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Kauai North Shore Beaches

Moloa‘a Bay

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Location: Kauai's northeast corner

Coordinates: N22° 11.64', W159° 19.99'  

Length: 0.6 miles

Facilities: None

When sea conditions are calm and the sky is sunny, the beach at Moloa‘a Bay presents a beautiful sight.  The golden-sand beach curves around the half-moon shaped bay filled with turquoise water.  Moloa‘a Stream flows through the center of the bay.  Bluffs, 200 feet high, terminate at both entrances to the bay.  Beachrock protrudes at the north end of the beach, which is exposed to the surf rolling in from the ocean.  Windblown debris accumulates in this part of the bay, making it a good place for beachcombing.  The south side of the bay is calmer and partially protected by a reef.  When the surf is high, a rip current runs from the south side, along the shorebreak and then out the center of the bay.  This rip current has been responsible for many drownings and near-drownings.

This lovely beach is not well known to visitors.  A few homes line the back of the beach south of the stream.  To find Moloa‘a Bay, turn makai onto Ko‘olau Road between mile markers 16 and 17 of the Kûhiô Highway.  After 1.2 miles, follow Moloa‘a Road to the right.  At the end of the road is a beach access sign pointing left.

Larsen's Beach

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Location: Makai of Ko‘olau Road

Coordinates: N22° 12.25', W159° 20.17'  

Length: 0.9 miles

Facilities: None

Larsen's Beach is named in honor of L. David Larsen, the former manager of Kilauea Sugar Plantation, who had a beach house there.  The beach is a straight, narrow ribbon of coarse sand with several outcroppings of beach rock.  Cattle pasture covers the hill behind Larsen's Beach.  Shells and glass balls litter the beach, making it a good beachcombing spot.  Seaweed of the limu kohu variety is harvested from the shallow reef offshore.

Swimming conditions at Larsen's are poor and dangerous.  The offshore bottom is shallow and rocky.  A channel through the reef, situated in front of Pakala Point, allows a very fast rip current to flow back to the sea.  The channel is visible from the top of the trail as you approach the beach.

West of Pakala Point are two pockets of sand, the last being on the east side of Kepuhi Point.  A colony of wedgetailed shearwaters lives at the point.  Also watch for the frigate bird or man-of-war bird.  In Hawaiian, this seagoing bird with a wingspan that can reach seven feet, is called ‘iwa.  The ‘iwa feeds by forcing smaller fishing birds to regurgitate their catch, which it then scoops up in midair.  Hawaiians would use the word ‘iwa figuratively to mean a thief.

To find Larsen's Beach from the south, turn off the Kuhio Highway between mile markers 16 and 17 onto Ko‘olau Road.  The road immediately turns left and in 1.2 miles you'll reach an intersection with Moloa‘a Road.  Keep to the left until you have traveled 2.3 miles from the highway.  Take a hard right onto a dirt road.  If you see a small cemetery you have driven too far and missed the turnoff.  The correct road has a white "Beach Access" signpost."  Follow this road of deep-red dirt nine tenths of mile to its end.  A trail leads down to the beach from there.  If you are approaching from the north, turn onto Ko‘olau Road where it meets the Kuhio Highway at mile marker 20.  From there it is 1.2 miles to the red dirt road to the beach.

Pila‘a Beach

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Location: Three quarters of a mile west of Kepuhi Point

Coordinates: N22° 12.68', W159° 21.53' and N22° 12.69', W159° 21.84'

Length: 250 yards each

Facilities: None

Pîla‘a Beach is actually two sections of sand divided by a rocky point.  The eastern section is protected somewhat by Kepuhi Point.  A stream crosses the western section of sand.  A wide reef extends from Kephuhi Point to Kilauea Bay, two miles to the west.  During calm conditions, the western section has a couple of sandy bottom areas that are good for swimming.  The outer section of the reef has a channel that is a major drainage point for the reef.  A powerful rip current runs through this channel during periods of high surf.  It is visible from the access trail on the hill to the west.  The reef in front of Pila‘a and the rocky shoreline west of the beach is popular with experienced snorkelers and spearfishers.

The property behind Pila‘a is privately owned and there is no direct right-of-way to the beach.  Both pockets of sand can be seen from the hill to the west.  A trail from the base of the hill leads over the rocky shoreline to the west section of the beach.  The trail drops 180 feet in elevation and is about a half mile long.  See the description of Waiakalua Iki beach for directions to the trail.

Waiakalua Iki Beach

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Location: One half mile east of Kilauea Bay

Coordinates: N22° 12.92', W159° 22.29'  

Length: 0.2 miles

Facilities: None

Waiakalua Iki Beach is the eastern part of two isolated beaches.  The western and smaller part is Waiakalua Nui Beach.  The beach is narrow on the east end and widens on the west where the Waiakalua Stream flows from the valley behind.  The nearshore bottom has some sandy spots but generally isn't good for swimming.  The Kapinao heiau is visible above the beach, but it is on private land and not accessible.

Chances are good that you will be the only visitor on the beach.  Its isolated location and fresh-water stream sometimes attract people who unofficially call the area home.  To find this beautiful stretch of shoreline turn onto North Waiakalua Road, eight tenths of a mile past the Kuhio Highway's mile marker 20.  Follow the paved road for seven tenths of a mile to the end then turn left onto a dirt road that leads three tenths of a mile to the trail.  From the trailhead you can see Pila‘a Beach to the right.  It takes five minutes to descend the steep dirt trail.  Make sure you haven't left valuables in your car.  At the bottom of the trail, the approach to Pila‘a Beach is over the boulders to the right.  The Waiakalua beaches are to the left.

Waiakalua Nui Beach

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Location: One quarter mile east of Kilauea Bay

Coordinates: N22° 12.98', W159° 22.49'  

Length: 200 yards

Facilities: None

Waiakalua Nui Beach is on the other side of the rocky point that marks the western end of Waiakalua Iki Beach.  The beach is wide and sandy, with beachrock cropping up in the offshore water.  Swimming conditions are poor here.  A deep and narrow valley behind the beach isolates it from the rest of the island.  After rainy periods, a stream will flow across the beach.

Kahili Beach

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Location: On Kilauea Bay

Coordinates: N22° 13.05', W159° 23.08'  

Length: 0.2 miles

Facilities: None

Kahili Beach lines the back of Kilauea Bay to the east of the mouth of Kilauea Stream.  The west end of the beach has patches of coral reef offshore.  The waves breaking over the reef here attract surfers.  A wide, shallow reef protects the east end of the beach, which is popular for throw-net and pole fishing.  Swimming is not suggested here unless the surf is calm.  Rip currents run back through the gaps in the west reef.  False kamani and ironwood trees grow in the sand dunes behind the beach.

The easiest approach to Kahili Beach will bring you to the east end.  From the Kuhio Highway, turn onto North Wailapa Road, which is six tenths of a mile past mile marker 21, but doesn't have a sign.  Follow the paved road for half a mile and then take the left fork onto a dirt road.  After another half mile this road ends at the beach.  The west end of the beach can be reached by turning right, off Kilauea Road, three quarters of a mile from the highway.  A badly rutted, dirt road will end 1.4 miles later on the banks of Kilauea Stream, next to an abandoned quarry.  The stream must be crossed to reach the beach.  

Kauapea (Secret) Beach

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Location: West of Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge

Coordinates: N22° 13.39', W159° 24.97'  

Length: 0.8 miles

Facilities: None

Kauapea Beach is commonly called Secret Beach locally.  Its informal name came from its seclusion and its difficulty to find.  An improved access road makes is a little easier to find now and it's certainly worth the effort.  The large beach is great for taking long walks while taking in the sights of the pounding surf, small springs trickling down the cliffs behind the beach and Kilauea Point to the east.  Winter surf will prevent swimming but it is possible during especially calm days in the summer.  You will likely come across unofficial campers and nude sunbathers at Secret Beach.  Both activities are illegal but not enforced enough to become a serious deterrent.

Turn off the Kuhio Highway 100 yards before mile marker 24 onto the first Kahiliwai Road.  The road immediately bends to the left.  Take the dirt road cut into the hill on the right and follow it three tenths of a mile to a parking area.  The beach trail follows the barbed wire fence before turning down the hill.  It takes seven minutes to walk down to the beach.

Kalihiwai Beach

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Location: On the eastern half of Kalihiwai Bay

Coordinates: N22° 13.02', W159° 25.59'  

Length: 0.2 miles

Facilities: Picnic tables

The beach at Kalihiwai Bay is widest at its western end where the Kalihiwai River meets the ocean and narrows to a point where it becomes a boulder beach at the base of a sea cliff.  Surfers ride the steep and fast waves that break close to the cliff.  A grove of tall ironwood trees lines the backshore, providing for shaded places to park your car.  Swimming conditions are dangerous during periods of high surf, with a pounding shorebreak and strong rip currents.  During calm, summer conditions the swimming is pleasant.

Take the first Kalihiwai Road from the Kuhio Highway and follow it past the "Dead End" sign for one mile.  The road ends at Kalihiwai River.  The remnants of a bridge wiped out by a tsunami in 1957 remain on the river.  On the other side of the river, Kalihiwai Road picks up again and returns to the highway.


‘Anini Beach Park

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Location: Between Kalihiwai Bay and Princeville

Coordinates: N22° 13.43', W159° 26.75'  

Length: 2.2 miles

Facilities: Picnic shelters, bathrooms, showers, camping

The nearshore waters of ‘Anini Beach are as calm as you'll find anywhere on Kauai.  This is due to the protection of a fringing reef that follows the shoreline for two miles and broadens to 1,600 feet offshore at its widest point.  The reef extends from Kalihiwai Bay to the cliffs of Princeville.  A sandy bottom covers the shallow nearshore area making it a good place for children to swim. The shallow water and wide reef offers excellent snorkeling.  A channel in the reef is visible from shore at the west end.  During periods of high surf, the rip current that flows through the channel out to the ocean can be dangerous.

‘Anini Beach Park is situated midway along the beach.  It's a popular place for picnics, camping and fishing.  Across the road from the beach is the playing field for the Kauai Polo Club, which holds polo matches on Sunday afternoons in the summer.

The first road sign here read Wanini.  Irate because of a misspelling, born and raised Hanalei resident, Walter Sanborn, shot the W off the sign with his shotgun.  After that incident, people starting calling the beach ‘Anini, even though the sign misspelled its true name, Wainini, which means, "spilled water."

To reach ‘Anini Beach, take the second Kalihiwai Road, between mile markers 25 and 26 on the Kûhiô Highway.  Drive left at the fork in the road towards the "No Outlet" sign.  The road follows the back of the beach taking you past several large homes, some of which are getaways for celebrities.

Sealodge Beach

Location: Princeville

Coordinates: N22° 13.74', W159° 28.65'  

Length: 100 yards

Facilities: None

This lovely pocket of coarse sand is located in a cove at the base of a sea cliff, near the Sealodge condominiums.  The beach is protected by the same reef that extends from ‘Anini Beach.  Swimming conditions here are fair because the ocean bottom is shallow and rocky.  False kamani trees line the backshores and the exposed roots of hala trees can be seen clinging to the cliff overhead.

There are two points of entry from Princeville to the beach.  The trails from both these points converge into one steep trail, which winds through thickets of Java plum, guava and Christmasberry trees.  One path begins behind Building A of the Sealodge condominiums.  The other is to the west at the end of Keoniana Road.  It starts at the paved driveway to the left of house no. 3583.  The walk down will take about 15 minutes and will be slippery if it has been raining.  You also will have to scramble over large boulders at the trail's end.

Pali Ke Kua Beach

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Location: Princeville

Coordinates: N22° 13.39', W159° 29.71'             

Length: 100 yards and 250 yards

Facilities: None

Pali Ke Kua Beach is two pockets of sand divided by a rocky point and is sometimes called Hideaways.  The eastern pocket is below the Pali Ke Kua condominiums.  A trail leads down to the beach from the condominiums but there is no public right-of-way.  The western beach is below the Pu‘u Poa condominiums.  A trail begins between Pu‘u Poa and a public parking lot that can only accommodate nine cars.  The trail is very steep and can be treacherous when it is wet and muddy.  Steps and handrails help your descent for the first half of the trail.

Once reached, the beach is lovely with a view of Makana peak (Bali Hai) to the west.  Patches of reef protects the beach but high surf will still make its way to the shore.  The surf break is good enough here to entice surfers to lug their boards down the precipitous trail.  Hawaiian monk seals come ashore here to rest.  Remember, federal law prevents anyone from getting closer than 100 feet to them or bothering this endangered species in any way.


Pu‘u Poa Beach

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Location: Princeville

Coordinates: N22° 13.16', W159° 29.89'  

Length: 150 yards

Facilities: Showers and bathrooms for guests of Princeville Hotel

Primarily guests of the luxurious Princeville Hotel use this beach.  Guests may use the hotel's elevator to descend the hill to the beach; others will have to follow the steps that start near the hotel's gatehouse.

The beach is on the east shore of Hanalei Bay, extending from the north bank of the Hanalei River to the hotel.  Kayakers, outrigger canoe paddlers, surfers, snorkelers and boaters fill a beautiful scene; back dropped by the peaks of Pu‘u Ka Manu across the bay, and Makana, three and a half miles behind that.  Swimming is difficult at Pu‘u Poa because of an irregular ocean bottom strewn with rocks and coral.

Hanalei Bay     

Location: Town of Hanalei   

Length: 2 miles

Hanalei Bay is an almost perfectly shaped crescent incised from the heart of Kauai's north shore.  In Hawaiian, Hanalei means "crescent bay."  A beautiful sandy beach lines the bay for two miles.  In a recent poll, readers of Hawaii magazine picked Hanalei Bay as Hawaii's best beach.  Although the bay is a continuous stretch of sand, it is traditionally segmented into four areas: Black Pot, Pavilion, Wai‘oli and Waikoko.

Black Pot Beach Park

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Coordinates: N22° 12.82', W159° 29.83'

Facilities: Picnic tables, bathrooms, telephone, camping

Black Pot Beach is situated on the east side of Hanalei Bay, between the Hanalei River and the pier.  It was given its name because Hanalei residents used to keep a large, black, iron cooking pot there for use during large community social gatherings.  That tradition continues today; the pot is gone but many residents gather at the beach for picnics and parties.  Recreational boaters use the small boat ramp at the mouth of the Hanalei River.  The pier is used regularly for fishing and is a fine place for a scenic stroll and photographic opportunities, especially at sunset.  Diving is not allowed off the pier.  To reach Black Pot Beach and the pier, turn makai off the highway at Hanalei and then right onto Weke Road, following it to its end.


Hanalei Pavilion Beach Park

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Coordinates: N22° 12.42', W159° 29.90'

Facilities:  Picnic shelter, bathrooms, telephone, lifeguard

South of the Hanalei pier, a concrete picnic shelter and bathrooms occupy a beachfront lot neighbored by large homes.  In the summer months, the water in front of the pavilion is calm and safe for swimming.  The beach has a sandy bottom and a very gentle slope.  Winter brings high surf, which attracts experienced surfers but can create unsafe swimming conditions onshore.  The pavilion can be reached from Weke Road.

Wai‘oli Beach Park

Coordinates: N22° 12.18', W159° 30.21'

Facilities:  Bathrooms, showers, lifeguard, volleyball nets

Wai‘oli Beach Park anchors the south end of Hanalei Bay, near the mouth of Wai‘oli Stream.  The beach is lined with tall ironwood trees, which lend it the botanically incorrect nickname of "Pinetrees."  Being half-moon-shaped, the bay directs the advancing surf towards its center and Wai‘oli Beach.  Swimming is safer here during the calmer summer months while the surfers are out enjoying the surf breaks of Wai‘oli (which means joyful water) in the winter.   Wai‘oli Beach Park can be found by turning makai from Weke Road onto either He‘e or ‘Ama‘ama Roads.  

Waikoko Beach

Coordinates: N22° 12.28', W159° 30.86'

Facilities:  None

Waikoko Beach includes the westernmost section of Hanalei Bay.  The reef extending from Makahoa Point, marking the bay's western entrance, provides swimmers with some protection.  The sandy beach narrows as it traces the shoreline west from Waipa Stream.  Waikoko Beach can be entered from a roadside turnout next to the four-mile marker.

Lumaha‘i Beach

Location: One half mile west of Hanalei Bay

Coordinates: N22° 12.86', W159° 31.23' (east end); N22° 12.98', W159° 31.91' (west end)  

Length: 0.8 miles

Facilities: None

Lumaha‘i is a wild and beautiful beach where powerful surf crashes unimpeded on its steeply sloped foreshore.  Vegetation-covered cliffs and Highway 560, 150 feet above, back the wide beach.  No tourist brochure will pass up the opportunity to point out that Lumaha‘i Beach was the locale for the scene in South Pacific where Mitzi Gaynor "washed that man right out of her hair."  There is an east entrance and a west entrance to Lumaha‘i.  The east entrance is via a trail that descends from a roadside pullout, just before the five-mile marker.  Lava-rock outcroppings at this end of the beach provide some protection for swimmers when the surf is relatively calm.  When the surf is high, which is most of the year; Lumaha‘i becomes literally a killer beach.  Every year, drownings occur here.  The ocean waves hit the beach hard and the bottom drops off quickly.  The steep foreshore creates a powerful backwash that pushes strong swimmers away from land.  Drowning victims have not only included swimmers, but sightseers who have been knocked down by surging surf sweeping across the beach or by being swept off the lava point.

The west end of the beach is marked by the Lumaha‘i River and can be easily reached from a parking area under a grove of ironwood trees, just before the highway crosses the river.  Flash floods from heavy rains higher in the valley can cause the river's depth to rise dangerously in a matter of minutes.  But in spite of its dangers, the beauty of Lumaha‘i Beach contributed to its being voted "Hawaii's Most Romantic Beach" by readers of Hawaii magazine.

Wainiha Beach

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Location: On Wainiha Bay

Coordinates: N22° 12.90', W159° 32.52'  

Length: 0.2 miles

Facilities: None

At Highway 560's seven-mile marker you will drive by the beach at Wainiha Bay.  No fringing reef protects the bay so the beach is subjected to a powerful shorebreak.  Swimming is dangerous here at any time of the year.

Kepuhi Beach

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Location: In front of Hanalei Colony Resort

Coordinates: N22° 13.27', W159° 32.67'  

Length: 1 mile

Facilities: None

A shallow reef fronts much of Kepuhi Beach with deep channels running through it.  High surf rolling over the reef creates strong rip currents of water flowing back to the ocean through the channels.  These rip currents make for dangerous swimming along Kepuhi Point.  The Hanalei Colony Resort is situated at Kepuhi Beach and many of their guests enjoy beachcombing the long stretch of sand.  The easiest point of entry to the beach is at the Hanalei Colony Resort, half way between mile markers seven and eight of Highway 560.

Tunnels Beach

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Location: Behind the half-moon-shaped reef of Ha‘ena Point

Coordinates: N22° 13.54', W159° 33.56'  

Length: 0.7 miles

Facilities: None

Tunnels Beach tied with Oahu's Hanauma Bay as Hawaii's best snorkeling beach in a reader's poll by Hawaii magazine.  Surfers, windsurfers and divers also favor this site.  The large, horseshoe-shaped reef has an outer and an inner section with a channel between them running east to west.  Snorkelers can float above abundant sea life and coral formations in the inner reef that extends right up to the shore.  Divers head out to the deeper channel where underwater arches and tunnels await—hence the beach's name.  Also contributing to its name is the tunnel shaped surfing break created over the outer reef.  High winter surf can break through to the inner reef, keeping snorkelers out of the water.

The setting for Tunnels Beach is especially beautiful.  Fluted, green mountains descend to the white sand of Ha'ena Beach to the west.  Behind them, Makana Peak, the famed "Bali Hai," rises above jagged spires.

Tunnels is a popular area with few parking spots.  The closest right-of-way from the Highway 560 is four tenths of a mile past the eight-mile marker.  Another access is two tenths of a mile to the west.  If both of these options are full, you can park at Ha‘ena State Park and walk back along the beach.

Ha‘ena Beach Park

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Location: In front of Ha‘ena Dry Cave

Coordinates: N22° 13.23', W159° 33.97'  Length: 0.7 miles

Facilities: Bathrooms, showers, picnic tables, camping

Tunnels Beach continues uninterrupted to the west to become Ha‘ena Beach.  Behind the beach are Ha‘ena Beach Park, a large parking lot and the Maniniholo Dry Cave (see North Shore Sights chapter).  The large reef that protects Tunnels Beach stops at Ha‘ena Beach, leaving the shore exposed to the hard-hitting surf.  During periods of high surf, a pounding shorebreak, a strong backwash and powerful rip currents make for hazardous water conditions.  A shallow reef on the west end of the beach creates a surfing break locally called Cannons.  The breaking of the hollow waves can shoot out a blast of compressed air and spray, which early surfers in the area likened to the firing of a cannon.   Behind the nearly white sand of the wide beach is a county campground.  A concession truck is usually set up in the parking lot.

Ke‘e Beach

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Location: At the north end of Highway 560 and the beginning of the Na Pali Trail

Coordinates: N22° 13.27', W159° 34.98'  Length: 0.4 miles

Facilities: Lifeguard, bathrooms, showers, telephone

When you can't drive any further on Highway 560, you've arrived at Ke‘e Beach.  This small beach, with its lagoon and reef, is a real gem.  The large reef ends at the beginning of the Na Pali coastline and creates a shallow lagoon with calm water and a sandy bottom.  Abundant reef fish, such as wrasse, butterflyfish, damselfish, goatfish, convictfish and surgeonfish populate the reef and clear water.  A sandy beach with outcroppings of shelf rock continues around Ka‘ilio Point to the north. Take a walk north along the beach to the point and you are treated to a view of the Na Pali coastline.  Here, channels in the reef create dangerous rip currents.  Swimmers and snorkelers should stay in the protected area in front of the parking lot.  

Next to the cliffs, at the western end of the reef, a channel allows a rip current to flow out to sea.  This rip current has claimed the lives of snorkelers who have ventured too far past the reef.  In the winter, high surf may roll over the reef, spoiling the calm conditions for swimmers and snorkelers.  At low tide, especially in the summer when the ocean is calm, the reef is exposed enough to allow people to walk over it.  The far side of the reef is a dangerous place to swim even when the ocean is calm.  A strong current flows past the reef towards the Na Pali coast.

This is a very popular beach and in recent years parking has become a problem.  The dirt parking lot, which also is used by hikers starting on the Kalalau Trail, fills quickly.  You need to arrive early to find a spot in the lot or be lucky enough to find someone leaving.  Additional parking is available in Ha‘ena State Park, just before the wet caves, about a half mile from the beach.



Maui Travel Guide

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