Not far as the crow flies from Hilo, Haena Beach—also known as Shipman Beach—is one of the Big Island’s hidden-gem seashores. That’s partly because it can only be reached by foot, and partly because it’s flat-out gorgeous.
Situated on the Puna District seacoast, Haena Beach is mainly accessed by hiking the Puna Trail from a trailhead in Hawaiian Paradise Park. As we’ll explain, you can also get to the beach by walking along the immediate coastline, and a fun adventure can be had by combining both routes into one circuit.
The Puna Trail is part of an ancient pathway that was originally threaded between coastal Hawaiian villages here. It was improved into a carriage road in the days of the Kingdom of Hawaii, linking Hilo and Kalapana as the “King’s Highway.” Portions of the historic road, including large cobbles and stone walls, can be traced along the path, now maintained as part of the Na Ala Hele State of Hawaii Trail & Access Program.
It’s about a 2.5-mile hike, mostly through lush jungle, to reach Haena Beach via the Puna Trail. One can also take a rough 4WD track down from the trailhead to the coastline southeast of the beach and trek to it along the oceanfront. A fun option is hiking to Haena Beach through the Puna Trail jungle, then returning to the trailhead by the coastal walk.
The beach itself has no facilities, as you might imagine for such a removed shoreline. It comes fronted by the historic Shipman Estate, built by rancher William H. Shipman in 1904 and still owned—like all the acreage inland of Haena Beach—by the Shipman family. (Can you guess where Haena got its alternative name from?) Stick to the Puna Trail approach and the immediate beachfront to avoid trespassing on this private property.
Coconut palms and a historic World War II bunker—and, eventually, a view of the Shipman house—mark where the Puna Trail approaches Haena Beach. A stream running between the Shipman fishpond and the ocean divides the black-and-white sands of the handsome beach. Such a sandy shoreline is a rare treat on this mostly rocky stretch of coast.
Offshore, the bay here comes somewhat buffered by a reef, and the fairly shallow waters are often calm enough for swimming. Exercise caution at all times, however, as heavier surf can make the normally friendly bay dicier. There aren’t any lifeguards here, needless to say.
Whether or not you get in the water, Haena Beach’s loveliness and tranquility are reason enough to come here. Green sea turtles (honu) often haul out on its quiet sands, which is always a thrilling sight. (Hawaii is essentially the only place in the world where green turtles haul ashore for beach-basking purposes—not just egg-laying—on a regular basis.) If you’re luckier yet, you might see a Hawaiian monk seal, a critically endangered marine mammal, catching some rays on the Haena sands.
Don’t approach any basking turtles or seals you see here and give them at least 150 feet of elbow room. These creatures are easily disturbed by humans coming too close. Besides showing basic inter-species respect, staying the requisite distance keeps you clear of the hefty fines that can be levied against violators.
Haena Beach offers a nice alternative to busier, road-accessible Big Island beaches and some wonderful sands breaking up an otherwise rugged black-rock shore. The hike to and from is half the fun!
Hiking southeastward along the cliffy coast from Haena Beach, you can also travel past the rough track leading back to the Puna trailhead to reach Kaloli Point.