It’s no secret that Hawaii is home to some pretty spectacular coastline. Few realize, however, that when it comes to the color of sand, Hawaii’s beaches sometimes deviate drastically from sandy-gold. In addition to popular white sand locales, you can find an iron-rich red sand cove on Maui, as well as black sand and ocean combinations, and even a rare, green sand beach on Hawaii Island (one of just a handful of olive-colored shores in the world!).
Punaluu Black Sand Beach
Black sand on beaches is common in Hawaii, but you’re still shocked to see them. And Punaluu Black Sand Beach (17 miles south of the entrance to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park) is one of the best and most easily accessible examples of a jet black shores in the state. It’s like someone put an iPhone camera filter over your eyes. The calm waters make this your perfect swimming spot, and the crescent bay is lined with picturesque coconut palms. Green sea turtles haul out of the water to bask near you as you sunbathe on the hot black sand.
Twenty-three miles southwest of Punaluu Black Sand beach is Papakolea, on Hawaii Island’s southernmost tip. It sports the rarest colored shores of all. Enclosed by a former cinder cone, the beach was formed when waves eroded a seam of olivine minerals deposited during volcanic eruptions eons ago. Those minerals continue to be worn down here to create Hawaii’s only green sand beach. The camouflage shirt-colored green sand beach spills right off adjacent layered ridges into the teal sea. However, as with many rewarding vistas in Hawaii, your trip to Papakolea is not easy—almost two-and-a-half miles of bumpy tracks run from South Point Road to the beach. You opt to avoid a ruinous experience in this remote part of the Island by walking the five-mile round-trip journey.
On Oahu’s Windward (eastern) Side, the coast fronting the sleepy town of Waimanalo is considered one of the largest uninterrupted stretches of dreamy white sand in the state. You walk its powdery length barefoot for nearly three miles along the iridescent waters of Waimanalo Bay. Unlike the other colorful beaches in the state, white sand beaches derive their color from the sea. You find that the pulverized coral and shells make the baby blue waters luminously pop.
Eroded by waves, the faces of towering iron-rich cinder cone cliffs have crumpled into the sea and retreated inland to protect the rare red sand beach of Kaihalulu Bay. Derived from Hawaiian words that mean “roaring sea,” Kaihalulu’s jagged offshore rocks form a natural seawall—enclosing a mostly-protected pool of water—while the ocean beyond it lives up to its name. While all of Hawaii’s beaches are public, the path to the red sand beach (down Uakea Road and alongside the Hana Youth Center) doesn’t have an official shoreline public access, and crosses private property. The steep and unmaintained trail traverses an ironwood forest, so you ensure you have proper footwear. Once you arrive, you think seeing the blue waves lapping on the coarse, red sand is a visual treat worth the risk.
Ho’okena Beach Park
Not all of the beaches you find have a uniform color. At Ho’okena Beach Park, south of Kailua-Kona on Hawaii Island, black sand particles mingle with crushed white coral rock as your frolic on the two-toned sand paradise. From far away, you see that the beach looks gray. Once you arrive, you instantly put some sand in your hand to see all the details in the salt and-pepper combination.