Stunning Makalawena Beach on the Big Island of Hawaii

Makalawena Beach, Big Island, HI: Complete 2024 Visitor Guide

Makalawena Beach, Big Island of Hawaii!

Finely powdered, white sands. Turquoise blue ocean waters. Tall, swaying, coconut palm trees. Your typical amazing Hawaiian beach paradise!

Late afternoon, and nary a soul in sight!

Impossible in Hawaii, you say? Not at all, when we visited on a weekday afternoon, there was absolutely no one at this stunning Makalawena Beach!

Looks like very few tourists want to make the 20-25 minute trek to the beach, especially when there are other beaches that you can almost drive up to the sands.

Makalawena Beach, Big Island of Hawaii, a tropical paradise with turquoise waters, white sands, and tall coconut trees
Makalawena Beach, Big Island of Hawaii, a tropical paradise with turquoise waters, white sands, and tall coconut trees

What a difference it makes, and we were definitely not complaining! Tired of all the crowded beaches, we hunted down this slice of tropical paradise, and spent one of our best vacation afternoons here!

Located on the Kohala Coast of the Big Island of Hawaii, in the Kekaha Kai State Park just outside Kailua-Kona, Makalawena Beach, though beautiful, is not easily accessible. And that makes for a quiet, peaceful, beach experience!

Absolutely pristine, with no amenities whatsoever, except for the occasional picnic table, Makalawena Beach is perfect for honeymooning couples or tourists seeking some well-needed vacation solitude!

Join us in learning more about Makalawena Beach!

Planning a visit to the Big Island? Snorkeling Captain Cook at Kealakekua Bay should definitely be on your itinerary: check out our guide to the best Captain Cook snorkel tours!

Beautiful Makalawena Beach in the Kekaha Kai State Park, Kailua Kona, Big Island of Hawaii
Beautiful Makalawena Beach in the Kekaha Kai State Park, Kailua Kona, Big Island of Hawaii

Some links on this page may be affiliate links. If you click an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a small commission, at no extra cost to you. For more details, refer to our disclosure.

Makalawena Beach Trailhead Directions

Makalawena Beach is in the Kekaha Kai State Park, immediately north of Kona International Airport, and a few miles north of Kailua-Kona.

Take Highway 19 up north from Kailua-Kona. You have two trail options to get to Makalawena Beach.

Trail to Makalawena Beach from Mahai’ula Beach

We chose the easier one, which starts from Mahai’ula Beach.

To get to this trailhead, you will take a left towards the ocean between 90 and 91 mile markers, and the turn is well signposted, indicating the turn for Makalawena Beach, Mahai’ula Beach and Kekaha Kai State Beach.

Lava flow of 1801 jutting into the ocean at Mahai'ula Beach, Kekaha Kai State Park, Big Island of Hawaii
Lava flow of 1801 jutting into the ocean at Mahai’ula Beach, Kekaha Kai State Park, Big Island of Hawaii

The access road is about 1 1/2 mile drive, but in rough shape, over lava fields. Drive real slow, especially if you don’t have a 4-wheeler.

We didn’t, and were jolted quite a bit!

The parking is next to the trailhead for Mahai’ula Beach, and on weekdays you should have no problem finding a spot.

There are restrooms at the beach (continue along the road where you parked, and you’ll see them on the left).

We first hiked to Mahai’ula Beach, also a very pretty beach, and spent a bit of time here. You will see a lava outcropping jutting into the ocean, the result of a lava flow in 1801.

Trail to Mahai'ula Beach on Big Island of Hawaii
Trail to Mahai’ula Beach on Big Island of Hawaii

We then made our way to the north end of Mahai’ula Beach, where the trail to Makalawena Beach starts (expand the Makalawena Beach map below for details), near a bunch of palm trees.

The trail is about 0.8 miles long one way, over lava fields and sand dunes, often with a pretty, dense ground cover of pohuehue, a native Hawaiian plant, part of the Morning glory family.

Dense ground cover of pohuehue, a native Hawaiian plant, on the sand dunes near Makalawena Beach, Big Island
Dense ground cover of pohuehue, a native Hawaiian plant, on the sand dunes near Makalawena Beach, Big Island

We took about 20 minutes, and the hike was relatively easy, with the weather co-operating (wasn’t too hot).

We used good hiking shoes and switched to water shoes at the beach.

>> Book an exciting, 5-star rated, highly popular, Big Island tour now!

Makalawena Trailhead on Highway 19

The main trailhead for Makalawena Beach is on Highway 19, between mile markers 88 and 89, and just before Kua Bay Access Road (to Manini’owali Beach, another stunning Big Island beach).

You have a few parking spots along Highway 19 or at the start of the trail. You may see some locals with trucks or 4-wheelers continue on the lava road, but they have been driving this road all their life.

Even if you have rented an SUV, I would urge you to hike down, because the road is really rough!

The trail is about 2 miles one way, relatively flat, over lava fields, and you will turn to the left towards Awakee Bay after about 1.5 miles (expand the Makalawena Beach map below).

Lava fields on the Makalawena Trail from Highway 19
Lava fields on the Makalawena Trail from Highway 19

Hike past Awakee Bay and you will reach the northern end of Makalawena Beach.

Lack of shade is the main hurdle on this hike, so take a lot of water, protect yourself from the sun with reefsafe sunscreen, and head out early to beat the heat.

Makalawena Beach Map

The Makalawena Beach map below shows the location of Makalawena Beach, and the main attractions nearby.

Makalawena Beach Reservations

Makalawena Beach does not require any reservations or permits. Even though the beach is part of the Kekaha Kai State Park, the park is free, and there are no entrance fees!

Makalawena Beach Amenities / Facilities

Location: Kailua-Kona, Big Island of Hawaii
Lifeguard: No
Beach Amenities: Picnic tables
Food Nearby: None
Parking: Small lot for 4-wheelers, park at the trailheads
Directions: Highway 19 north from Kailua Kona, follow trailhead directions above

Makalawena Beach is beautiful and pristine, with absolutely no facilities.

No lifeguards are on duty here, so enter the water at your own risk. Check water conditions, and avoid the water if the waves are rough or during high surf.

>> Book an exciting, 5-star rated, highly popular, Big Island tour now!

Best Things to Do at Makalawena Beach

Makalawena Beach is sheltered by the Pu’u Ali’i Bay and fringing coral reefs, resulting in relatively calm ocean waters near the shore, especially in summer!

With three, large crescent-shaped beaches, Makalawena Beach is quite large, with many smaller, more private coves.

Aerial view of Makalawena Beach on the west coast of Big Island, Hawaii, USA.

On the north side of the beach, not directly connected to the ocean waters, is Opae’ula Pond, surrounded by tall coconut trees, a perfect home for many Hawaiian shore birds.

Makalawena Beach is part of Kekaha Kai State Park, a free public park that is also home to multiple other stunning beaches, including the Mahai’ula Beach and the Manini’owali Beach.

1. Makalawena Beach Snorkeling

As the aerial photo of Makalawena Beach below shows, extensive underwater coral reefs near the shores provide for great snorkeling when the ocean waters are calm!

Extensive underwater coral reefs close to Makalawena Beach shores, great for snorkeling
Extensive underwater coral reefs close to Makalawena Beach shores, great for snorkeling

Better snorkeling is around the lava rock outcroppings jutting into the ocean, with teeming tropical marine life!

You’ll also find small coves and tidepools all along the beach.

We saw many common and beautiful Hawaiian fish while snorkeling here, including yellow tangs, convict tangs, wrasses, butterflyfish, triggerfish, and parrotfish.

To recognize and identify these beautiful Hawaiian fish, refer to our Hawaiian Fish Snorkeling guide!

If you are looking to buy personal snorkeling gear instead of renting, check out these light travel-ready ones that we love to take to Hawaii!

2. Makalawena Beach Swimming

Protected by the bay and the fringing coral reef, the ocean waters at Makalawena Beach is usually calm, especially in summer, and you’ll see many people in the water for a refreshing dip to cool off, or to swim laps along the beach.

Calm waters at Makalawena Beach, Big Island, in summer
Calm waters at Makalawena Beach, Big Island, in summer

When we visited Makalawena Beach in the afternoon, the waters were perfect and we spent a lot of time in the water, snorkeling and swimming, but we stayed close to the shore.

>> Book an exciting, 5-star rated, highly popular, Big Island tour now!

3. Sunbathe or Relax with a Book on the Makalawena Beach

With about 1/2 a mile of soft, finely powdered, white sands, Makalawena Beach is quite spacious, and finding your own private, secluded spot for sunbathing or relaxing with a book is easy.

Soft, wide sand forming a long and wide Makalawena Beach, with shade trees along the inner border
Soft, wide sand forming a long and wide Makalawena Beach, with shade trees along the inner border

We walked along the beach, and saw small coves along the way, with some shade trees. We saw a couple of picnic tables as well.

The occasional black lava rocks and boulders create a stunning contrast to the white sands!

It can get a bit hot here, so bring your beach umbrellas and don’t forget reefsafe sunscreen.

4. Admire Pretty Hawaiian Birds at Opae’ula Pond

I strolled up to the north end of Makalawena Beach, and a short trail took me to Opae’ula Pond, a pond briny due to the proximity to the ocean waters, and was quite murky when I visited.

Opae'ula Pond, on the north end of Makalawena Beach, Big Island of Hawaii
Opae’ula Pond, on the north end of Makalawena Beach, Big Island of Hawaii

Named for a species of indigenous Hawaiian shrimp, red in color (opae’ula means “red shrimp“), I looked around the pond, and sure enough there were many!

After heavy rains, the pond clears up and looks quite beautiful, against a backdrop of some tall, swaying coconut palm trees!

Opae'ula Pond, turquoise blue after rains
Opae’ula Pond, turquoise blue after rains

And some pretty Hawaiian water birds too, that feed on the shrimp, including the Hawaiian coot (ʻalae keʻokeʻo), the Hawaiian stilt (ae’o), and the Hawaiian duck (koloa maoli), all species found only in Hawaii!

This habitat is also a breeding area for another endemic species, the black-crowned night heron, which incidentally also preys on the Hawaiian stilts’ nestlings.

We actually some stilts at the beach as well! We didn’t spot any nene geese (state bird of Hawaii), but apparently they are also common here.

Three pretty Hawaiian stilts, prowling for food on Makalawena Beach, Big Island
Three pretty Hawaiian stilts, prowling for food on Makalawena Beach, Big Island

To recognize and identify these pretty water birds, refer to our detailed Hawaiian birds guide!

5. Admire Turtles, Monk Seals & Other Wildlife at Makalawena Beach

While lazing on the soft sands of Makalawena Beach, we were rudely interrupted by a noisy visitor from the oceans, a Hawaiian monk seal!

It came right up the beach, rolled around in the sands, and lay basking in the sun for a short time, before heading back into the water!

Endangered Hawaiian monk seal resting on the beach
Endangered Hawaiian monk seal resting on the beach

Not only that, as we strolled across the beach, at the northern end, in one of the smaller coves, we found a couple of Hawaiian green sea turtles enjoying the sun as well!

How pleasant to see these endangered marine animals make a come back!

These are protected animals, please keep your distance (at least 10 feet per NOAA).

While chatting later with a few locals who showed up to surf the evening swells, apparently Makalawena Beach is a great spot to see spinner dolphins and migrating humpback whales (in winter) breaching the ocean surface, with a clear, panoramic view of the open bay!

6. Boogie Board at Makalawena Beach

As we were heading out later in the afternoon, a bunch of local kids came up with their boogie boards.

Apparently, the evening breeze whips up swells that are just the right size for some thrills on boogie boards!

Local kids having fun boogie boarding the evening waves at Makalawena Beach, Big Island of Hawaii
Local kids having fun boogie boarding the evening waves at Makalawena Beach, Big Island of Hawaii

We watched them ride the waves, and they were quite skilled, and were having great fun.

7. Hiking near Makalawena Beach

Part of the Kekaha Kai State Park, Makalawena Beach has several hiking trails nearby.

On the Makalawena trail from Highway 19 to Makalawena Beach, your hike takes you over lava fields, violent remnants of the formation of the island!

Trail over lava fields and sand dunes near Makalawena Beach
Trail over lava fields and sand dunes near Makalawena Beach

The Ala Kahakai National Historical Trail is an epic, 175-mile long, ancient coastal trail covering a large portion of the island’s coast, and also runs through the beaches of Kekaha Kai State Park, including the Makalawena Beach.

You can hike a short distance on this ancient trail, soak in the views, and return!

Ala Kahakai National Historical Trail passes through Makalawena Beach, Kekaha Kai State Park
Ala Kahakai National Historical Trail passes through Makalawena Beach, Kekaha Kai State Park

Other Activities near Makalawena Beach, Big Island of Hawaii

Visit Honoua’ula Forest Reserve

The nearby Honua’ula Forest Reserve is a must if you are a birdwatcher!

A unique cloud forest on the slopes of the Hualalai volcano, reminiscent of the scenes from Jurassic Park, Honua’ula Forest offers a network of forest trails and an opportunity to cool off from the hot Kailua-Kona coast and Manini’owali Beach.

We hiked the Makuala O’oma area trails, and almost from the get-go could hear the chattering and songs of Hawaiian birds.

Spotting them was much harder, and you have to be patient, waiting for a flutter of movement in the trees above.

You can see the i’iwi, a scarlet honeycreeper, apapane, a striking red honeycreeper, and the palila, an endemic and endangered honeycreeper.

I'iwi, native honeycreeper, a forest bird commonly found in the Kokee State Park
I’iwi, native honeycreeper

To learn more about these pretty birds, refer to our detailed Hawaiian bird guide.

Apart from pretty birds of Hawaii, you’ll also find many native Hawaiian trees here, including the ohi’a lehuahapu’u ferns, and mamane plants.

Snorkeling and Water Activities Gear Checklist

Though you can rent snorkeling gear or use the ones that come with tours, we invested in our own gear, mainly due to Covid-19 (why take the risk?).

White sand beach of Makalawena on the Big Island of Hawaii

Ocean Safety Tips

Hawaii’s beaches are beautiful, but ocean activities can be dangerous. Ocean conditions are dynamic and can change without warning.

Here are some tips to enjoy the ocean and beaches safely:

  • ALWAYS heed posted warning signs.
  • Check conditions just before you arrive at your chosen beach, and watch conditions at the beach for a bit before you decide to enter the water.
  • Swim at a lifeguarded beach and ask the lifeguard for advice before you enter the water.
  • Never turn your back on the ocean, whether you are standing at the shore or on a cliff above. If you see wet rocks or sand, it means the water has been here recently.
  • Know your limitations, especially if you are not an experienced swimmer. If in doubt, do not go out.
  • If you choose to enter the water, go with a partner or in a group.
  • Know that alcohol can impair judgment and motor skills in the water.
  • Keep children close and always keep your eyes on what they are doing in the water.
  • Watch for sharp coral or rocks or sea urchins.
Intense blue waters, white sands, and green ground cover at Makalawena Beach, Big Island of Hawaii
Intense blue waters, white sands, and green ground cover at Makalawena Beach, Big Island of Hawaii

The Best Big Island Tours

Have you booked these top-rated Big Island tours yet?

Guided snorkeling with manta rays at night, a bucket-list underwater Big Island adventure to watch the amazing manta rays up close. Sightings guaranteed or go again.

Big Island in a Day excursion from Kona or Waikaloa, including Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Punalu’u Black Sand Beach, ‘Akaka Falls, and the Waipi’o Valley Lookout!

Snorkeling historic Kealakekua Bay, one of the top snorkel spots on the Big Island. Look for dolphins en route (plus whales in season)! Don’t want to snorkel? Take a dinner cruise instead.

Sunset and stargazing at the summit of Mauna Kea, the highest point in all of Hawaii! Travel up and down in a luxury 4X4 van. Hooded parkas and gloves provided!

Thrilling zipline adventure over KoleKole Falls, a 7-line Hilo ziplining experience that allows you to soar over lush forest vegetation and the 250-foot waterfall!

Renting a Car on the Big Island of Hawaii

Most visitors that travel to the Big Island choose to rent a car because the island is, well, BIG, and the Big Island must-see attractions are scattered around the island.

Depending on where you choose to base — Kona or Hilo are the main places visitors choose — you can pick up a rental car in either location.

We always use Discover Cars to book Kona car rentals or Hilo car rentals. They search across a variety of rental car companies, both budget and brand, to offer you the best deals, AND they offer free cancellations. Plus, there are no hidden fees.

>> Check availability and prices on Kona car rentals now!

>> Check availability and prices on Hilo car rentals now!

Where to Stay on the Big Island

Kailua-Kona, on the sunnier leeward side of the Big Island, ands Hilo, on the lush windward side, are the main bases on Hawaii Island, also known as the Big Island. Most visitors to the Big Island split their stay between these two places.

You will find the biggest choice of hotels and resorts in Kailua-Kona and Waikaloa, with both chains and boutiques, while Hilo has fewer hotels and inns.

The Westin Hapuna Beach Resort is an excellent choice if you are looking for a pristine beach out the front door. The Hilton Waikaloa Village is a great choice if you are traveling as a family.

The Mauna Lani on the Kohala Coast, just 40 minutes from Kailua-Kona, is a fabulous resort for a splurge. The SCP Hilo Hotel is the perfect base from which to visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

You will find VRBO listings all over the island, especially in Kailua-Kona, Hilo, and Volcano (the base for travelers spending a night or more visiting Hawaii Volcanoes National Park).

We have stayed in VRBO rentals in Volcano as well as in Kailua-Kona and Hilo and we’ve found the choice and quality great.

>> Look for a Big Island vacation rental on VRBO now!

Makalawena Beach on Big Island of Hawaii, a beautiful, remote, white sand beach with turquoise water
Makalawena Beach on Big Island of Hawaii, a beautiful, remote, white sand beach with turquoise water

More Big Island Travel Inspiration

Planning a trip to the Big Island of Hawaii? Also known as Hawaii Island, the Big Island is home to some spectacular scenery and lots of activities.

Learn about the 4 national parks on the Big Island, including Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, where you may be lucky enough to catch flowing lava!

Head to the southeast part of the island to admire Punalu’u Black Sand Beach, possibly the most striking of the Big Island’s black sand beaches, and read our guide to the rare green sand beach on the Big Island!

The state parks of the Big Island protect some of the island’s best treasures. A few miles north of Hilo, you will find Akaka Falls State Park, home to the 442-foot Akaka Falls.

Also on the scenic Hamakua Coast, stop to visit the lush and beautiful Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve and Garden, with its numerous varieties of tropical plants.

On the leeward side of the island, you’ll find many beautiful beaches. Must-visit Hapuna Beach is a picture-postcard tropical beach with its long stretch of white sand.

Kauna’oa Beach, also known as Mauna Kea Beach, is another white sand beach north of Kona you have to visit. It routinely makes the top 10 beaches in the USA list!

Part of the Kekahai Kai State Park, Manini’owali Beach is yet another stunning white sand beach on the Kohala Coast just north of Kailua-Kona.

South of Kailua Kona, you’ll find arguably the best snorkeling spot in all of Hawaii at the Captain Cook Monument at Kealakekua Bay. Our guide to the best Captain Cook snorkeling tours will help you find the perfect tour for you!

Also on the South Kona Coast is Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park, one of the Big Island’s national park sites that is historically and culturally significant. And, it’s very scenic!

Did you find this article informative? Pin it on Pinterest for later!

Discover the complete guide to visiting Makalawena Beach in Kekaha Kai State Park north of Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii!

Disclaimer

All information provided on this blog is for informational purposes only and is subject to our terms and conditions of use. It is not a substitute for information or advice from official agencies or qualified professionals.

SV Travel Media LLC makes no representations or warranties regarding the accuracy or completeness of the information provided here, and readers should use their own discretion and judgement, and seek advice from professionals where needed.

Your use of the information described in, and your participation in activities presented on our website may carry the risk of illness, bodily injury, disability, death, or property damage. You freely assume all risks and dangers that may occur as a result of your access, use, purchase, or participation in any information, activity, product, or service listed on our website.

Like this article? Share it with your friends!

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *