We discovered a new beach (to us) on our latest visit to the Kona side of the Big Island of Hawaii: Hapuna Beach State Park.
Located on Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway (Highway 19) approximately two miles south of Kawaihae and about 20 minutes north of our home for the week, the Hilton Waikoloa Village Resort, this beach is an oasis on an island not typically known for white sandy beaches. In fact, last year, we only found either the usual coarse black sand (i.e., ground down lava flow) beaches or lava rock coastlines that just were not the best fits for families with young children, not to mention the shore-breaking waves that also don’t make a good match for young swimmers.
Hapuna, Hawaiian for “spring” or “pool,” breaks all the Big Island beach rules with its bright white and sandy-smooth coastline along with its namesake crystal clear waters. While the main part of Hapuna offers an expanse beach of that exact nature, we quickly learned from some locals that the waters can get pretty rough at all times of the day for the wee ones. Even three-foot waves, which may sound small to Southern Californians and the most experienced swimmers, can prove challenging for all-ages and skill levels due to the shore break style of surf all along this area. Thankfully, those same locals told us about the many secluded and protected coves nestled all along the Hapuna Beach State Park coast near the main part of the park that would be perfect for us.
The cove we found about a mile south of main Hapuna was more in line with its Hawaiian namesake as it is protected from larger waves in the morning because of the calmer winds and because of how the coastline faces the oceanfront. The natural coral and lava reefs also act as several layers of natural breakwater, so a large shore break here is less frequent than the open coast at main Hapuna. There was plenty of shade for us Mainlanders to set up our beach blankets out of the direct tropical sun, so you could even consider packing a picnic lunch if you wanted to make a nice half-day of it. And when winds pick up in the early afternoon and the tide comes in along with some rougher waters (and they did around 12:30-1 p.m.), then that’s a perfect time to call it a day at the beach (there is no lifeguard on duty at the cove we visited; there are lifeguards however on main Hapuna beach).
But if beaching in the afternoon is more your thing, locals (meaning folks with houses just a handful of steps from this coastline) told me that later into the afternoon the waves calm down again and the tide retreats a bit at this cove around the early dinner hours just before dusk (picnic dinner instead, perhaps?). Mahalo for the tip!
And no matter when you decide to visit Hapuna, if you decide to snorkel (and why wouldn’t you?!), make sure you like turtles. Because if you don’t, this is not the beach for you. Honu, or the local resident green sea turtle, call Hapuna home, and they are more than happy to let you swim with them as they meander up and down the Kohala coastline. Many other local fish also populate the shoreline (as in knee-deep waters) and the surrounding coral and lava reefs. In fact, we are already shopping for an underwater camera for our next trip as the living colors found at Hapuna are worth the investment.
To get to the cove that we discovered, turn off Highway 19 toward the coast (signs on the highway clearly point to turns for Hapuna Beach State Park); before the larger parking area ahead marking the main portion of the beach park, make a left. You will head down a roughly paved road up and down some minor bumps; after about a mile, you will arrive at a gated “driveway” to a smaller but formal paved parking lot with about 20 slotted spaces and room on the dirt for more parking. There are also bathroom facilities, showers, and picnic tables just as there are at the main part of Hapuna Beach State Park, but on a smaller scale.
Life’s a beach, RMTer’s!
UPDATE: As it turns out, this little cove – while officially part of the Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area along the Kohala Coast of the Big Island – is better known locally as “Mile Marker 69 Beach.” We returned to this spot New Year’s Day 2013, and you can read more about that outing here.