isolation makes it a perfect place for nude sunbathing.

" Kaanapali: Kaanapali's two beaches are each about a mile long and lined with hotels and condominiums. There's a pleasant, landscaped promenade much of the way, and the ocean offers great deepwater swims with easy access. Black Rock is a place where the ancient Hawaiians believed the spirits of the dead "jumped off" and left this world. In the earthly realm, divers jump  from the cliffs for the thrill or to entertain visitors. A sunset dive follows a coastal torch-lighting ceremony that ends at the Sheraton Maui and Black Rock.

Just past Kapalua, the Makuleia-Honolua Marine Preserve offers great swimming and snorkeling. Visitors park their cars by the side of the road and descend to the beach via a short, downhill trail. Waters are somewhat sheltered by the promontories that create Makuleia Bay. Snorkel tours head to adjacent Honolua Bay, its luminous waters surrounded by a rocky coastline. 

" Hana: Two unique beaches -- one black, one red -- provide Hana with two best-beach entries. The black sand, actually pulverized volcanic rock, is found at Lapakahi State Park. Red sand can be found at Kahailulu, a small crescent at the base of Kauiki, Hana's landmark volcanic cinder cone. The beach can be reached via a coastal trail that skirts the Hotel Hana Maui's Sea Ranch Cottages, providing easy access for hotel guests.

There are rarely more than a few people on the beach, which can be viewed from the hillside trail. Although its deep, green waters are shielded from the open ocean by the cinder cone's eroded walls, waters are often turbulent, and swimming can be risky. 

Lanai 

The beach park at Hulopoe, adjacent to the Four Seasons Resort Lanai at Manele Bay, is one of Hawaii's loveliest, with colorful offshore waters that invite snorkelers and deepwater swimmers.

The beach leads to an easy trail that provides panoramic views of the coastline at Sweetheart Rock. There are shower and toilet facilities.

Big Island

The island of Hawaii proper, or the Big Island, is the youngest of the Islands and still volcanically active. Much of its 330-mile-long coastline is relatively new but includes beaches that are very special:

" Kaunaoa: The Mauna Kea Resort's Kaunaoa Beach offers wide sands that fall off gradually into the clear, deep waters of Kaunaoa Bay. The hotel's green lawn and tall palms provide an idyllic backdrop, with the wide and deep bay offering wonderful swimming and snorkeling. 

" Anaehoomalu: The waters are turquoise and the beach wide and pleasantly curved. The public beach serves the adjacent Marriott. Watersport rentals are available at the beach shack, including kayaks that offer an easy way to explore the coastline.

Cold, spring-fed waters right off shore offer great swimming. There is public parking accessed through the Waikoloa Resort.

" Hapuna Beach State Park: The sand is white and the water inviting at this state park adjacent to the Mauna Kea/Hapuna Prince resort. There are even cabins for overnight rentals, but these are booked well in advance. 

" Spencer Beach Park: Spencer Beach is a long stretch of coral-white sand, unusual for this coast. There are picnic and shower facilities at Spencer, which make it a favorite with island families as well as visitors. Signs mark the turnoff to the park from Route 19, near Kawaiahae. 

" Honaunau: The small swatch of sand that fronts the temple called Hale o Keawe (House of Keawe) at the Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historic Monument barely qualifies as a beach. What it provides is access to the waters of the bay and a swim in the shadow of this ancient site. 

" Kalapana: This black-sand beach was created in the 1980s when lava flowed into the sea, creating grainy pellets of black sand. Although swimming is not inviting or safe, the starkness of the setting, at the seaside end of vast fields of hardened lava, is impressive. Nearly 200 homes and the coastal village of Kalapana were covered by the lava. Kalapana is about 30 minutes from Hilo via Keaau and Pahoa.  

To contact reporter Allan Seiden, send e-mail to [email protected].

Get More!

For the first part in the two-part series on Hawaii's best beaches, see "Beaches, Part I: The best strands on Kauai and Oahu."

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