Welcome to Break-Neck Beach. One of the most stunning, wild, and beautiful beaches on the island. There is so much to love about this idyllic beach park, and a few things to be aware of and even fear! The beach goes by a few names, Big Beach, Makena Beach, Makena State Park, and even by its nickname, Break-Neck Beach.
In our Big Beach Maui guide, we take an in-depth look at this large, pristine sandy beach, on Hawaii’s most beautiful beaches. We show you how to get there, what to do at the beach, what to eat and most importantly point out the dangers that lurk at the ocean Paradise. Unfortunately, Big Beach is one of the most dangerous spots on the Island!
- Location – South Maui – Makena Road
- Amenities – Showers, Restrooms, Sunscreen, Entry Fee
- Beach Type – Wide Golden Sands
- Life Guards – Yes (8 am – 4:30 pm)
- Best For – Visits to the Emergency Room!
- Entry: $5 per person + $10 Parking
<<< Little Beach Guide – Beach Guide – La Perouse Bay >>>
Situated in the far south of Maui, this 1-kilometer of wide golden sand is really one of Hawaii’s real jewels. With almost no development in the area, the golden sands are sandwiched between turquoise waters and green trees and the towering Haleakala Volcano. It is the very essence of Maui distilled into one location. Rugged, Wild, Beautiful, tropical perfection.
However, the beach has a real mean steak and has been the cause of countless ruined vacations and even lives! It has a savagely powerful shore break that can really pound unsuspecting bathers and has built up a depressing number of injuries over the year. In light conditions, this is one of the finest bathing spots on the island but even a slight to moderate swell can spell pure disaster for anyone caught in the wrath!
Getting there and Parking
The beach is one of the easiest to find on the island. As you head out of Wailea on the only road, the Makena Alanui, just keep going and eventually, you will see the big signs for the Makena State Park. Miss it and before long you will just run out of road and need to turn back, but really you can’t miss it. Although you will not see the actual beach from the road, the state park is very well signposted.
Parking is also very easy and abundant. The only issue is the $10 parking fee on top of the $5 per person entry fee. There are 2 parking lots to choose from, both are charged and there is a third entrance with sketchy parking that is free, but you will still need to pay the $5 per person fee.
There is quite a lot of free parking along the highway so if the lots are full you can skip the parking charge but you MUST pay the $5 per person entrance fee. This is done by the self-service ticket machines and enforcement officers patrol the parking lots daily. Obviously, highway parking is not as secure and we suspect one day this loophole may get closed off.
The beach is really large and most people like to hike over to Little Beach too so parking in the Big Beach lot, the first one you arrive at is preferred if you are wanting to visit both, the third entrance is definitely a bad choice in that case.
Things to Know About Big Beach
Insanely Powerful Shore Break
Let’s just get into the most important feature of Big Beach. The Shore Break. Shore Breaks are dangerous. These are the parts of a wave than break directly onto the shore. Unlike regular surf breaks this final flourish breaks directly onto the sandy bottom of the beach. This means if you are in the wrong place at the wrong time, the wave will impart all its force into slamming you into the very dense and firm Sand. This can result in, pain, embarrassment, sand in places you rather it wasn’t, swallowed water (and pride), bruising, sprained joints, injured backs, and even serious breakage of bones. In extreme cases, people are left paralyzed from serious spinal injuries, all from a playful splash in the sea.
Normally a little care and understanding of the break are all that is needed to avoid the worst of it, but at Big Beach, the shore break is insanely powerful. When swells are moderate to light this is a VERY dangerous beach, when it’s high you would be crazy to go anywhere near!
The beach has no reef, the angle of the beach is very sharp, and waves form far out to Sea, meaning as they approach they suddenly veer up to massive heights and almost stop dead before dropping on your head. It creates an incredibly powerful wave that has the ability to turn you into a ragdoll and slam you into the solid sand bottom. The waves sound like bombs going off and you can see vertical columns of water shooting straight up as the wave collapses in on itself.
There is a reason the Beach has earned its nickname Break-Neck Beach, and that is because it regularly sends tourists home in an ambulance, often never to walk again. This sounds like hyperbole, but literally, hundreds of fun-seeking tourists have left Big Beach with spinal injuries that have meant they will spend the rest of their lives in a wheelchair. We hate being Kill Joys, but the break here is so incredibly dangerous it is such a risk if you are not sure what you are doing.
Even then it’s really hard to properly manage the wave. There are rarely even highly skilled locals on the beach (usually when it’s really crazy and then the crazies turn up), as the break is just not worth the risk, for those on vacation just looking for a little fun in the surf this really is the worst possible place to come play. Huge slabs of water roll in at high speed before rearing up and slamming down, and the fact the wave almost stops dead, makes timing a duck dive especially difficult.
There are normally Life Guards on the beach, although funding for these is complex and they are removed from time to time, before getting put back when someone is injured again. These will intervene and warn visitors of the dangers and their warning should be heeded, but they can’t actually force you not to be stupid, and it only takes a moment for that wave to slam into you.
Remember Waves come in sets so even when you arrive if the surf looks placid, spend 10-15 mins watching it and see if it cycles from moderate, small waves to huge thumping breakers.
Finally remember that with all this water washing up on the shore, it has to go somewhere and this is where Rip Currents are formed. Look for red flash and warming signs as Life Guards will be aware of rips, but also know the signs yourself and how to get out of a rip, even if there are guards present if you are not 100% stay shallow and out of the Breakzone.
We hate being such party poopers and this huge stretch of near rock-free sand appears to be the perfect beach, but that break is just SO savage, and remember, every person crippled by the Makeana Shore Break thought it wouldn’t happen to them…
Not to be confused with Little Beach, just down from Big Beach is a small and achingly beautiful little cove called Makena Cove, parking here is extremely limited and you will not be popular with the locals if you park badly, so maybe it’s best to park in the State park and walk down.
The cove is more sheltered and does not suffer as badly from the shore break, although when rough it’s a bad spot for a dip due to the large amount of Lava rock. However, these rocks are what give the cove its character and contrasting beauty.
This can be one of the most beautiful spots on Maui, but due to the small size and not-so-secret nature anymore, it’s normally pretty crowded and then loses some of its charms. But it’s worth hunting out to see just how pretty the planet can really be!
Just around the corner to the north is a pretty little cove called Little Beach. We have a full guide to Little Beach here, but a quick summary is this is a beautiful protected cove, that offers excellent bathing, wonderful relaxing views, and a huge amount of full frontal nudity!
Yep, Little Beach is stunning, in more ways than one, and is the number one Nudest beach on Maui. It’s not a little bit of subtle nudity either, this is a full-on sausage fest. We are European and used to nudity on public beaches, but Little Beach was enough to make us blush! Be warned!
Best Activities at Big Beach
The beach is over a kilometer long and perfect for long beach walks in the sand. There are almost no rocks on the entire length of the beach and walking barefoot on the edge of the sand is really wonderful.
Early morning or sunset are really great times to take a stroll as the midday heat is pretty intense 99% of the time. You can carry on at either end with a rock scramble to the south end over to Makena Cove (slippy and dangerous) or a hike over the headland to see the sausages on Little Beach.
You can also hike up the Puʻu Olai cinder cone for some stunning views of the beach.
Other than on really calm days we have already explained the issue with the shore break. But taking a dip is still the main activity that most people come o the beach for. With extreme care and by listening to the Lifeguards you can still take a dip on calm to moderate days. When it’s really pounding the beach will be red-flagged and only the crazy locals will be in the water.
The key is to avoid the break like the plague. If a breaker dumps on you, you will be in trouble. The power contained within the waves is incredible. Stay within your depth and out of the surf zone. When a wave rears up in front of you, duck into the water and up the other side once it’s broken. Remember waves never come alone and its 3-4 buddies will be along momentarily.
Unless you are very experienced, body and boogie boarding is a very bad idea here.
But just know, this is on you, we have warned countless times, and are still not done. If you get plowed by a wave and end up face-first in the sand and never walk again, that is 100% on you.
The beach is really huge, and one of our favorite past-times is just chilling on the sand, watching the waves, and guessing which tourist might end up in the hospital (joke). The location is really wild and remote feeling, with just gorgeous aquamarine water, and a stunning backdrop. It’s just one of lives greatest pleasures to just kick back and relax on the sand, with a few drinks and snacks, and just watch the world go by.
On the other end of the spectrum, this is one beach in Maui that is really big enough to play ball games on. Vast expanses of sand mean you can set up a pitch and really have a great time throwing or kicking whatever ball you find most agreeable.
Snorkeling at the beach is very poor. This is a majority sandy bottom and there is just very little to see. When the Shore break is up, then we would avoid snorkeling altogether, although if you can ensure you get out beyond the break, then you should be fine, assuming you can avoid rip currents and rogue sets. But even then there is just very little to see to justify the risk.
We recall one time a couple of Scuba divers found their way down here. All kitted up they pushed past the breakers into deeper after while they prepared for their dive. Unfortunately, they were not paying attention and only moved past the smaller break, and when a large set rolled in it broke directly on top of them. They were thrown around like a tumble dryer and deposited back n the back looking forlorn. With their tails between their legs, they headed back to the car. Luck really as there was unlikely anything to see!
Large expanses of sandy bottoms just do not lead to good snorkeling, there are no reefs offshore and just very little going on as far as marine life goes. On calm days, snorkeling is fine but still dull. If it’s calm here it’s likely to be calm at some of the local snorkeling spots that are SO much better so do not waste your time here. Check out La Perouse Bay, Makena Landing (Turtle Town), Ahihi Cove, or just anywhere along the Wailea coastline.
What to Eat?
There is almost no development in the area and as such dining options are very limited. Basically, bring your own food, the beach is just perfect for a picnic, or hit the Taco Trucks! The Makena State Park Parking lot used to be home to one of the most famous Taco Trucks in the world, Jawz Tacos.
When the State Park started charging for Entry, then the Taco Truck got kicked out! Fortunately, they have taken up residence in a small layby just outside the park so you can still visit the famous Truck. Jawz has a little company now but the other truck is largely offering the same Fish Tacos and basic Mexican street food. We don’t really like the complete lack of imagination and their intent to cannibalize the Jawz trucks market so we stick with the Legend even if you are to believe the rivals sign proclaiming it as the BEST fish tacos.
If you are not into tacos or Mexican street food, your only option is to bring your own.
There is very little in the way of accommodation in this area. The whole Makena area is largely undeveloped and natural. The nearest resort is the Makena Golf and Beach Club, formerly the Makena Surf, but this does not operate as a hotel but as a private condominium complex.
You can Book condominiums through private owners on sites such as VRBO.
Other than this, the Beach is easily accessible from Wailea and Kihei so any accommodation in those areas is perfect. It is a long drive past a lot of fine beaches to get here from West Maui!
As we have said, Breakneck Beach is brutal. When conditions are rough, this beach is seriously dangerous, but even when things are mild and the wind from a favorable direction it can still be really bad at the shore break.
On rare occasions, normally during the summer, the beach can transform into a still and tranquil pond where the water takes on a translucent and almost organic appearance. If you have seen Disney’s Moana, the water here can look just like this. Visiting on a day like this and you will wonder what all the fuss is about as you splash playfully on one of the finest beaches we have ever experienced.
But these days are rare, and more often than not, even with a mild wind, the dynamics of the beach cause the waves to back up and slam down on unsuspecting beach-goers. Even on placid days, a rogue set can come in and splash down hard on anyone not fully paying attention to the conditions.
<<< Little Beach Guide – Beach Guide La Perouse Bay >>>
Have Your Say
Have you been to Big Beach Before? How did you find it on your visit? Did you play Russian roulette with the waves or just watch from a safe distance? Let us know in the comments below and if you have any questions just fire away.