Mahai'ula Beach is the first beach you’ll encounter when you enter Kekaha Kai State Park. Simply drive north on Highway 19 out of Kona to look for a dirt road carved into a lava rock field between mile markers 90 and 91. Turn left onto the rough road and drive slow. An economy rental car should make the trek, but the road is full of ruts, bumps and rocks. It’s about a mile to the parking lot.
Make sure to look around you during the drive. The glassy black field of volcanic rock is what you’ll have to hike through to get to Mahai'ula Beach, and the hike is half the fun. There’s a sizable parking lot at the end of the dirt road, and you can find the path to the beach on the northern end of the lot.
From the parking lot, you’ll be able to look north to see a line of tall green trees. You’ll find Mahai'ula Beach just behind those trees. The trail to the trees and beach is rocky as it is carved right through the field of volcanic rocks. Make sure to wear sturdy shoes on your way out to this sandy, shaded beach, and look out for wild goats climbing the clusters of volcanic rocks behind the beach.
The walk to the beach takes about 10 to 15 minutes, and emerging onto the sand is like finding an oasis. The path will lead you under the shade of trees as the trail grows sandy. You’ll then find yourself on The Big Island’s softest beige-sand beach with its shimmering blue water. The water here seems to sparkle like a diamond, and the swimming here is incredible.
You’ll find a soft, sandy bottom as you wade out into the water. The water here is usually calm, but you’ll have to watch out for stray volcanic rocks underfoot. In winter, it can be rather steep walking into the water, so make sure to keep an eye on any children that you might bring.
Mahai'ula Beach is long. There’s plenty of sand to go around, so finding a secluded spot shouldn’t be a problem. The trees that line the back of the beach provide plenty of shade which is crucial on the sunny, hot and dry west coast of The Big Island. And you can often find turtles resting on the beach, especially the north end of the beach where you’ll find a lonely stand of palm trees.
It is illegal to touch sea turtles in the state of Hawaii. Locals will help law officers enforce this rule, and the fine is steep. Make sure to keep your distance, and always take great care when snapping a selfie. The oils in your skin can degrade the animal’s shell which will lower its life expectancy.
Walk along the beach to the north end, and you’ll find a staircase carved into the lava shelf that connects to a rocky path carved into the lava field behind Mahai'ula Beach. It’s another 20-minute walk through the rough, hot and reflective terrain to Makalawena Beach; the second beach of three in Kekaha Kai State Park. Few dare to take the trek, but Makalawena Beach is even more beautiful and secluded. Just make sure you have sturdy footwear, plenty of water, protection from the sun and plenty of daylight before you make the journey.