Waianapanapa State Park – Black Sand Beach on the Road to Hana!

Waianapanapa State Park is one of the most visited stops along the Hana Highway. We rate it as a Must Stops and what we call a Destination stop. The Park is home to the seriously beautiful Honokalani Back Sand Beach. However there is a lot more to this location than just the beach and we take a look at all the different sights and things to see and do at this amazing, tropical location that feels straight out of the imagination.

Waianapanapa State Park - Black Sand Beach on the Road to Hana

Waianapanapa State Park

  • About – Beautiful State Park Just before the Town of Hana
  • Mile Marker – 32
  • Location – 1 Mile outside of Hana
  • Facilities – Restrooms, Picnic Tables, Showers, Camping and Cabins
  • Hana Highway Rating – Must Stop
  • Cost – Free
  • Highlights – Stunning Black Sand Beach, Dramatic Rugged Coastline, Freshwater pools and Caves, Short Hikes.

Waianapanapa State Park is one of a few “Destination” Stops on the Hana Highway. We repeatedly say with the Road to Hana, the road IS the destination. There is no “there” to get to. However, Waianapanapa is about as close to a “there” as anywhere else on the highway, including Hana itself! We often spend a lot more time at Waianapanapa than Hana.

Arriving at the Park most flock to the simply stunning Black Sand beach. A volcanic beach that may have appeared in only a few days as lava hit the cool pacific waters and exploded into tiny fragments. However, this young land has a lot more to see besides the beach. You can explore lava tubes, underground freshwater caves, Hike the rugged Lava Coastline to find Sea Arches, A Blowhole, and Ancient Hawaiian Burial and Religious sites.

The State Park is a real gem and an absolute must-see driving the Road to Hana. The Landscape is far newer than most of the island and is rugged and Stark with incredible contrast between the Jet Black Lava Rock, Lush Green Foliage still finding it’s footings, and the deep blue of the plunging Pacific Ocean Depths.

How to Find the Park

This is probably the easiest stop to find on the highway. Just before you arrive in Hana at Mile Marker 32 there is a big sign and an obvious turn-off that takes you a short way down to the several parking lots that service the park. Parking is free as is the park itself and there are plenty of facilities.

Once at the park you can relax and congratulate yourself on arriving and successfully navigating the infamous Road to Hana! We can ignore the fact you still have to get back for now!

How to Say Waianapanapa?

The first time you come across the word you realize just how peculiar the Hawaiian language is. In a western tongue, that word just seems jibberish!

It is however pretty easy to pronounce once you get over the initial shock!

Why – a – Napa – Napa

Keep that one in your back pocket and impress the Family!!!

What is there to see at the Park?

Black Sand Beach – Honokalani Beach

Wai'anapanapa

While we are keen to point out there is a lot more here besides the beach, it is also very obvious the Beach is the Star of the show! And what a beach! Used in countless photoshoots the contrasts are just so stark it makes for incredible photos and a stunning vista that is quite unlike anywhere on earth! (ok there are a few similar beaches over n the Big island!)

Let’s start off by saying we don’t like Black Sand. We like our sand White or Golden, deep and lush and perfect for lounging on. Black sand beaches are usually dirty grey sand, Such as the Black sand beach in Hana town. These are visually unappealing and generally places to avoid. These are Beaches made from the erosion of Basalt Lava, however, Honokalani Beach is very different. This is not erosion at work but was formed when streams of molten lava met the ocean and shattered and exploded into tiny fragments. Probably forming over a few days! Over the years these small fragments have been smoothed off into a billion tiny pebbles.

The sand is not really sand at all and is actually made up of these minuscule little pebbles. This makes the beach very different from the grey dirt that makes up most black sand beaches. The color is deep jet black and walking barefoot is comforting and satisfying. While the pebbles may stick they do not get to your clothing and rub like regular sand.

Due to the short creation span and the fact, the Lava has stopped flowing the sand on the beach is al that will ever be created and in a few centuries, the beach will be no more. We strongly urge visitors to not speed up this process by removing any sand. Doing so is not only illegal, but it is deeply disprespectful to Hawaiian culture and is reportedly cursed! Whatever, just don’t be that guy!

The ocean entry is fairly steep and the shore break can be powerful. The Beach is on a completely exposed shoreline and huge swells can pummel the beach. Swimming should only be done with care. This is definitely a beach for viewing or resting on rather than a watersports type beach.

Sea Cave

Waianapanapa Sea Cave

On the right-hand side of the beach is a large Sea Cave that leads through to a tiny hidden section of the beach. From here you get nice views of the rugged coast and get to see a portion of Lava Tube. The Cave Formed as red hot molten loved poured from the volcano. The outer edges cooling to create a pipeline for the lava to pour through and out into the ocean where it shattered to form the sand!

BlowHole

Waianapanapa Blow Hole

The Blow Hole at Waianapanapa is not one of the best on the island, but it is still a fun feature and can blow pretty impressively when the tides and swells are just right. Unlike a lot of holes, this one really does undercut the ground quite a way and erupts from seemingly nowhere in a large plume of saltwater. It is one of the least active Blowholes on in Hawaii so do not count on it being “on” when you visit.

Rugged coastline – Sea Arch

The Lava Coastline is very young in Geological Standards, maybe as young as 900 years old. This Coastline is still being dismantled by the ocean and this makes for a very pretty and dramatic landscape. A Large dragon tail shaped sea Arch reached out into the blue while green-topped sea-stacks rise up from the blue. All the while the untamed pacific Breakers roll in and crash against the black jagged Lava Rock. It is a really wonderful setting.

Short Hiking Trails

A series of short but excellent trials lead out along this coastline taking you to a multitude of lookouts, coves, and secret beaches.

Princess Cave

Waianapanapa Princess Cave

The other highlight is the Princess Cave. A short trail leads up away from the Black sand beach to a small pool hidden under some impressive Basalt Lava formations. Climb down into the pool and the water is fresh and very cool. This is an Anchialine pond which means the freshwater is connected to the saltwater below but no via any surface connection.

If you dip your head under the rock you can enter a subterranean cave which was used as a refuge for an ancient Hawaiian Princess on the run from her tyrannical husband. It didn’t end well and you can read more about the Legend here. along with how to find them.

Without caving experience, we do not recommend going far into the cave at all, but you can just pull yourself out of the water to recreate the hiding location of the Princess Popoalaea.

Honokalani Cemetary and Heiau

Waianapanapa Cemetary

There are several Ancient Buriel grounds found in the park grounds. These double as Heiau and are old Hawaiian religious temples. These give a great insight into the spiritual culture of the Hawaiian ancient. Imagining Buriels and ceremonies in these stunning setting is quite a thing.

Swimming

Swimming is definitely marginal, and a big no-no in high surf. The water is cool and currents often form along the rugged coastline. Playing in the waves to cool off is fun when the surf is moderate or less but we do not really advise venturing far out beyond your depth. This is not a place for snorkeling either as waves can easily smash you against the young jagged lava rock.

Wildlife

Unfortunately, one of the most prominent animals you will see at Waianapamapa is the Mongoose. These fierce little mammals are really brave and have little fear of humans unless you get too close. Dropping litter in the bins can lead to quite a fright is there is a mongoose hiding inside! However funny they seem these are an invasive species and should not really be here. The lack of other creatures is a testament to their presence!

While there are large colonies of sea birds by Hawaiian standards they are not in hugely impressive numbers, however, you will see Turns, Petrals and Shearwaters hunting and nesting on the Sea-Stacks around the Park.

Flora is where the Park really excels and there are several interesting species that inhabit the area. The Jungle here is very different from the older denser forest found along the Highway.

Waianapanapa Flora
Hala Trees and Lava Plants

The Native Hala Tree is the most striking and forms in large forests on the young Lava Rock. This Tree is a sort of a cross between a Mangrove and a Palm Tree with weird and large fruit that fall into the ocean and cover huge distance to spread the seed of the tree.

The Lava Rocks are covered in ʻōhiʻa lehua or Lava Plants. These deep green succulents are one of the first colonizers of new Lava and add a fantastic contrast to the dark black rock.

When in Bloom lookout for Hibiscus Taliaceus. A Large Blooming Hibiscus tree. The Flowers are quite unlike anything else and the trees deposit these down to ground level covering the ground in strange earth-colored bloom.

More on the Flora and Fauna of Maui here

Facilities

The Park is well kitted out with decent restrooms, showers, picnic tables, and sinking water fountains. The Park functions as the second main waypoint on the road and an essential place to pull off, not only to enjoy the stunning scenery but also take a break from the highway and mentally check off knowing you are basically in Hana.

Camping/Cabins

The Park has it’s own Cabins that are available for $90 a night (up to 6 People) or there are facilities for camping and Campervans too from $18 per night. We tend to stay in slightly more comfortable lodgings in Hana itself, but if you are looking for a rugged and wild location to spend the night It is an exciting location to overnight. The skies get REALLY dark and the morning chorus is something yo behold!

Overall

The State Park is one of the finest on the Island. It is filled with stunning and unique geography showcasing the uniqueness of the Volcanic origin of the island. We just love the color contrasts here and everything is so Stark and Vibrant. The Plantlife is unlike anywhere else on the island and the Black Sand a real Must see on any Road to Hana Trip. Overall this is probably the number 1 stop on the whole highway and not to be missed.

Have Your Say

Have you Visited Waianapnapa State Park? What did you make of it? Which attractions stood out the most and which were less enthralling? Did you make round to the Princess Pool and Cave and take a dip? Or did you just spend your time relaxing on the Beach? Let us know in the comments below. If you have any questions at all just fire away!

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