If there was one location on the road to Hana that deserved its own separate post, it would have to be Wai’anapanapa State Park. Waianapanapa is home to Maui’s famous black sand beach. But really there’s so much more to explore here than just the beach. We pulled up to Waianapanapa around lunch time and decided to eat our packed lunches on the picnic tables in the middle of the park. I definitely recommend packing a lunch as there isn’t anything other than vending machine drinks here.
Once we were fully fueled, we headed out to explore. Our first stop was the rugged, low-cliff volcanic coastline. From here, you can see the juxtaposition of the lush, green jungle, the dark, rugged black basalt lava coastline, and the infinitely deep blue ocean.
One of the unique features of this side of the park is the natural stone arch you see off in the distance. This was likely created by a massive wave crashing into the rock and breaking apart its middle section.
We then hiked down the trail to the black sand beach that brought us to Waianapanapa in the first place.
The edge of the beach farthest from the water isn’t made of sand but rather these large black stones (make sure to wear your shoes). The closer you move to the water the more finely ground the stones become until eventually you reach what appears to be black sand.
The waves here were intensely strong, and the shore dipped off rather quickly. So instead of spending our time getting swept away in the water, we opted to take some more pictures.
Unlike the other colored beaches on the island which were created by cliff erosion, this is the only beach whose sand was created by lava flowing into the ocean and shattering on contact. The fragments of the lava then smashed up against one another and gradually over time were ground down into sand. These types of black beaches have a short life span, since they don’t have a way to regenerate the sand after the lava flow has stopped. It’s likely that this beach won’t exist 1,000 years from now. So you better get there fast.
Off to the right hand side of the beach was a small cave with a small opening. We ducked down and crawled inside to explore. All of a sudden we were in the middle of a cave with the ocean waves pounding on the other side. Luckily, there were some breaks in at the top of the cave so we were able to navigate around without a flashlight.
Beyond the beach, next to the parking lot, was a short but steep trail that led back into the anchialine pool caves. Wai’anapanapa means glistening water, which is supposed to represent the fresh water seen in these caves.
We followed the circular trail down the stone steps through a cutout in the thick forest. At the bottom of the trail, we were met with spring-fed cave pools.
The caves themselves are a part of a tragic Hawaiian legend. The Hawaiian princess, Popoalaea, fled to the caves to escape the cruel wrath of her husband, chief Kakae. When Kakae found her hiding inside of the caves, he smashed her head against the cave, killing her.
Now, every Spring, red shrimp appear in the cave pool’s, making the water turn red. The shrimp symbolize the princess’s blood that was shed here. While I don’t know if the legend is true, I can say that this place felt majestic and sacred. It’s a quite respite from the tourists hoards that you often find on the road to Hana. We spent most of our time here alone listening to the water slowly drip and the birds sing. Something about that moment was purely magical.
Many guidebooks suggest swimming and exploring inside of the caves. We didn’t have enough time but I’m certain it would have been an amazing adventure. Guess we’ll just have to come back again.
If that wasn’t enough, Waianapanapa also offers a trail to ancient burial grounds, a blowhole, and even camping. Sadly enough, we didn’t have time to explore the rest of its beautiful features. If I close my eyes, I can still see the black magic sand, the dark blue sea, and the lush green trees. I guess you can say that the magic of this place hasn’t left me.