A popular stop along the Road to Hana, Waiʻānapanapa State Park is famous for its beautiful natural scenery, particularly the famous Honokalani Black Sand Beach. But there is a lot more to this place than a quick photo op. Whether it is staring through a natural sea arch, exploring caves, feeling the power of a blowhole, meandering along a volcanic coastal trail or camping underneath the stars, Waiʻānapanapa is sure to give everyone something to enjoy if they are willing to spend some time.
Day 1 of our Maui trip was coming to a close. Indre and I had slowly made our way down the Road to Hana, hitting a few stops, including Twin Falls and Upper Waikani Falls along the way. As the sun started to get lower in the horizon, we decided it was time to make our way to our campsite for the night, Waiʻānapanapa State Park. I had done a drive by of this place the first time I visited Maui, without any lasting memories. But I was about to find out that there was a lot more to this place then you get at first glance.
Indre and I arrived in the late afternoon. After picking out our camping spot, we decided to get the lay of the land. We veered right from the campgrounds to this little overlook of the Honokalani or the Black Sand Beach. It was packed, which is not at all unsurprising. This spot is one of the primary stops for many visiting Waiʻānapanapa because it is the easiest way to see that black sand beach. You can find black sand beaches on multiple islands (more in this article) but this one of the primary places to see it on Maui.
Lucky for us, time was on our side. We had nothing to do but watch the waves crash on the beach and watch the sun go down. Most people visiting would have to race the light all the way back to Paia along the windy Hana Highway. I preferred our much more leisurely approach.
As the sun got lower, we decided to explore a bit more. We found this little perch overlooking the bay with some of the other volcanic rock formations.
Those colors though.
After enjoying the sunset, we made our back to the campground. Clearly this picture was an afterthought, but I wanted to show what we were working with. The reason we chose to camp here is that this is one of two places you can stay along the Road to Hana (the other being the Kipahulu Campground in Haleakala NPS). Instead of having to turnaround and go back to Paia , we could split Hana into two days and get a jump start on some of the stops farther down the road in order to beat some of the crowds.
There's a couple options for camping here. You can pitch a tent on the campgrounds like we did. This does require the purchase of a permit ($18 per night, $12 for residents), and you simply pick an open spot on this open field. FYI there was a ranger who came around to check permits, so I don't recommend trying to pull a fast one.
A second option is to book a campervan spot. Similar to the campgrounds and the same price, but you are staying in a van vice a tent.
The third is to can book one of the twelve 6 person cabins. These are more expensive at $90 a night ($60 for residents) but do offer a more luxurious way to experience this place. They are also a bit farther away from the main away from the beach, so they offer more privacy.
But for Indre and I, a tent, sleeping bag, and a patch of grass would do just fine. A bright moon, prevented us from some good stargazing. So the gentle hum of the nearby ocean quickly lulled us to sleep.
We woke up at dawn and scurried over to the coast for view of the sunrise. We found a nice spot right by the sea arch as the horizon lit up. It was gorgeous. No matter how many sunrises I see, they never seem to get old.
And what made this sunrise even better, we had coffee! Indre and I did a little photo shoot by the rocks in the morning light. I call this one Moody Maui Mornings.
After we had our fill of the sunrise, we decided to make our way back towards the beach. We made a quick stop at our sunset spot from last night. Looks quite different this time of day, but still beautiful. That rock on the right is actually a cliff jumping spot (known as the bunny ears) about 40 feet in height. Looks like a big pain to swim out and get up there, but I'm sure the jump is exhiliriating.
But we will save that for another day. As we made our way to the beach, we noticed something quite different from yesterday--NO PEOPLE. We were both excited to experience that beach without all the chaos
And it was beautiful with that warm glow from the new day's sun. Black sand beaches are so interesting. The sand is not actually that pleasant-- it's very coarse between your toes. This is because these beaches are formed from the pounding of ocean waves breaking up lava rock into tiny pieces. Discomfort aside, I find them beautiful. The colors are just so unique.
Immediately to your right when you get to the sand are some cool little caves you can explore. Nothing super unique, it is just a cave, but who doesn't like a good cave? And surprisingly these aren't the only caves here (but more on that in a bit...)
I decided to continue along the coastal trail, which is actually called the King's Trail, and this section called the Kipapa O Kihapiilani Trail. I know it's confusing. Basically they are two sections of this trail, one that heads East towards Hana, and the other that heads North. I would be taking the trail northbound trail, whose trailhead could be found across the beach from the stairs. This is the beginning of the trail with a nice perspective looking back at that empty beach.
And another photo a little farther out along the trail. Now you can start to see some of that mountain backdrop. Tell me this place isn't beautiful.
One of the gems along this trail is the blowhole. Don't worry, you won't have to look that hard for it. The powerful waves shot the water well above the rocky shoreline.
I continued along the trail a little ways to see what it had to offer. The path is fairly obvious, just look for the breaks in the terrain. A little bit of the trail was in the trees.
But most of the terrain looks like this. Lava rock with some green icing. It reminded me a lot of the hike I did from Kiholo Bay on the Big Island. Very remote. Very stunning.
How far you go along the trail is really up to you. A common turnaround point is Pukaulua Point, where you have the ability to see a Hawaiian Heiau (temple). But today I decided to make this lookout my stopping point. Once I had gotten my fill of the views I decided to head back to join Indre on the beach.
Because this beach is just too pretty not to spend some time. We lounged and splashed in the water experiencing the fine details of this landscape. These are the places that really make me appreciate the diverse landscape of Hawaii.
We had one final stop in this park before continuing along Hanas--the freshwater anchialine caves (told you there were more caves!). Heading left from the beach, you will come across this uninviting fence. Ok there is a sign that says this area is closed so we had to hop this fence. But we ran into one of the park rangers before and he said it wasn't a problem if we checked it out.
Which of course we did. While we were only here for a few minutes, it was still impressive. Anchialine pools are landlocked bodies of water that connect to the ocean under the terrain. As a result, the pools are a mixture of both fresh and salt water (more details here). Supposedly there are multiple caves throughout this area and you can connect them with short breath holds, going farther and farther inland. Next time, next time. With that, it was time to pack up the car and continue our Hana adventure.
Waiʻānapanapa did not disappoint. There's just so much to see in such a small area. And spending some extra time to fully experience it makes it even more memorable.
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Also Check Out:
- Maui Guidebook's write up about Wai'anapanapa
- Hawaii Magazine's post about the best sites in this area