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Kauna’oa/ Mauna Kea Hawaii Beach

This is a great beach! Probably the most classically perfect beach on the island. This gorgeous crescent of sand over a quarter-mile long offers very fine swimming and boogie boarding during calm seas. On the left side of the beach is a bunch of rocks, creating a linear reef that offers outstanding snorkeling. Don’t venture too far out unless calm (the outer portion of this reef is more surgy and unpredictable). The northern (right) side of the beach also offers interesting snorkeling but is more exposed and should only be snorkeled by strong swimmers. There is a big light there that attracts plankton at night, which in turn sometimes attracts large manta rays. Try to resist the urge to swim over to them in the shallow water near the light; it just scares the buggas away. This beach and Hapuna are the two best frolicking beaches on the island, if not the state. Mauna Kea is usually less windy than Hapuna. Full facilities. Only 40 cars allowed in the Mauna Kea Resort parking lot at a time, which is usually a problem, so try to arrive before 10 a.m. or take the 1-mile shoreline trail from the north end of Hapuna Beach.

Lanikai

Lanikai has that dreamy, tropical look that postcards and paintings are made of. Beautiful, exceptionally soft sand, stunning blue water and two idyllic offshore islands combine to create the quintessential island atmosphere. Lanikai’s no secret, and one thing that you need to know is that many of the descriptions you read about this beach are outdated.

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It may be smaller now, but Lanikai is still a feast for the eyes. And the snorkeling along the stretch of water between Mokumanu Drive and Haokea Drive can be great, featuring a healthy community of coral and fish—mostly small fish, but lots of ’em. The only thing that keeps this area from having world-class snorkeling is a general cloudiness in the water. That shouldn’t dissuade you; just don’t expect it to be as crystal clear below the surface as it appears from above the surface.

Red Sand Beach/ Kaihalulu

Though we usually describe all beaches in the Beaches chapter, Hana is so far that you’d never come here simply for a day at the beach. So we’re deviating from our usual format and describing Hana’s beaches here. The far side of Ka‘uiki Hill hides one the area’s more exotic looking beaches, Red Sand Beach (Hawaiian name is Kaihalulu). It’s made from the same crumbling red and black cinders that make up the hill. The swimming is often poor except during calm seas. There’s a strip of jagged lava that forms a semi-pool at the head of the beach, but it sometimes has the perverse effect during high seas and the high tide of making the water more chaotic and disorienting, like swimming in a washing machine. The snorkeling opportunities are usually marginal. To make matters worse, the trail is on the side of the hill, with loose cinders making the footing treacherous in several spots. (And you wouldn’t want to slip and fall down the side of the hill—regular shoes are preferred over flip-flops). And one part of the trail is along the shoreline, exposing you to rogue waves.

Maluaka Beach/ Makena Beach

You’ll be forgiven if you get confused as to where Makena Beach is. So is everyone else. Ask a local for directions, and you could end up in one of four places. Oneloa Beach, also called Big Beach, is often called Makena Beach or sometimes Big Makena Beach. (It’s also called Makena State Park.) Makena Bay, just north of here, which also contains Makena Landing, is sometimes called Makena Beach. Sometimes Po‘olenalena Beach is called Makena Surf Beach. And lastly this beach is sometimes called Makena Beach. It’s usually called Maluaka Beach, as the signs often say. Hey, don’t blame us—we’re just the messengers. For clarification (ha!) we’ll call this beach Maluaka Beach.

Fronting the Makena Beach Resort, this wide, pretty beach slopes gently, providing good swimming during calm seas, especially toward the center of the beach where a thick padding of sand awaits. The snorkeling off to the left (south) is very good with good coral and fish, and usually lots of turtles. In fact, this area is one of the famed turtle towns that some snorkel boats take people to see. Off to the right also offers good snorkeling.

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Waikiki Beach

Waikiki is a swimming and surfing beach, not a snorkeling site, and there are no great snorkeling conditions anywhere along here. If you insist, the best conditions are off the tip of the Kapahulu Groin and the tip of the wall at the south end of Queen’s Beach (both of these only if there are no surfers or boogie boarders in the area—they have little patience for snorkelers) and ironically, offshore of the Waikiki Aquarium.

Also remember that although Waikiki Beach is very sandy, the nearshore waters often have lots of rocks and reef that conspire to attack your feet. Smart beachgoers wear reef or water shoes. The sandiest patches are off Waikiki Beach Center (for a little ways), in front of the ultra-pink Royal Hawaiian tower building (although the water there tends to be cloudy) and at the eastern (Diamond Head) side of Kahanamoku Beach) up to the pier in front of the Hilton.

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