Best Big Island Beaches
The Black Sand Beach of Pololu Valley
Welcome to the most photographed spot on the Big Island, Pololu Valley. Did you know that your chances of seeing this famous valley in person are pretty good? After all, it’s a popular spot for photographers, travelers, and locals. Known as one of Hawaii's best-kept secrets, Pololu Valley's black sand beach and hiking trails stand as a paradise waiting for all to discover.
Plunge into Pololu Valley by hiking to the black sand beach at its base. This stunning ocean-carved valley is smack dab in the middle of lush green pastures on Hawaii's Big Island. High sea cliffs, which look like giant walls, surround this beach. And there are plenty of other things to do nearby, making this a fabulous mini road trip. Check out this travel guide to help you plan your trip to ensure you get the most out of your time in paradise.
A Hawaiian Vacation — Pololu Valley in The Grand Kohala
Beauty awaits you at Pololu Valley — one of the seven valleys of the Kohala Volcano. Kohala Volcano— responsible for shaping all seven valleys— reaches nearly 14,000 feet above sea level and slopes on its northern side with a steep ridge on its southern side. In its lifetime, the Kohala Volcano cut a series of valleys into the flanks of its windward side, and Pololu Valley sprawls across the northern of these valleys.
The seven valleys include:
- Pololu Valley
- Honokāne Nui
- Waimanu Valley
- Waipi’o Valley
- Honokāne Iki
A sense of adventure surrounds these remote valleys in Hawaii. Ancient Hawaiians used the region's consistent water supply to grow Taro, a culturally significant plant. Even though they are uninhabited by humans today, the area's lush ambiance is still a popular destination for adventure-seeking folks.
Exploring Pololu Valley & Its Black Sand Beach
Many hikes and adventures await visitors to Pololu Valley, including a drive to the lookout, a steep walk down to the beach, and an even more strenuous trek to the next valley.
1. The Pololu Valley Lookout
The Pololu Valley Lookout, located on the northern tip of the Big Island, provides a sweeping view of one of the most dramatic valleys on the Hawaiian Islands. You can take a breathtaking ocean view as it meets the cliffs. Plus, you can see ancient Hawaiian walls along the Kohala Coast. Ancient Hawaiians built the valley walls, and you can still see the remnants today. This is a great spot to try and see humpback whales from December through March--they migrate here every year!
After spending some time enjoying the scenery, get ready for another adventure. To enjoy Pololu Valley, you'll want to take the trail leading to the valley and hike to the black sand beach at the bottom. This trail takes you down a stunning 500-foot (150m) drop in just 0.75 miles (1.2km)!
2. Trekking into the Pololu Valley
The valley is beautiful and remote. However, to make the most of your time at Pololu, you must take the hike down the valley. One thing to remember: The trail is pretty steep and requires a lot of downhill hiking on dirt and rocks. It’s not an easy trail, especially when going back up. Be sure to bring good hiking shoes! We recommend visiting Pololu Valley early in the day. The popular ʻĀwini Trail gives you breathtaking views of the cliffs, the valley, and the black sand beach on the valley floor. The hike down to the valley floor takes about 20-25 minutes. You will beat most crowds, but you will also benefit from more pleasant temperatures. Once you reach the bottom, you can explore the rest of Pololu. Pololu Valley has lots of trees and beautiful vegetation growing along the trail.
3. Savor the Black Sand Beach
At the end of Pololu valley lies a picturesque black sand beach.
In Pololu Valley, a lush tropical forest surrounds 500-foot-high cliffs and fronts, an ocean that often has high surf and rough waves. Black sand forms the beach, while the crashing waves and large boulders make this beach one of the most spectacular beaches ever. We don’t recommend novice swimmers venture out into these shores and don’t risk being swept away by the undertow and rip tides that frequent the coast.
Hikers can discover giant dunes and an army of thick-trunked ironwood trees that protect the valley from floodwaters, along with one of the trails behind the beach. Cutting through the dunes takes you to the other side of the valley—and along the coast, another set of trails leads inland into more valleys.
4. The Hike from Pololu to Honokane Nui
Among the valleys of Waipio Valley, you will find Honokane Nui. In contrast to Pololu Valley, very few people hike to Honokane Nui. To get to Honokane Nui, head toward the far side of Pololu Valley. The trail will take you to a wooden bench overlooking the Honokane Nui Valley, the valley next to Pololu.
Essential Tips for a Great Visit to Pololu Valley Beach
Use caution on the trail down to the beach—the steep drop-off can be slippery. Bring a towel, wear reef shoes or sandals, and wear sturdy footwear. Be aware that Pololu Valley Beach has no lifeguards or restrooms.
For your safety, do not swim in the ocean at Pololu Valley. High surf and strong currents can make swimming dangerous. Only strong swimmers can enter, but we recommend staying near the shore.
The Rewarding Pololu Trail Steward Program
In the spring of 2021, Pololu launched a new program to help get more people involved in improving their local trails. Participants in the Trail Steward program volunteer their time and energy to maintain, clean up, and improve courses in Hawaii and other locations. Ultimately, they aim to use this combination of real incentives and altruism to improve hikers' experience of Hawaii's trails. We recommend greeting and thanking them for making your experience all the better.
Directions to Pololu Valley Black Sand Beach
To reach Pololu Valley, follow Akoni Pule Highway (Highway 270) until it ends (8 miles east of Hawi), where you will find the Pololu Valley lookout and its parking lot.
Follow the trail leading to the black sand beach at the parking lot. Look for mauka (in the direction of the mountains), and you should see a brown sign pointing toward the Awini Trail. The Awini Trail takes 30 minutes to hike, and parts of the trail will range from steep to relatively smooth. Though a workout, the valley views along the way make it worth it. Getting back up can be a real challenge.
Pololu Valley Black Sand beach Amenities
The black sand beach lacks amenities, including restrooms and lifeguards on duty. Take precaution!
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2023 Big Island Visitor Guides
If you're visiting the Big Island of Hawaii soon, be sure to download your copy of one of our updated 2023 Big Island Visitor Guides. We've updated both travel guides with a lot of new great information for potential visitors (and those who've been a time or two as well).
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Discover the Adventures at the Black Sand Beach
Family Activities at Pololu Valley Black Sand Beach
The dramatic landscape of Pololu Valley has made it a favorite stop for Big Island sightseers and vacationers. Making the hike down to the black sand beach requires some effort but is worth it for the stunning views and a chance to swim in a pristine cove. Yet, we recommend visitors with small children should consider using a child carrier for the descent.
The black sand beach at Pololu Valley offers some beautiful scenery but can be dangerous for swimming due to strong currents. However, there are plenty of other fun activities for families:
- Explore tide pools on rocks near the shore.
- Have a picnic onshore.
- Take pictures.
- Explore and hike the area.
Pololu Valley Beach Activities
Hiking along the coast: Pololu Valley is a top-rated destination for hikers because of its stunning black sand beach and lush valley. If you’re in good shape and want an adventure, you can continue to climb up the hill on the other side of the beach and hike down Waipio Valley (a four-mile hike). Or you can continue the Awini Trail. You don’t want to miss the sunset from the lookout! Just be sure to get back before dark.
Whale-watching: There are few better places on the Big Island to see whales than from the leeward side of the Kohala volcano. Whale watching is best during December through March when humpback whales migrate to Hawaii and can be seen from shore.
Honokane Nui trail: Once you've finished at the Pololu Valley overlook, continue hiking to the next valley: the Honokane Nui trail. This trail is more challenging and less traveled than the Pololu Valley Trail. It's best for experienced hikers and looking for a bit of adventure. You can expect to find wet and muddy conditions along this trail in places.
Nearby Attractions and Sights of Pololu Valley Beach
Keokea Beach Park: Keokea Beach Park is located in North Kona, Hawaii. The park is a popular destination for locals and tourists alike. It features a large sandy beach with crystal clear water, snorkeling, diving, and swimming. Facilities include restrooms, showers, and picnic tables. Lifeguards are on duty daily.
Kawaihae Harbor: On your way up to Pololu Valley, stop at Kawaihae Harbor. It is one of the best harbors on the Big Island, with amazing views. It's fun to walk around, look at the boats, grab some food, and relax.
Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park: This historical park is home to many ancient Hawaiian temples and fishponds. It is also located about an hour away from Pololu Valley Beach.
Our Big Island Tour Suggestions
Get a bird's-eye view of the Kohala Coast, stand in wonder at the otherworldly landscapes the lava has crafted, and explore hiking trails that must be seen to be believed! All of this and much more is possible on these great Big Island guided tours. Each one has been handpicked by our Hawaiian travel experts... we're sure you'll love them as much as we do!