Black sand beaches are intriguing because they stand out from an average tan colored sand beach. They evoke an element of curiosity and create a stark color contrast with the bright blue ocean waves and lush green plants that surround these sandy spots.
The black sand beaches of Hawaii are made of the most common type of black sand on Earth. This type of black sand is formed by volcanic materials and lava fragments. You can find black sand beaches on many volcanic islands around the world such as the Canary Islands and Iceland.
The three most common materials you will find on a black sand beach are basalt, andesite, and volcanic glass. Iron is the dominant mineral in these three volcanic materials that give black sand beaches their rich black coloring.
Black sand beaches can form in a couple different ways. One way is from erosion of volcanic rock as water flows down the side of a volcano. Rivers and streams can cut through the black volcanic rock as they flow and cause erosion. The eroded fragments of rock usually continue to break down as they travel towards the ocean and then the small sediments are released in the ocean.
Another common way that black sand and black sand beaches are formed is when hot lava hits the cold ocean water and cools very quickly, causing it to shatter and break into pieces of basalt fragments of all sizes– including grains of black sand. During a volcanic eruption, enough lava can interact this way with the ocean that a new black sand beach can form literally overnight.
It is illegal in Hawaii to take lava rocks and sand from the beautiful beaches on any of the islands. The best way to enjoy the beautiful beaches is to sit back, relax, and take lots of pictures while you are here. Part of the reason that it is not legal to take any sand or rocks is that the black sand is a limited resource and it actually decomposes very quickly compared to other types of sand. The sand is compositionally immature meaning that it is very vulnerable to weathering and breaks down easily.
Something to think about- make sure you wear shoes on the black sand beaches because they are considerably hotter than white sand beaches.
Wai’anapanapa Black Sand Beach is located in Wai’anapanapa State Park on the Road to Hana. This is considered the best black sand beach on Maui. It is located at mile marker 32 on the Road to Hana. This beach is also known as Pa’iloa Beach. This beach and surrounding state park on the Road to Hana is a must-see stop during your drive. The stark contrast between the dark sand and bright blue water will leave you in awe.
Be careful if you choose to go into the water at this famous beach. It is known for its quick drop off from the beach into deep water. Also, on days where the water is wavy, there are usually a lot of rip currents.
One’uli Black Sand Beach is another beautiful black sand beach on Maui. This beach is located much closer to the resort areas (near Wailea and Kihei) on Maui but it is much less well known compared to Wai’anapanapa Black Sand Beach. Part of the reason it is less famous is that it is not the best beach to hang out at if you simply plan to bask in the sun on a beach towel or sit in the shallow water because the sand quickly disappears to reveal hard lava rock right at the shoreline.
But, One’uli Beach is a fantastic place to go if you enjoy snorkeling and diving. There is a coral reef located close to the shore so you can see a large variety of sea creatures up close here, including Green Sea Turtles.
Because Big Island has a lot of volcanic activity, it has a lot of black sand beaches. Big Island’s most famous black sand beach is Punaluʻu Black Sand Beach. This beach is not the best for swimming because if its rocky shoreline but is a beautiful area to relax and watch for sea turtles like the Hawksbill Turtle and Green Turtle.
Kehena Beach is another black sand beach on Big Island, Hawaii. It is located on the east side of the island near Puna. Something to be aware of is that this beach is one of the few in Hawaii that allows nudity.
Kaimū Beach Park is located in Kalapana on Big Island. The bay was world-famous for its black sand beach which was surrounded by shady palm trees before it was destroyed by lava flows after a 1990 volcano eruption. Today, because of that eruption, it is one of the newest black sand beaches on Big Island.
Richardson’s Beach is the closest black sand beach to Hilo on Big Island. It is also the closest black sand beach to our Skyline Eco-Adventures Big Island Zipline course. This beach is a great place to bring kids because of its calm water and great picnic area.
Waipi’o Beach is located in Waipio Valley on Big Island. It can be challenging to get to because of the steep grade of the roadway. But, especially for surfers, it is worth the trip.