Beaches: They’re in the Eye of the Beholder

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Being so new, geologically speaking, the Big Island doesn’t have a lot of traditional beaches, but what it does have are widely appreciated.

Sure, the passage of time has surrounded Maui, Oahu and the other main Hawaiian islands with broad expanses of white sand, while many Big Island beaches can still be a bit rocky — or colorful.

But that didn’t stop US News and World Report Travel from putting the Big Island’s offerings No. 1 in its listing of “Best Beaches in the USA.”

Yup, in this case it wasn’t Maui no ka ‘oi, as the Valley Isle was relegated to the second spot in the magazine’s list.

US News said that white-sand beaches on the Big Island such as Hapuna, Kaunaoa and Kua Bay offer “picture-perfect beaches for your perfect island getaway.”


But it also acknowledges that Hawaii Island is different and that beaches can be made of, say, something like the olivine crystals sometimes found in Hawaiian basaltic lava.

A future beach? Photo by USGS, Ben Gaddis.

“Here you’ll find some geographical oddities (ever been to a beach with green sand?) and awe-inspiring wonders,” the magazine noted.

Other Best Beaches, according to US News, include the US Virgin Islands at No. 3, Oahu at No. 4 and the Outer Banks on the US east coast at No. 5.

The recognition takes some of the sting from the lack of mention of any Big Island sandy spots in the most recent rankings of the top 10 American beaches by Stephen Leatherman, a professor of coastal research at Florida International University widely known as Dr. Beach.


However, three other Hawaii beaches were recognized by Dr. Beach in his 2012 list: Kahanamoku Beach in Waikiki was second, Hamoa Beach on Maui was fifth and Oahu’s Wamanalo Beach came in seventh.

But the lack of Big Isle beaches on that list may be mostly a matter of attrition.

Once a beach is given Dr. Beach’s top honor it is “retired” from the competition. In the 22 years he has been compiling his list 12 Hawaii beaches have been so honored, including two on the Big Island: Hapuna Beach in 1993, and Kaunaoa, the beach fronting the Mauna Kea Beach Resort, in 2000.

So with many of the beaches on the Big Island showcasing black sand derived from the magma that created our state, that leaves precious few traditional-style beaches to compete for Dr. Beach’s recognition.


Perhaps the good doctor could take a hint from Travel & Leisure Magazine, which earlier this year named the part-sand, part-rock stretch of shoreline fronting the South Kohala town of Puako as one of its “Best Secret Beaches on Earth.”

Surely he wouldn’t let a little lava get in the way of his coastal “research.”


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