Waianapanapa State Park

Waianapanapa State Park - Black Sand Beach, Submerged Caves & Hawaiian Lore
Local Expert's Rating:
4.5 / 5
The Bottom Line:

Waianapanapa State Park is most well-known for its black sand beach, which you must take an obligatory picture at. Go beyond this main attraction, though, and discover ocean-connected pools, submerged caves, and the throne of a legendary Hawaiian princess. Just try not to succumb to the same demise that she did when you visit.

- The HawaiianIslands.com Local Expert Team

Waianapanapa State Park is most well-known for its black sand beach, but locals also know the area’s many other geological features. Make sure you get off the beaten path — quite literally in some cases — and explore.

The main attraction at Waianapanapa State Park is its black sand beach, which has doubtlessly been shown in numerous social media posts. The beach itself is something to see, and you should ask someone nearby (there will be plenty of others) to take at least one obligatory picture. Don’t be misled as to what you should expect of this beach, though.

The black sand beach is more pebble than sand, and swimming here isn’t always easy or advisable. Even moderate surfs can pummel inexperienced swimmers, not to mention the jellyfish and Portuguese man o war that frequently are below the surface. You’ll likely see at least a couple of people braving the waters, but this place is best for exploring the shore and perhaps picnicking at. Those two activities are definitely worth doing here.

When you’ve seen the beach at Waianapanapa State Park, make sure to explore the other areas of the park. 

The rest of the shoreline features a blowhole, ocean caves, sea arches, and islets, all of which you can climb around and on. Only cliff dive at Waianapanapa State Park if the water is calm, both so you can see where you’re diving and will be able to swim after the jump. For the other features, consider how the tides will influence what you see — high tide will make the blowhole more impressive but decrease what you can see of the caves and arches.

Trails heading inland bring you to anchialine pools if you know where to go, and these pools are equally worth visiting. The pools connect to the ocean at Waianapanapa State Park by subterranean waterways, having brackish water blow but freshwater above. They’re home to the native opae ula shrimp, which you can see come to the surface if you’re lucky. The shrimp turn the water red, although local lore says the red is the blood of an ancient princess who was murdered by her husband in the caves below.

Maui has innumerable geological features to see, but few areas condense so many interesting ones into such a relatively small space. Make the drive to the end of Waianapanapa Road, and you’ll find more than you can fully appreciate in a single day.

A few of our favorite features at Waianapanapa State Park include:

Black Sand Beach
The black sand beach that’s formed from waves pummeling lava is truly unique. Even though it’s not as soft and swim-friendly as a typical beach, there’s a reason why everyone takes a picture here. Get that picture of yourself at the beach, and climb along the black boulder beaches that are also nearby.

Second Anchialine Pool 
The second anchialine pool is spring-fed and offers a refreshing swimming hole — if you can find it. Follow the loop trail counter-clockwise until you see descending stone steps. Take those steps and bushwhack through the overgrowth until you reach the first pool (which is stagnant and not suitable for swimming). Continue past the first pool until you see the clear water of the second. The water is a little cool, but it’s clear and wonderful for swimming in.

Anchialine Pool Caves
After you’re accustomed to the second pool’s water, dip below the surface and you’ll find anchialine pool caves around the edges. The largest of these is directly across from where you enter the pool, and it has princess Popoalaea’s rock throne. Today you can sit on the same throne.

Insider Tip:
The Waianapanapa State Park’s parking lot is often full, but many visitors stop only for a brief time to see the black sand beach. Even if there are lots of cars, you likely won’t find the park’s other features too crowded.